Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What's Healthy?

I saw this article pop up in my news feed on FB this morning, and it really got my hackles up. The Truth About Yoga and Eating Disorders points to a lot of things I see in how yoga is marketed (ugh, I hate that) in the United States.

I have a problem. I cringe whenever I see this stick-thin uber-flexible yogalebrities all over the place. I want to die a little inside each time I see people talking about juice fasts and juice cleanses, about starving themselves of calories and nutrients all for the sake of being "healthy".

But what is healthy?

What if healthy, instead of looking like something, were more of a feeling?

It's true that healthy can look like any number of things: skinny, curvy, heavy, light, black, white, and all shades in between.

As the daughter of a woman who struggled with eating disorders her entire life, and as someone who has had her own recent struggles with an eating disorder, I'm starting to shun any marketing of yoga as a way to burn calories, fat, or otherwise sculpt and "perfect" the body. And that pretty much sums up every article I read in Yoga Journal. Looking a certain way doesn't necessarily mean that a person is healthy or unhealthy. Weight is not an indicator of overall health, and yoga should not be used as a marketing ploy to get people to buy overpriced detox regimens and protein bars and other nutritionally-deficient fly-by-night schemes.

When I lost 30 pounds because of digestive problems three years ago, I freaked out. I had the opposite problem of what most folks with an eating disorder have: I weighed myself obsessively because I was so worried about being TOO thin, and turning into the unhealthy image of my mother, who weighed just 78 pounds when she passed away in 2008. For a while there, after I lost all that weight, I would freak out just a little bit when I would see someone that I hadn't seen in a long time, and they would look at my physical changes and say, "You look so THIN! You look great!"

They may have thought that I looked great on the outside, but I sure didn't feel great inside.

Finally, I decided to move the bathroom scale into the garage to stop myself from stepping on it compulsively every time I went to have a pee. And I started to re-think my definition of "healthy".

It's not an easy thing to nail down. What do we include in our definition of healthy?

As I'm working on changing my inner dialogue, I'm taking a really close look at what it means to be healthy, and I'm finding that it's a lot more than just your jeans size. There's a whole subtle layer to the definition of "healthy" that I think many people either ignore or overlook, and it includes things like:

  • Your overall stress levels
  • Your social network/social life
  • Your satisfaction with life
  • Your ability to accept and deal with change
  • Your relationship with family and friends
  • Your general outlook on life
  • Your relationship with your own body
It's all too easy to use a very one-dimensional set of guidelines to define what we think is healthy these days. Doctors like to use numbers, like the BMI (body mass index) chart to determine health, but that only gives us a very one-dimensional way to assess the health of a whole individual.

And how does yoga play into all of this? When I'm in a pose like Dancing Warrior or teetering into a basic arm balance or working my way into headstand via dolphin pose, I feel healthy. I feel relaxed, I feel strong. When I lose my "self" in a yoga pose or posture, I find that connection between mind and body and spirit.

There needs to be a broader conversation, in my opinion, on what "healthy" is, and how we can all get there, because it's not going to the be the same for any two people. Just for today, throw away your old ideas and preconceptions and just ask yourself: what is healthy for me?

No comments:

Post a Comment