Jackie Coleman talks yoga - the industy of yoga and how some types of yoga can actually promote a relapse into Eating Disorders. A heart felt interesting read..
So this week is Eating Disorders Awareness week. As someone who has battled with both anorexia and bulimia throughout my teens and twenties i know that this is no easy topic to write about or condense on to a blog post. There is no one size fits all treatment approach. Everyone's story and disorder having it's own twists and turns of cycles of inpatient stays, therapy, nutritional support and then ultimately left to fend for yourself. so what next? Yoga can help play a role in the longer term rehabilitation and promotion of self esteem that's required to maintain healthy eating patterns and to perceive your body as healthy.
Back in the summer i attended the first part of a facilitator training programme for yoga for eating disorders. I was part way through my yoga teacher training and knew that when i qualified i wanted to offer yoga in a therapeutic setting. To make a difference and to show people how a simple practice like yoga can heal the body. Seeing the advert for the eating disorders training was like a whisper from the Universe "this is your tribe".
But not all yoga is equally beneficial for eating disorders and entering a yoga studio could likely also push someone, still verging 50-50 on recovery or relapse back in to the downward spiral of self-doubt, restricted eating and purging. A hot, power vinyasa class, likely to burn calories and produce prime conditions for fainting and more internal damage to weakened cardiovascular systems would only do more harm than good. Popular media has helped to fuel the rise of yoga as a glamourous, fitness based industry. Just a quick look on instagram and you'll find hundreds of toned, thin and beautiful women posing in complicated yoga asanas. Clothing companies want skinny models to promote their clothes, further lowering self esteem and judgements on body image. but yoga is really no different from the rest of the fashion and fitness industry. The triggers for relapse are everywhere.
So what yoga practice can help the healing process and nurture the delicate mind and body? Yoga that encourages restorative poses, gentle exploration of the body through mindful asana and a focus on breathing (pranayama) and meditation to bring awareness back in to feeling the body are important. This nurturing, healing type of practice teaches the student to learn to listen to what's going on inside, to get to know their body again and build interoceptive awareness. This is the 'tuning in to your body or breath' part of yoga using mindfulness to notice what's going on, resist judgement and just allow sensations to rise and fall to their own natural rhythm. Interoception asks the mind to go deep within the body. To notice the pain during asanas, to feel the breath moving the entire body during pranyama and the mind reaching stillness in savasana or meditation. Linking this internal awareness to our sense of self moving through asanas on the mat gracefully and with mindful awareness of our feet grounding and arms and legs reaching this way and that to finishing with awareness of ourselves in relation to others as we bow in gratitude and respect with namaste.
What to look for from yoga studios/classes to aid eating disorder recovery:
Hatha yoga classes
Gentle yoga flow classes
Focus on breathing exercises/ pranayama classes
Above all else, go gently and slowly. There is no quick fix, including from yoga. But yoga will teach you to be ok with this and to trust in the process.