Chalice: the competitiveness of body image

April 2013, Portland OR

April 2013, Portland OR

If you met Chalice, you would adore her.  I'm biased because I got to know her and I know her passion and tenacity for wanting to better her well-being but really I think you might adore her even if you just met her.  Here is her intake photo taken in April 2013.  A strong body and well developed features, lustrous hair, strong teeth, smooth skin and a steady and sweet countenance all strike you when you meet her.  She embodies the earth and water elements of Kapha so well.  

Chalice came to see me for a few reasons, one of which had to do with her desire to understand how to manage weight better so that it was a permanent solution.  

She also has a desire to teachers mothers about nutrition for themselves and their children so this was her personal journey through Ayurveda for not only herself but perhaps a future in further study.  What better way to teach others than to explore your own universe first.

This article is a wonderful irony for an Ayurvedic practitioner to write because it is about body image and eating disorders and the implicit low weight that is assumed for an attractive woman. I know this because I grew up thinking the same thing.  However, the more Ayurveda you study, the more you realise how wonderful the earth and water qualities can be to sustain you as you get older.  If a woman can keep the qualities in balance throughout her life she will age with grace - less pain, a calm demeanor and have fewer issues in menopausal transition.  Her hair will retain lustre, as will her skin.  We love the Kapha woman in Ayurveda as much as we love oil.  I only saw Chalice as a beautiful and healthy woman. 

So what was the problem?  There was another side to Chalice that would reveal itself over time.  Her intense gaze and hyper focus on my words early in our sessions showed me that there was a lot of fire behind her soft and sweet exterior - this was a determined woman.  The fun in her life happened around work and commitments and I started to see the dual doshas at play.  Pitta was the boss behind that Kapha body!  Chalice was only 20 and already being drawn to Ayurveda.  She has a strong sense of what she wants to achieve and what values were important to her but there was some history to overcome; a recovering of self- worth lost in her teenage years through trying to mold her body into something it wasn't and causing an irregularity in her menstrual cycle as well as weakening her metabolism.

And Chalice is not alone in this.  I saw a TED talk with the model Cameron Russell that quoted over 70% of girls at the age of 17 are not happy with their bodies.  We spend time blaming the media in a "how dare you" kind of attitude for showing us unrealistic pictures of models- airbrushed, hair swept, bodies contorted and shiny hair.  These days we know the truth behind all these things, so why do they still bother us and why is a lack of self- esteem on the increase?

I was at a massage class sitting in a large group of mostly women a few years back.  My friend, a man, sitting next to me said "You know, Ayurveda makes beautiful women."  I looked around the room.  I hadn't noticed that before.   There is a glow to this practice of knowing what works for you and honoring it.  You are not wavered by other influences because you don't need to be.  And it really is true - you shine from inside out.  When you're young and someone says "Beauty comes from within" you think what does that really mean?!  A young person may not have life experience to provide a background to that kind of statement.  Ayurveda is a paradigm that truly embodies the practical of this statement; actual day to day tools to work with and it was wonderful to see the butterfly transformation of Chalice before my eyes.

Thank you Chalice for your honesty in sharing what it means to be 20 in this age of youtube underage loudmouth showoffs and pumped up booty lululemon yoga rock stars.  Our journey started in April and ended in November, beginning as weekly session, and then biweekly with the last three months as monthly visits.  Here is her story.

1.  What was your main health concern as a teenager? 

The love of yoga.  The physical aspect, the discipline of routine and the strength of mind are some aspects Chalice takes from her practice.  It satisfied the Pitta mind of challenge with the qualities of lightness from exercise for the Kapha body type

The love of yoga.  The physical aspect, the discipline of routine and the strength of mind are some aspects Chalice takes from her practice.  It satisfied the Pitta mind of challenge with the qualities of lightness from exercise for the Kapha body type

My main health concern was losing weight.  I was active and played three sports up until my junior year and then I had an injury that sidelined me for a season. After that I gained a little weight and that is when the yo-yo dieting began.  Looking back I was never 'fat' although I did eat like crap.  A big muffin for breakfast in between classes, fast food for lunch, and dinner was eaten late at home or was fast food on the way home.  I had just run a marathon so running was my thing, I was active. Still I had this skewed perception of my body.  I always wanted to lose 10 lbs.  Since running wasn't doing it for me, that’s when I started purging.  It started out maybe just a few times a week and then it developed to at least twice a day.  I was a wreck. 

When I was heading off to college, my girlfriends and I decided to hold each other accountable and make losing weight a competition.  I was all for it.  After all none of us wanted to gain the freshman 15, instead we decided to lose the freshman 15. Looking back, this was the start of an eating disorder for me. I started to look at food as a negative thing instead of positive.  I was confused.  I loved food but kept telling myself it was bad.  This led to binge eating, which led to purging, diet pills, competitive weight loss and strict diet protocols.  I was losing the weight but not the right way.  At this point I was emotionally unstable which affected my personal relationships.   I quit college and started working 60 hr weeks.  This was around April 2012.  I was at my lowest weight in two years, 135. I looked great but I still wanted to lose more.  The opposite happened. I quit a diet regimen I was on and gained 25 lbs back throughout the year. 

2. Where do you think your concerns came from?

My friends were skinny and social media was telling me to lose weight. I was always comparing myself to others and wondering "what’s wrong with me?".   This is when Ayurveda landed in my lap and I welcomed it with open arms.  My role models at this time were my mom and sisters.  I wouldn't say that my sisters are so caught up in body image but it affects more women than not these days so I don't know how they feel.  Stress is always an easy excuse for gaining weight and promoting a negative self- image.  It’s not that I wasn't thinking about the rest, i.e. traveling,  creating myself,  or being a mom but I felt if I lost the weight all the other things would follow and my life would fall into place.

3.  How do you think a woman gains self-esteem?  What does it look like for you?

Honestly, these days it’s something that is so hard to find in women.  We are all wired with self- worth but life these days tricks us into believing it’s not important or necessary.  We are all beautiful. We all have some great talent. It just has to be found.  For me, finding my self- worth was a journey.  Full of ups and downs.  I can tell you now I found it and it is not going anywhere.

It means believing in me.  Loving myself and knowing I am enough, I do enough, I have enough.  Self- worth shows in your prana. When you believe in yourself you've got this glow - this sense about you.  It attracts people and it is this life force energy.    

Being able to feel the feelings and not having to have a judgment or rationalize them was a huge step for me.  I feel like I am still learning how to deal with them as they arise.  When things really bother me or I think about them a lot, I sit with it.  I meditate on it.  I let it surface so it feels real and acknowledge I am feeling that way for a reason.  Sometimes being the positive one in the family sucks.  Everyone calling me and just needing someone to listen to them.  Most of the time I do exactly that, I just listen.  I enjoy it too, I love my family and I can’t imagine my life without them.  But lately, I want to just go to a foreign country and have no contact and it will be me making contact if I want to talk.  I don’t think I have the guts to do it though; it’s a big step.  I feel guilty, like I’m running away. But I’m not…simply just losing myself and finding myself all over again with no one else to put in their 2 cents on what I am doing.  

4.  What was your biggest challenge to overcome and how did you do it? 

Society today leads you to believe that the ambitious are successful, that the early bird always gets the worm.  But after this time of self- reflection, I am realizing I don’t need to always be pursuing something.  This time when I feel lost, like I am just treading water trying to stay afloat, I am learning and developing myself the most.  I am really getting to know me and I’m ok to not have to achieve like I always did.  Meditation and yoga and my morning routine have helped me in that way.

Another challenge to overcome was truly believing myself when I said "I am beautiful".  It was my mantra for quite some time and still is.  The difference now is that I believe it.  I look in the mirror and believe it.  I look at my life, the people I am surrounded by and say it and I believe it.   I am beautiful, but most of all, my life is beautiful.  

5.  What aspect of your diet change affected you the most?

It was the conditions on when I eat. Not so much what I eat although following the Ayurvedic guidelines per my dosha has done wonders for me. When I eat, I am aware of what I'm eating. The time of day I eat is more important than what I am eating. I have started becoming more aware of the emotional state and feelings I am having before I start eating. I eat to nourish myself. I eat to have a happy and healthy soul, and I never beat myself up over what I eat.  Sure I don't eat the best things all the time. That's life. 80-20 is how I look at it. 

I had a practice of sitting in child’s pose and using lavender essential oils to relax me when I felt the need to chew and spit, which became a habit of mine when I wanted to indulge without the weight gain.  I realized that coping with stress and anxiety became part of the healing for me.  Once I learned how to relax, I felt no need to use these bad habits to get through the day.  I was in better control.

6. What aspect of your lifestyle management change affected you the most?

My morning routine. Waking up at 6, sometimes 5 and drinking my warm lemon water. Meditation. Regular elimination. Going for a walk. Yoga. Green juice. Yoga has made a bigger impact on my life than I thought it would.  I started yoga because I thought it would be a good workout and a way to get back in shape. What I discovered was that the above is true but it is so much more than just that.  The power of breath and being present and content in your practice not only affects your practice but your daily life.  I am present and content in this process of life. All of these things let me be a better person to not just myself but the people I am surrounded by. 

7.  What is your relationship to herbs these days?

Herbs are my friend. Diet pills taught me to look for the magic pill without having to do the lifestyle and diet change and I ended up running in circles and coming back to my weight issue worse than before. These days, having an intention and prayer/meditation on an herb has cultivated a more intimate relationship and respect for the herbs function.  I sat and meditated on Triphala Guggulu to help me to “let go – letting go of trying to control things”.  There is no dependency really just asking for a friends help until I get back on my feet – that’s how I see it.  One example was the juice company and the potential to run my own company but rather than worry about a business not working out, I asked for help to assess whether it was a good idea and realized that it may not be the best choice for me right now and I let it go. 

8. How do you view other people with what you have learned about yourself?

 With everything I've learned about myself through Ayurveda I've not only changed my view on myself but in how I view the other beautiful lives around me. I see the qualities of the people I am surrounded by daily; the good things that are there to offer. I enjoy people more. I look for the good in the tough times. I see a lot of people who are way too critical; they are always talking negatively about themselves. If I had one wish I would have people love themselves first. 

 9. What's the most amazing thing that has happened to you this year?

It was me becoming this confident and beautiful woman.  I was really in a rut.  I was never happy with what I had; my work life was crazy and not very consistent. I was a worrier, not just about my life but about the loved ones in my life.  Now it's different.  I care instead of worry.  I know what I can change and what I cannot change.  I believe in people and that they will be the best they can be.  Ayurveda has taught me it all starts with you.  You can't love and care for others unless you love and care for yourself first.  But by you caring for yourself it gives you more energy and life force.  People are attracted to that life force energy.  It’s like you are a magnet.  I went back to my home town in Montana and all my friends were asking me what I had been doing and that I looked great.  It felt really good to be able to share some of the tricks I had learnt.  I became a mini Ayurvedic Practitioner!

10. How will you help others from what you have learned?

I would love to help people like Sandra has helped me.  I believe young women and women in general are too critical and hard on themselves.  I want to be a game changer.  I think all women are beautiful; it's a matter of lighting that fire inside of them again and giving it the right direction and balance in life.  In my radar is potentially an Ayurveda certification, learning more about the complex yet simple lifestyle.  I would love to do a yoga teacher training someday as well.  

Beauty is a state of being and living from a balanced heart. The natural balance of giving and receiving is the dance of relationship to strive for in our daily lives. Too much giving and we become depleted. Too much receptivity and complacency sets in. When we find the balance of light and dark/ masculine and feminine, we find time to weed out the excess and nourish ourselves. The relationship to our body is as important as any relationship. 

November 2013, Portland OR

November 2013, Portland OR

AYURVEDIC PERSPECTIVE

Each case is different in Ayurveda and this is by no means a validation of protocol to adhere to when looking at eating disorders since the reasoning for each individual can be complex.  So instead of looking at body image or eating disorders as the primary issue to focus on, we bring the focus on the unique constitution of the client and bring them to balance through the elements.  Simplify it.  Detract from the drama.  Educate the client as to why they would follow a particular diet and lifestyle.  A Pitta mind is intelligent and they will respond well from being treated as such and setting a space of trust and non- judgment is essential.  This was my general approach with Chalice.  I would respect her intelligence and let it work for her rather than against her by providing education and the ability to make choices as well as encouraging a regular routine to provide a space for her Vata to feel safe in, whilst all the changes were occurring.

In this situation we had a Pitta/Kapha prakruti (constitution) with a Vata/Pitta vikruti (imbalance).   Since Vata is the quickest to go out of balance we dealt with that first.  Routine in food - working with lunch as the biggest meal and a lighter meal in the evening was the most comfortable choice.  Trips to the farmers market became a favourite.  But there was a big space between lunch and dinner and that was a little tricky to fill in space if Chalice was not occupied with work.  This big space in the afternoon can feel empty for a lot of us.  It is the Vata time of the day and some of us will jump to fill it with sugar of some sort or caffeine as a pick me up.  It can be one of the most vulnerable times for setting the tone for the rest of the evening - if there has been no nourishment for lunch and dinner, evening snacking will take place.  

Chalice has the fortuitous body type that does not do a nose dive from a drop in energy like mostly skinny frail Vata types do.  As mentioned, her countenance is steady and so snacking is not really required for her physically however mentally it did provide a relief from the Vata in the mind of feeling insecure.  So in the beginning we started off with nourishing snacks and a practice of treating them with the same respect of eating guidelines as a regular meal.  We quickly found that one of the best protocols was 5 minutes in childs pose with some lavender essential oils inhaled after rubbing them in her palms when she felt the need to graze .  Instant calm and a reduced desire to fill the space with food.

Relaxation, a morning routine, and a challenging yoga class all added to her sense of inner confidence.  We also had to tackle the business of having fun!  Everything was about striving and achievement and that was fuelling the intense competition she had with her body.  So part of her protocol was having a fun day (she's pretty good at it these days).  We approached the management of Vata with routine and then honored her strong intelligence via Pitta through yoga, ayurvedic education, and learning new recipes that served her body type. So why not running or some other vigorous exercise if she had the Kapha body type?  As she presented with Vata symptoms in the digestive system and had a tendency to fuel the Pitta mind through competition, Yoga was the best choice.

Yoga provided exercise and an opportunity of self- reflection within a supportive community.  We started off with a sequence for her morning routine but it was the classes and her confidence in a particular teacher that really brought the love out.  Putting herself around confident and healthy woman also provided a shift in lifestyle that is needed in today's society.  Young women want to be around older women that do have inner confidence to show them what other strengths they can learn to master in themselves, not just outer appearance.  As my teacher, Dr Claudia Welch, constantly prescribes - Keep Good Company.  

Chalice just blossomed before my eyes.  Her commitment to herself and the ability to be open to her imbalances and willingness to overcome through following the suggestions showed in her each session.  Even those times we took a step backward, which happens to ALL of us, the following week she was back with a vengeance!  She just started to glow in such a short amount of time.  And it wasn’t just me, her family and friends started to notice it too. As women we go through so many hurdles - for teenagers and 20 something’s it's about self-definition, for 30 -50 year olds it's expressing your own creation, and post- menopause it's figuring out how to slow down.  She has the tools now, which will need sharpening as time goes on but her foundation is strong, both spiritually and now physically; she sees herself differently now and the photos reflect that.

Now when you meet Chalice, the first thing that strikes you is her confidence.  She just looks comfortable in her skin and in expressing herself.  Her gaze is no longer sharp with competition, it's more soft and engaging.  She knows who she is and what she wants and doesn't let others deter her state of self assurance.  She is more relaxed.  And that, I think, is pretty attractive.

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Sandra Radja

Established in 2012 The She Oak aims to provide healing through diet and lifestyle counselling as well as educational programs. I believe in teaching others to not only know their inherent constitutions that will best serve them but also how to help themselves should they mis-align with their true nature. Ayurveda treats the individual not the disease.