Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Interesting post on Tiff's blog, entitled "Anorexia vs. Fasting". In my opinion, the best comment (far exceeding mine in terms of shooting straight from the open hips) came from the ubiquitous "Anonymous", who said, "Ashtangi's fast everybody else is anorexic!" This struck a chord with me, notwithstanding that it is far too simplistic (and glib) to tell the whole story. And while I agree with Jody that anyone who practices Ashtanga who develops an eating disorder had to have had the makings of an eating disorder before they began their practice, I feel that it nevertheless begs the question:

At what point, and under what circumstances do fasting/internal cleansing/the Kriyas (one of which includes vomiting and two of which have the same effect as a couple of Ex-Lax) amount to just another form of disordered eating?
At first blush, I am tempted to simply paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's (in)famous definition of obscenity: It's hard to say, but I know it when I see it. However, as someone who has recently spent several days engaged in a cleanse (of sorts) and who has been known to indulge in the occasional Fleet in order to get things "moving" before practice and who is, truth be told, not exactly a stranger to the ways of the siren song of a good, well-needed purge (seriously, I can count on one hand the number of friends I have that never stuck a finger down their throats at some point in high school or college - even if it was just to get a good night's sleep after a long night of imbibing), I think the question is worth a bit more analysis than that.

As I said on Tiff' blog, I believe that food and drink should be sensual and joyful. When we create rules about what we should allow ourselves to eat (not to mention when), we may start out with the best and most responsible of intentions, but we run the risk of turning the delightful experience of eating and drinking into an experience fraught with stress and pain. In most cases, we're fine - the rules we create permit us to live healthfully, responsibly and even respectfully of our environment. But sometimes, the rules take on a life of their own. The more the rules we impose, the more that food and drink (and our desire for them) can morph into something we hate, something we wish to suppress. Fasting, cleases, some of the kriyas - they all represent a further imposition of rules on people who already (very likely) observe quite a litany of rules about what to eat and drink and when (for example: not eating animal products, eating only raw foods, not eating after 6 p.m., not drinking alcohol....etc.....).

So when does it amount to an eating disorder? I guess I would have to assert that when we deprive ourselves for any significant length of time - for ANY reason - of the joys and nutrients of eating, limiting ourselves to only "things that are green" or whatever, well, something may very well be going on that may not be so healthy (how's that for an unambiguous statement?). Okay, but how does it rise to the level of an eating disorder? I would have to surmise that it doesn't matter whether or not the goal is to be healthy, to be pure, to be lighter, to be empty, to be the skinniest ashtangi in the room, what have you; I believe that if one loses an excessive (notice, I used the word "excessive") amount of weight in the name of WHATEVER, then there is something disordered happening, regardless of the spiritual pursuit, regardless of the good intentions.

Maybe it's not "anorexia" in that case. Maybe it's something else. Something that has yet to be named. The desire to purify the body to the point where there is excessive weight loss (and other problems, undoubtedly)...what would one call that? One can be a "good yogi" and still be suffering from an eating disorder, I think. But good yogi, knowledgable yogi, advanced practitioner, it would still be an eating disorder nontheless.


1 comment:

Emily said...


A good article about this from the Guardian newspaper

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About Me

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Northern Westchester, New York, United States
I live by a duck pond. I used to live by the East River. I don't work. I used to work a lot. Now, not so much. I used to teach a lot of yoga. Now not so much. I still practice a lot of yoga though. A LOT. I love my kids, being outdoors, taking photos, reading magazines, writing and stirring the pot. Enjoy responsibly.


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