Goodbye, Self-Acceptance. Hello, Integration.
This is one person's story; everyone will have unique experiences on their own path to recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors or symptom use. Please use your own discretion. And speak with your therapist when needed.
By Dallas Rising, a former The Emily Program client and woman in recovery
I sat cross-legged on my yoga mat, doing my best to explain yoga’s role in my life. Inevitably, thoughts of my eating disorder surfaced. I talked about my relationship with exercise, my unhealthy compulsivity with high-intensity activity and severe food restriction. My eating disorder treats numbers as fodder for obsession, so health clubs and gyms aren’t safe for me. Our culture recently recognized the self-punishment associated with “thinspiration,” and instead embraced “fitspiration.” Fewer people recognize the danger of fitspiration, although it encourages an equally destructive and punishing mindset. It celebrates those that ignore physical distress in the name of fitness. Both paradigms frame the body as something to conquer, shape, and control.
Some yogis remain preoccupied with fitness and flexibility, ignoring the roots of yoga. Yoga is about cultivation of peace through nonviolence in thought, deed, and word (including to oneself); immaterialism; awareness, and sensitivity. Yoga is a “practice” because each time we arrive on our mat, we practice quieting the mind and turning inward.
I struggled to explain the profound, spontaneous moments of peace I’ve found on my mat, given the degree of pain and conflict in my mind and body. My mentor asked if another way of saying that might be “self-acceptance.”
I was quick to say no.
Self-acceptance seems unattainable and unrealistic for me. This isn’t the truth, of course, but it’s my reality. Not only does it seem impossible, but it’s not even something that inspires me. It’s like a dead end. Passive. It seems like once it’s attained, there’s nothing left. “Acceptance” conjures images of flaws or weaknesses to embrace. It may be a good thing to be able to do that, but it puts the emphasis on some parts and leaves others out.
What I experienced in yoga was more powerful than that. It was an integration of my body, mind, and heart, allowing me to feel whole for just a few moments. There was nothing lacking, nothing wrong, nothing to fix or work on—and a whole lot of possibilities. I felt opportunity.
Self-acceptance is a great concept and the world would transform if people could feel it in their daily lives. It’s just not what lights me up. Integration, on the other hand, feels strong and alive from the inside out. It allows all the parts of me to unify and work together in a supported way. It’s active. A beginning, not an end.
I’m sure it’s no coincidence that a feeling of integration surfaces only while I’m moving and breathing, or sitting still and turning inward after moving and breathing. Those of us that struggle with eating disorders know the dangers of disconnecting the mind from the body. It’s incredible how simply moving and breathing with awareness can heal us. Our bodies and minds want to be integrated. Our work is to get out of their way and let them. Yoga is a lovely tool for playing with that skill.