I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately.
We talk about it a lot on the Finding Our Hunger podcast, and it seems to be a recurring theme everywhere from the therapist’s office to fitness and nutrition blogs.
Forgiveness is essential to recovering from an eating disorder. Forgiveness is essential to not developing an eating disorder to begin with. Forgiveness is the ultimate gift that you can give to yourself, the ultimate sign of respect that you have for your body, your mind, your being.
But what happens when the pendulum swings and forgiveness becomes detrimental to your health (mental, emotional, or physical)?
I have bad posture.
I spent the majority of my childhood listening to my mother tell me to unglue my shoulders from my ears.Two years with a bone tumor in my right leg during puberty (and a surgery to remove said tumor) left me with a slightly shorter right leg that has led to a compensating hip rotation. And, of course, my bad ankle dorsiflexes a full 3+ inches less than my good ankle.
I started practicing Bikram yoga 3.5 years ago. One of my favorite things about the practice is that, unlike other forms of fitness in which I’ve participated, it’s not all about strength/speed/power progression and constantly working toward the next goal. While yoga is also about progression, there’s an undercurrent of forgiveness and awareness–of “meeting yourself where you are” and understanding that if you can’t go as far as you did yesterday–or if you can go farther–that it’s just a product of where your body is today and that’s that.
That being said, I’ve realized that I’ve been forgiving my bad posture for 3.5 years.
Standing Bow Pulling Pose has always been one of my favorites. It’s a proud and beautiful posture, and I’ve always prided myself on being able to go deep into the posture, lifting my foot effortlessly over my head. The problem is, I have to twist my hips to get there.
I’ve also always loved Fixed Firm. It used to be effortless to sink my hips onto the floor and lie back with my knees together. Now, if I want my hips on the floor, I have to move my ankles out past my body when they should stay tight to my hips.
And to grasp my opposite elbows in Wind Removing Pose, my tight shoulders keep me from getting my tailbone on the floor.
But there’s a part of me that wants to go as far into the postures as I can, to prove to myself and my body that I can. So I forgive my bad posture–accept it as a part of who I am–and go deeper.
But with that kind of forgiveness, there is no growth. There is no change. Deeper is not healthier. Deeper is not better.
The same thing goes for “bad posture” in other areas of life. For example, in recovery, I’ve learned that people are told “there are no bad foods or good foods, just food.” The problem is that this can lead to “bad posture” when suddenly the pendulum swings in the other direction and “recovery” includes foods that are not foods–which can be just as damaging to the physical health as they can to mental health.*
Or the “bad posture” of skimping on sleep because it’s the only way you can make money, prove yourself at work, go out with friends, stay connected with the world of the internet. Yes, doing well at work, building a business, maintaining social connections, cleaning out the email inbox are all important things…but so is sleep. Without sleep, your health fails, your stress levels go up, and your quality of life ultimately suffers.
I’ve been in a bad posture for too long. For the last couple of months, especially since the post-partum of Paleo F(X) but even before then, I’ve been letting my health slip. I’ve gotten progressively more stressed, eaten progressively worse, worked out progressively less. And I’ve “forgiven” these bad postures because I feel like that’s all I can do in order to keep performing at the level that others have come to expect, going deeper to prove myself at work, in my freelancing, with this blog and my podcast even.
I recently picked up my yoga practice again. (At the expense of sleep–the only time I can make it to my studio given my work and commute schedule is for the 8:30 pm class. But it’s better than nothing…right?)
I’ve been taking classes with a teacher who often veers from the traditional Bikram script to offer corrections on everything from setup to finish. And with her dialogue in my head, I’ve started to make corrections.
If you can believe it, it’s actually harder to not go as deep into a posture and instead breathe into the corrections. The amount of control it takes to keep my hips, ankles, and shoulder aligned is like nothing I’ve ever experienced in the yoga room, and I’ve been practicing on and off for years. Instead of forgiving myself for my perceived inabilities, I’m pushing myself to correct them.
I’m not advocating self-punishment. If I fall out of a posture or don’t make the correction 100% perfectly, then it’s no big deal. I just promise myself to try again tomorrow. So maybe it is still forgiveness–but seen through a different lens. It’s the kind of forgiveness that will help me change my bad postures and my bad habits. It’s the kind of forgiveness that–if I let it–will ultimately lead to healing.
What bad postures are you ready to give up? What changes are you willing or able to make? Let me know in the comments below!
*Example: Wheat and sugar. Not food. Want to throw off your neurotransmitters? Want to put yourself in a situation where you might be tempted to fall into a binge/restrict pattern with a huge opportunity for depression and anxiety? Yes, “average” people buy and eat products made with these ingredients, but average isn’t healthy, and average isn’t normal for our bodies. This isn’t a statement made from an orthorexic standpoint, but from a scientific one.