Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Balanced Living Smackdown: Yoga Vs. Eating Disorder

*Warning -- If calorie counting is a trigger for you, please consider skipping this post!*

After yesterday's first-in-a-long-long-while run, my muscles felt tight. I worried that tightness would soon transform into tenderness, reducing me to an awkward hobble for the next day or so. In an effort to stave off the soreness, I unrolled my yoga mat and did an hour long power vinyasa class courtesy of YogaDownload.

As with the run, this was some a first-in-a-long-long-while yoga practice. Unlike the run, however, there was no question in my mind as I lay, finished, in savasana, my sweat pooling around me -- I felt good. Really good. Blissful, in fact. Yoga left me feeling everything I had wanted from my run -- challenged, open, stretched, and peaceful.

Yesterday's practice felt so good that I squeezed in another sixty minute YogaDownload class between this morning's writing session and lunchtime. This time I went with a Baptiste power vinyasa flow led by Dave Farmar, whose sequences and often-amusing chatter never fail to disappoint. For kicks and out of curiosity, I strapped on my heart rate monitor before commencing to sweat and stretch in my studio -- er, living room.

Sixty minutes later, I once again sank into a relaxed final resting pose, letting my mind gently wander out of its deep grounded-ness into a heightened yet still chilled out awareness. Then I remembered -- the heart rate monitor. I tried to stave off my curiosity, but already my semi-trance had broken.

Skipping the last few moments of savasana, I grabbed my Garmin, which I had left lying next to my mat for the entire practice. Surely, I thought, I burned heaps of calories. After all, my legs felt like noodles and my back was encouraging me to lay off locust and floor bow poses until it recovered a little. I looked at the Garmin's screen and read the results: 196 calories.

196 calories?! That was it?

Gone was the bliss of savasana, the satisfaction of a challenge well-met. Instead, all I could think about was the measly total calories my body had spent while sweating and moving over the yoga mat. 196 calories? It seemed impossible -- I had worked so hard -- and yet the eating disordered side of me nodded smugly as if to say, "Told you so."

You see, in all stages of my eating disorder, I never counted yoga as exercise. Even when it was so hard that it made my muscles sore, or when even breathing through certain poses couldn't help a few curses from slipping between my gritted teeth, I categorized yoga as "other" in the fitness realm. I thought it was healthy, but more for the mind part of mind-body fitness, and certainly it had nothing to do with being thin. So I piled yoga practices both at the gym and at home on top of increasingly strenuous workouts, ignoring my nutritionist and later my therapist when they asked me to consider leaving yoga to stand on its own as a workout.

Now, to be hit with the apparent calorie burning inadequacy of something that makes my body feel so darn good -- that makes it feel good even when it's a struggle, unlike running and other high impact exercises -- it hurts. And it makes that still-disordered creature hiding somewhere inside me come out and laugh in my face.

So what's a former disordered eater to do? Honestly, I'm not sure. It's true that there is the possibility that my heart rate monitor slipped during today's yoga practice, skewing the data. But what if there is no technological malfunction? Can I feel satisfied with that kind of calorie burn (or lack of burn)? I wish I could tell you.

Do you struggle with something similar? How do you come to terms with it?

While you're grappling over this heavy stuff, take a minute to giggle at this silly series I discovered at the You Will Not Believe blog:

1 comment:

  1. It's a bummer! I think Bikram's yoga would burn a lot more calories than the vinyasa flow but I am with you-it makes me feel good. And when I don't do it I need the chiropractor! The fact that it does bring you so much comfort and does wonders for your mind and body is priceless...maybe calories aren't the most important thing when you can really feel that difference. But as an aside-do it for 3 months and you will see changes in your body that calorie burning doesn't offer-and nice long,lean muscle! nice blog, thanks for sharing!


"I am glad you are here with me."
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King