I'm going to yoga today I told myself as I marched through the front doors of the big box gym. I was carrying my new purple yoga mat, and trying to ignore the people sweating it out on the treadmills as I walked past. Yoga today, I reminded myself as I turned the corner, passing the cycle room, the pre-warm-up music spilling out into the hallway. I couldn't help but glance in, noticing my favorite bike was empty. No, today, you are doing yoga, I muttered, forcing myself to continue down the hall to the mind/body studio. I walked into the cool, dimly lit room and quietly laid my mat on the floor as to not disturb those who were already seated for their pre-practice meditation. As I took my shoes off, ready to be seated, a voice stopped me before my rear end even hit the ground.
"Is this really what you plan to do today?" My Anorexic Brain (AB as I came to call it in treatment) whispered, "don't you feel like the high of a good sweat instead?"
"It’s yoga day,” my healthy Sherri Brain (SB) retorted back silently, "I feel good after yoga."
"Who are you kidding?” AB pressed on, “you feel good after you have burned serious calories."
"I don't need to burn calories," SB argued, "my body already feels empty."
"You can eat chips with lunch if you go to cycle, though," AB taunted convincingly, "you love chips."
Oh crap AB is right, I thought hastily rolling up my mat and running to grab one of the last remaining bikes in the cycle toom. Once in, I threw on my shoes, adjusted the bike, jumped on, and began to pedal. I don't want to be on this bike today. I want to be in yoga, I thought to myself, as I slowed my pedal speed, willing myself to get back off the bike.
"If you cave and go the easy route today, then you will be tempted to do the same tomorrow and the next and the next, then what?" AB shouted, breaking down SB's willpower.
"Just fucking shut up and let me go to yoga,” SB screamed back silently, tears of frustration springing to my eyes. The back and forth in my head so loud I was sure everyone around me could hear it.
Fueled by spite, I jumped off the bike, and before I could change my mind, I grabbed my mat, ran back into the yoga studio, and took a space on the floor just as the class had begun to start. Although I was flustered and distracted by the shit show in my head, after a few deep breaths, I was able to settle my body and focus my mind.
My anorexic brain loved a good sweat session. Of late, however, I had begun to dread my cardio workouts. I was constantly worried if my heart would give out in the middle of class. Knowing I was punishing my starving body. And why? Overcome by shame that I could not bring myself to stop. Walking out of most of those classes with my head down to avoid the cruel, judgmental stares, I was sure I was receiving from others.
My healthy brain, however, was loving yoga, although I didn't fully understand why. It was challenging, but without the feeling of being punishing or offering a depleting calorie burn I was not yet convinced it was an efficient form of exercise. But it did make me feel strong. It filled me with an energizing warmth that radiated through my limbs, making me feel more mobile and fluid. And afterwards, I felt a boost of confidence that allowed me to stand a little straighter, knowing I was finally doing something good for myself.
And that day after yoga was no exception. I walked out of the room, energized, with my head high, proud, and very relieved that my healthy brain had won the small yet very rare victory against my dominant anorexic brain. It felt good.
It gave me hope that winning that battle meant I hadn’t yet lost the war.