In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 22 – 28), we are investigating what some of the most current and effective therapies for treating this devastating disease.
As yoga has been met with open arms here in the West, medical science has also been quick to embrace this 5,000-year old Indian tradition. Recently, yoga has been used to address the psychological factors that enable a full-blown eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia. In fact, some of the most prominent eating disorder treatment centers in the country, like the Renfrew Center in Coconut Creek, Fla., and New York Presbyterian Hospital in White Plains, N.Y., incorporate gentle, meditative yoga courses into their regular treatment plan.
Yoga has become such an effective recovery tool for those with an eating disorder because it subtly teaches acceptance of the body’s physical and psychological limitations and it also helps to engender an intimate connection between the mind, body and spirit. For someone with an eating disorder, this awareness translates into greater respect for their body and more compassion for how they perceive their entire self.
In fact, a 2005 study in the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly found that women who routinely engage in a mind-body practice like yoga were more satisfied with their body and exhibited less eating disorder symptoms than women who were runners, bikers or did some other form of aerobic activity. This is not to say that yoga can prevent an eating disorder, but it does show that yoga’s beneficial side effect of positive self-esteem can curb the self-loathing and critical voices that are hallmark features of eating disorders.
Yoga’s ability to tune the practitioner in with their breath, their body, their thoughts and emotions without the reflection of a mirror enables the student to connect with the sensations she is experiencing, listen to them and then respond in a way that is self-explorative. For instance, a woman who is bulimic might learn to respond to the emotions that trigger a binge by staying present in the moment, observing what she is feeling rather than reacting to them with food.
It is important for any woman or man interested in learning yoga as a way to recover from an eating disorder to seek out a qualified instructor that is supportive and encouraging. The individual might want to consider meeting with the instructor beforehand to introduce herself and explain to the teacher why she is coming to yoga.
Yoga’s almost magical ability to alert us to tune in with our inner self is no short of true transformation. For anyone who has or continues to suffer from an eating disorder, this powerful shift in how we see ourselves is an integral part of the journey to recovery.