Yoga and Eating Disorders

Yoga has helped many women with eating disorders learn to accept their body and recover from their illness. A study published in Psychology of Women Quarterly reported that mind-body exercises, such as yoga, are associated with greater body satisfaction and fewer symptoms of eating disorders than traditional aerobic exercise like running or using cardio machines. Why is this?

One simple answer is the goal of traditional aerobic exercise versus the goal of yoga. Aerobic exercise is often performed in order to burn calories and lose weight, which directly feeds into the fears and goals of an eating disorder. The more you exercise, the thinner you’re supposed to become. The problem is that an eating disorder distorts your self-image, so even if you’re fit or losing weight, you will see a fat person in the mirror. This creates a vicious cycle of self-judgment, self-loathing and the compulsive need to exercise more or restrict calories in order to lose weight. There is also a mind-body disconnect found in the gym: the music is blaring through headphones, the televisions are keeping you distracted, and you’re constantly comparing your body to other people in the gym.

The goal of yoga, on the other hand, is to teach you how to strengthen your body, your mind and the connection between the two. During yoga, you’ll practice poses that challenge people to build not only strength and stamina, but also mindfulness, stillness and physical and inner balance. The only way to maneuver through difficult poses is to listen to your body, trust your body, and let go of any ego or judgment.

“This heightened sensitivity and responsiveness to bodily sensations is associated with less preoccupation of physical appearance, more positive views of the body, and more healthy regulation of food intake,” says the study’s author, Jennifer Daubenmier.

This may be why the study found that people who practice yoga report less self-objectification, greater satisfaction with physical appearance, and fewer disordered eating attitudes compared to non-yoga practitioners. “Through yoga, this study suggests that women [and men] have intuitively discovered a way to buffer themselves against the messages that tell them that only a thin and ‘beautiful’ body will lead to happiness and success,” the author explains.

Yoga Therapy for Eating Disorders

Many eating disorder treatment centers today offer yoga therapy to help patients release feelings of negative self-worth and transform their relationship with their body. So how does yoga therapy work?

First, let’s look at the effects yoga has on the mind. During yoga class, the teacher constantly reminds students to let go of negative thoughts, let go of judgment, and let go of ego — the tiny voice inside that tells you to ignore your body’s cues and push yourself beyond what your body currently wants in order to hit a pose or to look like the person practicing next to you. There is no comparing in yoga: each person is on his or her individual journey. What you may be able to do one day in class, you may not be able to do another day; and what the person is doing next to you should have no affect on what you’re doing on your own matt. There is a saying in yoga that there is not right or wrong, no good or bad, no better or best.

Finally, let’s look at the effects yoga has on the body. Yoga is a centuries-old practice that has been developed to stimulate very specific points in the body, called chakras, that allow energy to flow through the body. There are seven major chakras on the body, and each one is associated with different types of physical, mental and emotional well-being. The first chakra, which is located at the base of the spine, has to do with the physical body, survival and safety. If this chakra is blocked an individual may feel fearful, anxious, insecure and frustrated. The second chakra, located in the belly, is associated with self-worth, confidence, emotions and intuition. If this chakra is blocked a person may feel emotionally explosive, obsessed with sexual thoughts, or lack energy. The third chakra, located below the breastbone, has to do with ego, impulses, anger and strength. When the third Chakra is out of balance you may lack confidence, be confused, worry about what others think, feel that others are controlling your life, and may be depressed. Each yoga pose has its own purpose in terms of stimulating these chakras, and studies show that yoga improves all sorts of physical and mental ailments associated with these chakras.

Yoga and Eating Disorder Treatment at Casa Palmera

At Casa Palmera we believe that treating a person’s entire well-being — their physical, mental and spiritual health — is the fastest path to full recovery from an eating disorder. Our residential eating disorder treatment program will provide individual therapy, group support, nutritional counseling and holistic treatments such as yoga to reconnect your body with your mind and spirit.

Don’t let an eating disorder control your body and mind any longer.