“the practice of the healer, therapist, teacher or any helping professional should be directed towards his or herself first, because if the helper is unhappy, he or she cannot help many people.” tich nhat hanh (cited in hooks, 1994)
My path to health and wellness has been a tumultuous one. The early part of my life was filled with a lot of unhealthy, processed foods and little exercise. The bulk of my teenage years and early 20s were spent diet-obsessed, eating-disordered, exercise-addicted, and still full of processed (vegan) food and occasional alcohol binges. Today, the thought of any of those old habits being part of my reality makes me feel physically ill. I’m not sure when exactly the shift occurred, but somehow my diet-obsession has turned into a health-obsession and my exercise-addiction (albeit still arguably present) has come to include more gentle forms of activity, like (and perhaps most importantly) yoga. I can’t recall the last time I bought something processed and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had alcohol in the past year. To my body’s delight and my punk/working class/criticalgradstudent heart’s dismay, I have transformed into a stereotype of what surely must be a category on “Stuff White People Like”: a bourgie hippie. (Which is so annoying, because I hate hippies).
Although the goal of writing this post is to celebrate and perhaps even inspire folks to embrace holistically healthy lifestyles, I would be remiss to not acknowledge that I have an immense amount of privilege to spend time reading and thinking about health and wellness. I have time to exercise and meal-plan/prepare. I have a disposable income that–although is not much–allows me to splurge on yoga memberships and personal juicers. I spent my last blog post woe-ing about my privilege, so in the interest of not extending that pity-party to the point of total obnoxiousness, I want to shift gears and positively focus way my healthy habits have truly transformed my life. Still, the question of access is one that is DEEPLY important to me, and I want to continue to find ways to argue that healthy living should not and does not necessarily have to be reserved for those with time and money. I hope to engage with this more in future posts, and hopefully through future research and activism.
I chose to write about this now because I’m embarking on round two of a 21-day detox cleanse, inspired by a combination of Alejandro Junger’s CLEAN program and Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy Dietbook (yes, it’s a ridiculous title; deal with it). Dr. Junger’s program (to which I’m adhering more strictly) requires a simple formula of a liquid meal in the morning, a solid meal at lunch, liquid meal at dinner. This usually works out as: juice, healthy lunch, smoothie or pureed soup for dinner. There is a list of items that are not allowed, including: certain kinds of meat, sugar, alcohol, gluten, caffeine, certain types of high-sugar fruits, “nightshades,” peanuts, eggs, soy, dairy. There are very few instances that you would ever buy anything in a package. My refrigerator is mostly full of fresh fruits and veggies, bulk gluten-free grains, and almond butter. As a vegan, I already had a good chunk of this eliminated from my diet, but during my first round, giving up bread, soy (tofu), and sugar seemed like it would be impossible. Surprisingly, after completing the first cleanse in January, I’ve rarely looked back, and have continued to eat a mostly gluten-free, soy-free and (refined) sugar-free diet (in addition to remaining vegan, and now, mostly processed-food free).
Round two is proving to be equally successful and I was happy to bring in the addition of Kris Carr‘s book, which has a similar 21 day cleanse, but Carr doesn’t require that your dinner be in liquid form. In addition, Carr includes a bunch of hippie-dippy spiritual stuff in the book, such as daily affirmations, an insistence on meditation, and hailing her readers as “magical unicorns” who must tend to our “god pods.” If I wasn’t eating so healthy, I’d probably throw up in my mouth a little, but one of the perks of the cleanse is a feeling of acceptance (of yourself and others), and so I now mostly just find it endearing.
Being on a detox allows you to live in your body with intention and mindfulness. It allows you to think about food in ways that are not about deprivation (I swear, that’s not the framework, counter-intuitive as it may seem), but about nutrition, energy and sustenance. As someone who struggled with body-hate and a vicious battle with bulimia for most my life (literally most of it; my eating disorder issues started around age 11), finding a way to enjoy food again has been profoundly life-changing. Part of the detox is trying to learn what foods negatively impact your body; for me, I discovered that gluten was a problem (I broke out in a rash the first time I introduced bread back in my diet after the first cleanse), and tomatoes are too acidic for my stomach. And, surprise surprise, sugar makes me feel like shit after the initial high. But the cleanse also helps you learn to crave new foods. I was a vegan-baker to my core; I loved sugary desserts. Although I still love the adorableness and deliciousness of sweet treats (making them for myself and sharing with others), I’ve now been happily introduced to a world of gluten-free, refined-sugar free, vegan (often raw) baking, and I would take a raw date/coconut cookie ball over a cupcake any day…(okay, there might be instances when that’s not true, but srsly, for the most part, I crave better forms of sweets now!). In addition, I crave and am no longer afraid of “healthy fats” like avocados, almond butter, and olive oil. During the cleanse, my lunches probably have more fat and calories than I’ve ever “let” myself have in one meal, but they fill me up both physically and emotionally. Not being afraid of (good-for-you) food is a pretty amazing sensation.(And, I’m not gonna lie, the fact that I lost seven pounds on my initial cleanse, and have since kept five of those pounds off just eating a mostly “clean” diet, is pretty cool).
But I’m not writing this just to be a commercial for Kriss and Dr. J. I’m writing this because I know that life is tough and stressful, and whether you’re reading this as a fellow grad student, or someone struggling to find fulfilling work, or burntout on long hours, or dealing with family drama, or waking up sad, or feeling “in a rut,” I want to stress that self-care can transform all of those things. I want to stress that self-care is not selfish, because as TNH asserts in the quote at the top of post, we can’t help anyone else (or be in solidarity in the struggle, in more emancipatory terms) if we aren’t first healthy and strong ourselves.
My biggest issue with “bourgie hippie” philosophy is the way it disengages with structural forms of oppression. Anytime anyone remotely suggests that “positive visualization” can provide “abundance,” I become seriously infuriated. Working-class struggle provides abundance, assholes. Not meditation. But what meditation/yoga/healthy eating/etc. does provide is the energy to endure struggle, activism, stress, trauma. And we can’t engage in political and social battles if we don’t have the energy to offer solid resistance. So, I like to think of myself as having a “disidentification” bourgie hippie-ism. Jose Munoz describes disidentification as “the third mode of dealing with dominant ideology, one that neither opts to assimilate within such a structure nor strictly opposes it; rather, disidentification is a strategy that works on and against dominant ideology” (p. 11). Disidentification allows me to take what works from new-agey forms of health and wellness and reclaim it in a way that rejects the really oppressive parts and take up the potentialities offered from the rest of it.
Yoga and changes in my diet got me through one of the biggest and most difficult life changes I’ve experienced. Two years ago I left the love of my life–Chicago–for Minneapolis. I left behind amazing friends, a broken but important relationship, a sense of belonging, a community of activists and punks, and a lake and a skyline that kept my heart vibrantly alive. It was a horribly painful transition. But my gift to myself was an unlimited membership to a Bikram yoga studio. I went daily. 90 minutes a day I sweat and focused and breathed (and locked my knee). I learned, every day, that the pain was temporary. And I carried that wisdom with me outside of the studio. And it proved true.
This blog has so far been a reflection of my intellectual opinions on academia, politics, labor, media, etc. But if you look to your right, you’ll notice that most of my blogroll is devoted to health and fitness. This is a huge part of my life and one I don’t want to be embarrassed about, because it’s not punk enough, or because it’s only for those with privilege, or because meditation takes too long. It’s just too good not to share. And it’s just too important not to devote time to considering how we can extend healthy living to those with less conducive lifestyles than mine.
Because of this, I’m going to create a weekly blog feature called “Wellness Wednesday.” On Wellness Wednesdays, I’ll talk about some aspect of healthy living. Sometimes it may be a recipe, sometimes a new fitness routine, and sometimes I’ll wrestle with tough questions about access and the politics behind health and wellness. I hope you’ll join me and maybe feel compelled to disidentify with your own form of bourgie-hippieism.