Yoga and Eating Disorders Finding Peace in Recovery
Yoga is incredibly popular for its holistic benefits. Connecting mind, body, and spirit, yoga fosters peace and self-acceptance. For those in recovery from an eating disorder, a yoga practice can help improve body image and encourage a nonjudgmental space for healing. According to Yoga Journal, over half of inpatient eating disorder treatment centers in the United States incorporate yoga into their programming. In moderation and as part of a healthy recovery plan, yoga can strengthen the body and provide an outlet for stress.
Body and Spirit: A Unique Relationship
Anastasia Nevin, in an article for Sonima, writes about the physical body as a vehicle for the spirit. In recovery, it is often hard to sit through difficult feelings. The eating disorder was always ready to swoop in and rescue when life got uncomfortable. Nevin explains that yoga practice can be a way to examine how we function in our lives. For example, holding an uncomfortable yoga pose can bring up an urge to escape the discomfort….and can help us see how we tend to handle anxiety elsewhere in our lives.
Yoga practice can also help the body heal from the physical complications of an eating disorder. Many clients have low bone density or need to regain muscle strength. Yoga can help to gently rebuild physical strength and help clients gain a new appreciation for all their bodies can do. Used as an adjunct therapy with the consistent help of a treatment team using traditional talk therapy and nutrition services, yoga can address deeper spiritual and emotional issues in a nurturing way.
Yoga in Recovery: Moderation is Key
Unfortunately, for some clients yoga is contraindicated. Eating disorders are notoriously sneaky illnesses, and the risk of over-exercise is high even in recovery. Those with a history of an eating disorder may be more likely to overdo it in their yoga practice, therefore rendering it unhealthy. Body comparisons are likely in group yoga sessions and can fuel poor body image. Some yoga practices are especially rigorous- think “hot yoga” or power yoga- and can lead to dehydration and nutrient deficiencies in people who are physically compromised because of their eating disorder. Before engaging in even the gentlest yoga practice, clients should be cleared by their treatment team.
Despite the potential risks associated with overdoing it, yoga in itself has the potential to bring a new level of healing to eating disorder recovery. A gentle practice can increase tolerance to change and transitions as well as introduce the peaceful reunification of mind, body and spirit.
Nevin, A. (2015) The Role of Yoga in the Treatment of Eating Disorders. Sonima,
Schware, R. (2013). How Yoga Can Become a Game-Changer in Combatting Eating Disorders. Huffington Post
Roff, C. (2014). The Truth About Yoga and Eating Disorders. Yoga Journal.