Introduction to yoga
Have you ever seen people practice yoga and wondered what it’s all about? What are they doing and what’s the purpose? In recent times, yoga has gained in popularity among several populations, including those in eating disorder (ED) recovery. In fact, yoga has been integrated in residential programs for ED recovery, which has allowed for more research on how yoga can complement the journey to healing.
Yoga is an ancient Indian practice that helps to cultivate the connection between the mind, body and soul. There are several definitions of yoga. One of these definitions, shared by the Indian sage Patanjali, refers to yoga as “the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind” (1). As per Pantajali’s definition, one of the purposes of yoga is to cultivate a witnessing ability, in which one recognizes that there is distance between themselves and their thoughts, emotions and sensory experiences. Another definition of yoga is “to yoke” or “to unite”, which is a rough translation from the Sanskrit word “yoga” (2).
Whichever definition is used, there are elements of yoga that go beyond the physical postures. There are deeper layers to a yoga practice, including breathwork, meditation, mindfulness and self-compassion. When we think of yoga, what comes to mind is the physical practice, the series of postures that are tied together in a sequence. We have images of people stretching, strengthening or attempting to get themselves in a pretzel-like position. You might be wondering how any of this can be beneficial to supporting ED recovery.
What does the research show?
There are several studies that support the inclusion of yoga in ED recovery. For example, a 2016 study found that yoga combined with outpatient eating disorder treatment decreased anxiety, depression, and body image concerns (3). The results of a meta-analysis, a study of multiple studies, suggests that yoga has a moderate-to-large effect on binge eating and bulimia, as well as a small effect on body image concerns (4). It’s important to note that yoga does not replace ED treatment and is included alongside other traditional forms of treatment.
How does yoga help?
As yoga is a combination of different elements mixed into one practice, the benefits of yoga can be experienced on multiple levels, including physical, mental and emotional impacts. It is also thought that yoga contributes to improved distress tolerance and nervous system regulation, which play an important role in the ED recovery process. Among other things, an ED can serve as a coping mechanism and having various coping skills is a pivotal component in healing. It is also believed that yoga improves ED symptoms and facilitates a shift from negative towards positive body image and well-being by cultivating positive embodiment, which is the ability to feel a sense of connection between mind and body (5). In those living with an ED, there can be much difficulty recognizing and responding to one’s internal signals and cues. Yoga can help one increase their body awareness (interoception) and feel more connected to themselves.
Getting on the mat
Feeling ready to get on your mat? Keep these factors in mind:
- Choose a gentler practice in an ambient temperature room. These practices are styles such as hatha, restorative, yin, gentle or a beginner class.
- Research the yoga teacher and make sure they are trained in trauma-sensitive yoga. There might be a mention of this on their profile on the studio’s website.
- For online options, check out Hannah Uiri
- Choose a studio that has no mirrors or choose a spot in the class so that you can’t see yourself in the mirrors.
- Honor your body and its limitations, injuries or overall state. Remember that the goal of yoga is to cultivate mindfulness and a deeper connection with your authentic self. Use props and modify the poses as needed.
Yoga is a practice that can help provide tools that support various aspects of the ED recovery process and can be a great complement to traditional treatment modalities. If you think you are ready to include a yoga practice in your recovery plan, speak to your medical team. If you don’t yet have a team or you’re looking for additional support, please reach out to our team to see how we can help. You can contact us at (202) 738-4726 or e-mail us at email@example.com.
By: Jessica Francis, Registered Dietitian
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Sööma is a bilingual company that operates in both English and in French. We will provide blog posts, recipes and articles from various sources that are sometimes written in English and sometimes in French. If you feel unable to access a specific article or topic due to a language barrier, please reach out to us at email@example.com and we will be happy to translate the content for you.