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3 Benefits of Yoga During Eating Disorder Recovery

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Some people with eating disorders may appear healthy on the outside, but the effects of anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder can take a tremendous toll on the mind, body and spirit. The behaviors associated with eating disorders can create a disconnect between the body and mind, but the practice of yoga can help reestablish a connection between the two.

In recent years, yoga has become an adopted complement to more traditional eating disorder treatment models. Similarly to its effects on those who have anxiety and depression, the practice of yoga can help reduce symptoms for those facing eating disorders.

Yoga has an emphasis on being present in the moment. This physical and mental experience promotes increased awareness between the body and mind. Through the practice of yoga, eating disorder patients can replace self-harm with self-love in a variety of ways, including:

1. Mindfulness

Self-acceptance is at the heart of yoga. Those who practice yoga learn to gradually shift from critical self-judgment and comparing themselves to others to a growing acceptance of their own capabilities and limitations.

With yoga, those facing eating disorders can develop mind-body awareness, something they may have previously lacked due to a disconnection with their body. It can be described as previously living from the neck up or always in their head. But through the practice of yoga, the participant is encouraged to be present in their entire body in a gentle, non-threatening way.

Yoga can help change how someone views their self-worth. Instead of looking in the mirror at your physical appearance, you can close your eyes and look inside yourself. People with eating disorders often come to the realization that they are defined by what’s on the inside rather than what’s on the outside.

In addition to the restoration of the mind-body connection, yoga practicers can experience a sense of calm that enables them to better handle the challenges of daily life.

2. A positive impact on body image

The practice of yoga is a great reintroduction to exercise for those with eating disorders because it’s not an intense workout designed to burn fat. Yoga focuses less on losing inches and more on losing tendencies of self-harm or self-doubt.

Improvements in body image are attributed to the experience of being present in the body during a session of yoga. There’s also a focus shift from body appearance toward a sense of respect and appreciation for their physical abilities. It demonstrates that one doesn’t have to be athletic to practice yoga. Everyone has their own personal and unique experience, just like with treatment and recovery.

3. A spiritual connection

The spiritual connection yoga provides is a marriage of the mind-body connection. The spiritual aspect of yoga is described as a sense of connectedness between body and mind. It’s a feeling of integration between the physical body and emotional self. This creates a feeling of connection with something larger than one’s self. It can also provide a unifying energy that develops through feeling one’s own energy combined with the collective energy of others in each yoga class.

Those who have eating disorders often create a disconnect between these three aspects of themselves. Eating disorders can be quite damaging to a person’s body, mind and spirit and the practice of yoga can help reconnect all three to create a well-rounded, healthy individual. Like yoga, recovery is a process and may still need to be accompanied by additional treatment such as admittance to a recovery facility, therapy and group therapy. The ultimate goal of recovery is similar to the goal of yoga: to reconnect and integrate all parts of the self to live a more intuitive, peaceful and soulful life.

Unsplash via Jared Rice

Originally published: October 17, 2018
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