Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, RYT 500, is a yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. She is coauthor of the forthcoming book, Body Mindful Yoga: Create a Powerful and Affirming Relationship with Your Body (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018). In addition to her private yoga therapy practice, Jennifer leads yoga therapy groups at the Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia and yoga workshops and retreats on eating disorder recovery and body image. She is a partner with the Yoga and Body Image Coalition and the Transformation Yoga Project. Her writing on the topics of yoga, body image, motherhood, and eating disorder recovery can be found on her blog as well as several influential online publications. Connect with Jennifer on her website. In this week’s post, Jennifer discusses the idea of giving back to your body.
I recently started rock climbing at a local gym. I’d been searching for an empowering activity that I can do alone and with my family. I quickly took to climbing for many reasons, one being that it reminded me of Yoga, just on a really steep, high wall. To move safely and successfully up the wall, I need to be super present and I must breathe to keep my body steady and mind alert.
Rock climbing is also an opportunity for me to practice two profound lessons of my eating disorder recovery—acceptance of the moment and letting go of perfection. Let’s face it, if I am anywhere but in the moment on the rock wall, I will fall or even hurt myself. Every movement requires my complete attention to harness strength and determination.
I’m especially excited that my 6- and 4-year old daughters are enjoying climbing. I am hopeful this activity will help them forge affirming relationships with their bodies and cultivate the virtues of resilience, confidence, and perseverance. Their expressions of amazement and pleasure when they reach a new point on the wall gives me great peace of mind, enforcing the hope that my girls will always be proud of their bodies.
Since adding rock climbing to my life, I’ve naturally been more hungry. In the past, exercise and food were complicated for me. I could never quite believe that I needed to eat more to compensate for my activity. This harmful belief caused grave problems two decades ago in my years of overexercising. Vestiges of that belief have showed up over the course of my recovery, especially with intense cardio workouts. I’ve learned to respect my truth that certain activities aggravate old ED beliefs versus view this reality as a limitation or failure. I am stronger when I engage in activities that inspire self-empowerment instead of self-doubt.
After a recent climb the words “give back to your body” came to the forefront of my mind. Expressions like “food is fuel” or “energy in, energy out” have never resonated with me. Sure, I understand and agree with the rationale of these sayings and others like them. But they aren’t my go tos when it comes to how I describe nourishing myself.
In all honesty, I think so many people used to say those sayings to me when I was in the eating disorder that I developed a visceral resistance to them. For me, and because of my history with the eating disorder, those common expressions feel empty of motivation or comfort.
I believe our recovery works best for each of us when we use language that most powerfully resonates with our personalities, values, and true selves. The more I tuned into this new mantra, “give back to your body,” the more right these words felt, the more deeply they resonated with my beliefs around how I want to nourish mind, body, and spirit.
After a climb, giving back to myself means satisfying my hunger, hydrating, stretching my muscles, and resting. When framed as “giving back to my body,” these self-care activities feel like an extension of the climb I had enjoyed, which is a palpable shift from the frustrating feeling of needing to fit in a meal or remember to hydrate on busy days. “Give back to your body” also incites a sense of permission to truly take care of myself and honors the fact that all day long I exert myself physically, mentally, emotionally in various capacities.
I plan to use this language with my daughters with the intention of instilling in them a sense of responsibility to care for their precious bodies with respect, diligence, and care.
How does this mantra, “give back to your body” resonate with you? I invite you to try it out or explore other language that will foster a kind and respectful relationship with your body. I also encourage you to explore all the areas in your recovery and life you can give back to your body.
Giving back to ourselves is a true act of recovery. Giving back to our bodies builds our strength to continue healing and expanding our possibilities for happiness.