Clients normally have one of two reactions when I tell them I’m a yoga teacher. One – “Oh my gosh that’s awesome! Can we do yoga sometime?” or two “Oh……” usually followed by a long silence and palpable anxiety I can feel from across the room. To be honest, more times than not it’s the latter. You see, I treat eating disorders―a population that typically struggles to connect with their bodies.
A lot of folks are used to connecting with their bodies through ways of self-destructive behavior such as restricting, binging, or purging. Most clients who struggle with an eating disorder also struggle with a co-occurring inner dialogue filled with shame and self-hatred. So when clients hear that I offer yoga in addition to psychotherapy, they typically feel scared. The self-destructive behavior serves them in some way and they can’t imagine replacing it with something else.
Connecting Mind and Body
Yoga is a practice in connecting mind and body. We use breath, meditation, and movement to ground in our present experience. Yoga can help to build more awareness of both our inner states and physical body. For example, someone might notice that when they take a child’s pose, they feel safer or more relaxed and their low back releases tension. Alternatively, another person might find that they feel physically uncomfortable in child’s pose and start to experience anxiety. As a result, practitioners learn to take care of themselves in the moment by deepening breath, adjusting or even changing postures all together. This is a vital skill for the people I work with―people who have historically learned to take care of themselves with their eating disorder.
As I mentioned, yoga isn’t always so easy for clients. Moving one’s body mindfully with care is usually in direct contrast to what they are used to. Many clients are not yet ready for such exposure. However, for the clients who are ready, I have found the process to be deeply transformational. In addition to traditional psychotherapy, yoga gives people a tangible element in their treatment. Week to week they can see the progress of what they feel and sense in their bodies. When clients are able to make more peace with their bodies on the mat, I’ve seen them make more peace at the table as well.
Complement to Treatment
Yoga is by no means a cure for an eating disorder, but rather a complement to traditional treatment. The practice typically brings up feelings and thoughts that can be processed in therapy, which is why the two go hand in hand. Healing one’s relationship to themselves is a long journey. I see yoga as the bridge to the self; a bridge home. The more folks cross the bridge, the more familiar and comfortable they typically feel. With time, I have seen clients begin to understand, accept, and appreciate the home they were given. This, in turn, can help alleviate the need to punish and self destruct. I feel grateful to have witnessed so many people benefit from this practice. And when ready, the practice is here waiting for you.
If you are looking to incorporate yoga into your recovery protocol, I’d love to talk. Please consider reaching out to me directly to set up an assessment.