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Yoga, Eating Disorders and Healing

in YD News

Intro by Thais G.

For many people in our culture, yoga is seen as a “fad”, an exercise routine, or simply another way to tone the glutes. But for those in the yoga world, we know the powerful healing affects of the practice. We understand the transformation that can occur when we step onto our mats time and time again. It is one of my missions to show the world that yoga is much more than just bending the body. And that is why I wanted to share this post written by a dear soul who wishes to remain anonymous. Enjoy this touching piece and maybe even reflect on your own transformational story. We have all engaged in some activity that has changed our lives, let us always remember our roots in order for us to grow and fly.

Yoga, Eating Disorders and Healing

Yoga saves me. The single most helpful tool in my recovery was and continues to be my daily yoga and meditation practice.

I’ve had low self-esteem and body image issues for as long as I can remember, but a few years ago I developed an eating disorder that took over my life. I was stuck in an extremely destructive pattern of binging and purging that essentially made me lose any sense of ‘self’ that I’d previously had. My priorities shifted and I was not living according to my values. I was hoping that someone would yank me out of this hole I’d fallen into, but came to realize that I was waiting for an imaginary hero that would never come.

I had tried yoga when it first became popular in the West, but felt uncomfortable and out of place in the one or two classes I’d attended. When I was in Intensive Outpatient treatment in the US state of Colorado during the summer of 2010 I was reintroduced to yoga and meditation and it struck me as a very practical tool for managing emotions, especially stress, in a positive and accessible way. Treatment for me was a sort of starting point in my recovery, but at that time I had not yet reached my own personal turning point. After leaving treatment, I actually fell deeper into my disorder. It was nearly six months after treatment when I finally took initiative and made some positive changes in my life that put me on the path toward recovery.

I’d recently moved to NYC and decided that I’d try a donation based yoga class recommended to me by a friend. The class was packed so I was able to comfortably blend in as I settled into child’s pose and heard the teacher ask us to “listen to our bodies”. That simple instruction had a significant impact in my recovery and made me realize how disconnected I’d become from my body. Every time I’d engage in eating disorder behaviors it was as if I was watching someone else.

As I continued to attend classes, the frequency of my binges and purges declined and I saw a way out of my eating disorder and back to living my life. I was learning to embrace imperfection, to be present, and that I could endure anything for this one moment. The lessons I was learning on my mat were directly applicable to my life and recovery. I almost immediately noticed that I began to want to take care of myself rather than hurt myself with my habitual and harmful behaviors. I began to meditate at home as a way to handle stress and would do yoga poses to comfort myself when I was feeling overwhelmed. I started craving healthful, wholesome foods that would nourish my body, rather than mindlessly binging on processed junk food. It was an incredible transformation from the severe bulimic I’d been just a few months earlier.

Mindfulness in daily activities, including preparing and eating meals has helped me to not have anxiety about the past (unchangeable) or future (unpredictable), but to focus on the beauty of the present moment. Physically, yoga has helped me learn to pay closer attention to my body so that I can stretch when I’m tense, or just because it feels good. I’ve also learned to sit with uncomfortable feelings and work on acceptance rather than judgment or avoidance. Learning to listen to my body is an ongoing process and I’m definitely still not fully “recovered,” but I feel empowered knowing that I have found a way to handle the ups and downs of life without turning to ED. Whether I am sitting in a 10 minute meditation, working through a full home practice in the morning, or doing a couple of poses before bed, yoga and meditation have become an invaluable part of my recovery and life.

This post was originally published at Thaisg.com, republished here by permission from the author.

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5 comments… add one

  • Hui

    Too true. I started yoga solely for fitness purposes, but then found myself changing many aspects of my life, including embracing vegetarianism, meditation, things I never thought I would ever do in my life time! Great article.

  • Thank you for sharing, this piece really touched me. A big YES to the healing power of yoga! Best wishes to you on your healing journey.

  • Colleen

    Amen! I have struggled with disordered eating since my teens (a long, long time ago). Yoga has been the one constant force in my life that helped me to gain control and eat in a nutritious and sustaining manner…..most of the time, that is. :-} (sheepish grin) It has helped me to become more comfortable in my body, to honor my body as it is, not as I wish it would be. Yes, I still look longingly at the other sylph-like women who populate the classes I attend and wish I didn’t have that extra flesh around the middle, but I am no longer “triggered” to engage in unhealthy starvation/binge/purge behaviors. I breathe deeply and thank my body for enduring the pain and suffering I have subjected it to, and forgive myself once again for engaging in said behavior in the past. Will I ever be free of the urge to abuse myself through disordered eating? I don’t know, eating disorders seem to be a part of the spectrum of deeper, broader psychological disorders. I believe it is a life-long journey, not a quick fix.

  • What a beautiful article and brave sharing. I agree with Colleen that ED recovery is a life-long spiral journey, but the more and longer we spiral out and around it, the freer we become. This has been my experience, as someone who has used food, off and on, to cope and to numb over the years. When the urge or behavior comes back, I know something’s going on I need to look at. Could be a relationship that needs attention, words that need speaking, stress that needs an outlet. Food distracts but it doesn’t solve any problems, it just makes us forget life and (bonus!) gives us a new problem to focus on. (Not!) But yoga, meditation, conscious breathing…these help us refocus in such a more productive and beneficial way. I’m so happy for all who find this path. It’s been my healing touchstone, too. Blessings ♥ d

  • As a nurse and yoga therapist, I have observed that virtually ALL of my students and patients have an ED. Uh-huh. An addiction to eating or not eating or constantly moving or constantly sitting. Yoga simply said, ” saves lives.” Feeds the hungry heart and weary soul. We are all in RECOVERY darling. xo

    Thanks you for shining your light on this.

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