Yoga as an ED Recovery Tool

  Thank you, Kristin Fiore, for providing us with this insiteful article on yoga as a part of ED recovery.

Kristin Fiore, RYT 500, is a member of the SMEDA Board, and active in helping other professionals and their clients incorporate yoga into the recovery process.    http://downdogyogacenter.com/teaching-staff/

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   Yoga has provided me with a tangible tool to facilitate acceptance, self-love, and healing in my body.  As Donna Farhi writes in her book Bringing Yoga to Life, “Through daily Yoga practice we become present to our own fundamental goodness and the goodness of others. It is the practice of observing clearly, listening acutely, and skillfully responding to the moment with all the compassion we can muster. And it is a homecoming with and in the body for it is only here that we can do all these things.” This connection of body, mind, and spirit is key as one begins to address different aspects of an eating disorder.

As a late teen suffering from an eating disorder, I found my way into treatment with a counselor and a medical doctor.  These professionals saw me independently of each other in a clinical sitting where I sat in an examination room for medical tests or in a chair for counseling sessions. In this way, I continued to feel detached from my body as there was a lack of physical participation in the process and I found it difficult to navigate the emotional connections I was making in counseling with the actual changing of habits in my body. 

It wasn’t until I began practicing Yoga that the deeper process of healing and recovery began.  I didn’t sit in a chair and talk about my feelings, I experienced them as I engaged my strength and stretched my limits. For the first time I had access to my thoughts and feelings through my body, not despite it. As movement connected with breath, I found a place inside of me that was always steady. As I developed greater awareness of the flow of prana (life force or energy) within me, I began to feel empowered and beautiful.  This quote from Nita Rubio’s essay in the book Yoga and Body Image sums it up nicely, “As you learn to move with the internal energies, you learn how to move with life’s flow. Beauty emanates from here because it is deeply rooted from within. This beauty is not one based on a standardized list of perfection. Nor does it reference an ideal. This beauty is based on feeling. Beauty is an experience.”

Yoga is an experiential practice that uses mindfulness techniques to bridge the gap between body and mind.  As we begin to feel the connection between the different aspects of our being, we open ourselves up to process, change, surrender, and accept.  The healing benefits of Yoga are many in my experience, and recent studies show Yoga may help relieve depression, anger, and anxiety and improve mood (Harvard Health Publications). Yoga also promotes greater self-awareness, self-esteem and positive body image through the cultivation of love, acceptance, non-violence, and unity. In addition, the physical poses of Yoga help the body build muscle, bone density, and aid in digestion which may be helpful during recovery from an eating disorder and for general overall health.

As we begin to explore the healing benefits of Yoga it is necessary to practice with compassion for what may arise and to seek guidance from a trusted and well-informed teacher as needed. It is important to practice in a safe and non-competitive environment.  Exploring the edge in a yoga pose in a healthy way, not by pushing the body but learning to stay with an uncomfortable sensation and find breath, may be useful when someone is feeling full and resisting the urge to purge or compensate or when they are experiencing strong emotion.  Anastasia Nevin says, “Bringing yoga into eating disorder recovery is a way to access memories, messages, and wisdom stored in the body that are not always accessible in more traditional forms of talk therapy. The ultimate goal of recovery is in fact Yoga: re-connecting and integrating all parts of the self to live a more intuitive, peaceful, and soulful life.” (Live Fit article, “The Role of Yoga in Treating Eating Disorders”)

     I have found that the routine practice of Yoga allows me to be consistent, loving, and stable in body, mind, and spirit.  Over the years of teaching and researching Yoga, I have worked with many others who also find it to be a useful therapeutic tool.  Yoga poses can be modified to suit each individual’s needs depending on where one is in treatment or recovery of an eating disorder, and the use of breathing techniques, mindful meditation, and movement make this a great holistic treatment to compliment more traditional forms of therapy. 

List of Resources:

Farhi, Donna. Bringing Yoga to Life: The Every Day Practice of Enlightened Living. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003. Print.

Klein, Melanie, and Anna Guest-Jelley. Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories about Beauty, Bravery & Loving Your Body. Llewellyn Publications, 2014. Print.

  Nevin, Anastasia. "The Role of Yoga in the Treatment of Eating Disorders." Sonima Live Fit. 2 July 2015. Web.

"Yoga for Anxiety and Depression - Harvard Health." Harvard Health.  Apr. 2009. Web.