"A dependence, especially a strong one."
Attachment is not a bad thing, in fact, it's part of human survival. When we are born, we attach completely to our mothers for food and care; we are born attached. We go on to form more attachments to family and friends, and then to various aspects of our identity as it starts to take shape. If attachment is such a natural way of human life, why does it get such a bad rap in yoga?
I like to think of this subject not in terms of what I get attached to, but instead the nature of the attachment. I imagine my attachment to the thing as a type of fabric or material; what elasticity does this attachment have? Can it be slackened or tightened? Can it be easily severed if need be? When does the glue that holds our world together become so steadfast that overnight a simple attachment might start to feel more like an addiction?
Until really not all that many years ago, my defining attachment was to food; the excessive consumption of it, the lengthy denial of it, obsession with 'healthy' eating and constant confusion over what degree of attachment to it was necessary for my own survival. Unlike an addictive attachment to drugs or alcohol, you can't completely sever ties with food, it is an undeniable element of the most basic human survival.
If it weren't for my yoga practice, I can't say for sure if I would have been able to get to where I am today with this particular attachment. To understand where I am today, I need to share briefly with you how this attachment started. At the age of either 12 or 13 my body began to enter its change from child to adult and it was growing at a rate I didn't understand or welcome. New curves and shapeliness that were no more than extra flesh began to elicit stares from men too old to be looking at a pre-teen, whilst also garnering attention of boys at school and inviting jealous jibes from my friends. This was, in a way, my first attachment. I allowed this new growing body of mine to afford me a different social status, one of 'attractiveness-as-currency' amongst my peers. But, like everything in life, my changing body changed some more, and then changed again, and I did not like it, I had already become attached to who I was becoming.
So at the young age of 13 came my first diet. It was like a sport at first, and had completely taken precedence over actual sport, because my new-found awareness of my body had taken the joy out of play. Restriction became a game I would play with myself and my addiction to 'healthy eating' began, but, as I now understand, restricting your diet when you're a teenager leads to obvious bio-mechanical upset, and running on empty necessitated my first binge; I wanted to die, I just couldn't fathom how my clever little plan of control had been foiled by the very system I was trying to micromanage. The binge-purge-starve-etc. cycle continued for sadly many, many more years, to varying degrees; the material that kept me attached to this unavoidable aspect of life sometimes slackened, sometimes it tightened and other times it got tangled up completely.
I struggle to write about this topic because my past experiences with disordered eating seem at odds with my identity as a yoga teacher, but that is, of course, an attachment in and of itself. So much of our suffering comes from rigid attachments to ideas of who and where we should be in life at any given time. Our families, peers and society hand us the ropes of their attachment like it's a relay race and there's no room for severing ties. Practising yoga doesn't give you automatic severance of said ties, but it gives you the confidence to navigate them and work out which are helping you and which are hindering you.
Letting go of attachments doesn't happen overnight, and you don't need to actually let go entirely, but once you start loosening the grip of just one, you'll be amazed how much breathing space you gain. The first attachment I started to let go of was the idea that I could control my body; this was really difficult at first, but it meant the beginning of the end to dieting and the constant obsession with weight, which left space for heaps of radical and compassionate acceptance.
When I stopped trying to control what I thought was good or bad for me, everything fell into place. It was through letting go of attachment to the attachments themselves that I found my present liberation. Today, I no longer struggle with food; that's not to say my diet is by any means perfect, but it doesn't need to be. What means so much more than any calorie count or nutrition profile is being able to have head and heart space for things I actually want to be attached to.