Are you or someone you know suffering from an eating disorder (ED)? These disorders involve much more than food or weight. A person’s ED can have a significant impact on their life. It could affect everything from school or job performance to physical health issues. Yoga is a mindfulness-based mind-body exercise that has natural healing properties. Yoga is a great tool to help you navigate the recovery process. A sustained yoga practice, in combination with psychological therapy, can be beneficial all year long.
What makes Yoga an effective treatment for eating disorders
As a practice of mindfulness, Yoga requires a lot of concentration. It’s also an excellent way to stay present in the moment by focusing on your breath and body. Yoga can help treat eating disorders, often caused by various factors, including stress and a lack of coping skills.
Yoga and eating disorders
Yoga has many benefits, such as improved sleep and positively impacting your mental health, well-being, and quality of life. Yoga can be used to deal with stress, difficult emotions, or triggers instead of resorting to disordered eating habits. This is not meant to suggest that yoga practices are a means to avoid the situation or to shift obsessive behavior to another place. It is possible to use urges to destructive habits as a reminder to step onto your mat.
Yoga can help with digestion and constipation relief and reduce the reactivity to painful refeeding. Yoga’s emotional effects help ground and process strong feelings. Meditation helps to reduce negative thoughts. Long-held feelings can also be released after or during a yoga class.
The attempt to avoid painful emotions can lead to disordered eating. Hatha yoga is a great way to learn to accept yourself, relax, and allow your feelings to come through. It may seem easier said than accomplished, but your mat can be where you practice embracing complicated feelings without trying to avoid them. If you practice this consistently, your ability to be present with emotions and sensations on the mat can eventually translate into life outside Yoga.
The results of a review of the research in the area of yoga and eating disorders showed that it was too early to say with certainty if Yoga is beneficial. Still, there is no evidence suggesting it is harmful.
Choose your practice carefully
Some forms of Yoga are more therapeutic for people with eating disorders than others. Some people may use power yoga as a compulsive exercise that could reinforce symptoms. Try a less intense but still mindful and gentle class instead of “hot yoga” or a power class. Slower yoga forms (like restorative and yin yoga) can be therapeutic even if initially they may seem less desirable. Selecting a suitable course can help you cultivate self-compassion and counter the harsh self-talk characteristic of eating disorders.
Meditation, particularly meditation of loving-kindness (metta)
Practicing meditation during or while in postures will ensure that your asanas do not become a continuation of an eating disorder. Consciously inhabiting your experience will help your mental and physical well-being. Research is increasingly suggesting that mediation can benefit eating disorder sufferers. You can practice meditation with a loving-kindness attitude to help you appreciate your body. Sending kindness to parts of your body you dislike is an excellent way to start. You can also place your hand on those areas and feel the warmth. This self-kindness can be extended to other parts of yourself, such as judgmental cognitions and feelings of shame.
Yoga and the media
The media portrayals of Yoga are often based on the same objectifying attitudes as the mainstream media depictions that contribute to eating disorders. Avoid popular yoga media that emphasize weight loss or the attainment of complex gymnastics or postures. These messages convey that your value is still intrinsically tied to your body rather than honoring that the body represents only one aspect of you.
Avoid diets and cleansing
Yoga often involves special diets such as mono-diets or strict cleansing regimens. These diets are often associated with the yoga lifestyle, but those with eating disorders must be cautious, as adopting these diets can trigger symptoms. When you begin your yoga journey, focus on mindfulness, meditation, and supportive asanas rather than strict and rule-based diet suggestions.
Remember these guidelines and inspirational stories, such as Chelsea Fox’s, who experienced recovery from anorexia by practicing Yoga as a teen. As the Chinese sage Lao Tzu said, “A thousand-mile journey must begin with one step.”
Yoga can be an excellent complement to the recovery from eating disorders. Consistent yoga practice and attending weekly yoga classes can achieve Yoga’s maximum effects. Working with a yoga teacher or therapist can help you fine-tune your training and support your recovery.