The Mighty Logo

How Yoga Helped Me in My Eating Disorder Recovery

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I have been at war with my body for as long as I can remember. I have always deeply felt my body’s flaws are something intrinsically wrong with me and I have tried to alter, morph and “fix” this thing I felt like I was unfairly born into. Years of sports and dance did nothing to help with my fear of my flaws and I only fell deeper into my body project. Eventually, this turned into a full on eating disorder.

While the myth of eating disorders being solely caused by the “western ideals of thinness” has been debunked, societal and environmental factors can play a role in the development of the disorders. Advertisements for weight loss drugs and surgeries play incessantly on TV, now bombarding us before YouTube videos as well. Fitness has become the new fad and while “strong over skinny” is a good message, it’s not always as helpful as it may seem. Exercise can walk hand-in-hand with an eating disorder and returning to the world of exercise in recovery can be a tricky road.

Enter: yoga.

I found myself in treatment multiple times over the course of a few years. Professional help is immensely crucial in recovery from an eating disorder. Yoga was somehow always involved, and as someone who over-exercised and struggled with it, I never really saw why at first. I could hear the spiel about “slowing down” and how yoga was about “connecting body and breath” and how “yoga could be great for my anxiety” if I changed my mindset. I didn’t get it then. It was too connected to a recovery I wasn’t sure I truly wanted then.

I was wrong. I wanted recovery, and as I have slowly but surely continued working towards it, I have found that yoga can be an incredible aid to recovery from an eating disorder, you just have to be ready to surrender. Surrendering can be the scariest thing in the world, allowing the walls you built to protect yourself from the world to come down. I promise it’s worth it. Surrendering not to anyone, but to yourself, your body, and peace.

Starting a yoga practice for anyone is not always easy. With all the advertisements and different studios, different asanas and different terms, there is a lot that could scare someone away. However, if you stick it out and find what’s right for you, it’s worth the effort. You begin to find yourself again. You also have to learn to trust and work with your body again.

Yoga helps you slow down, turn inwards; it forces you to push attention to your body and to breathe into it. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, that can be incredibly hard when you’ve fought your body your entire life.

Yoga can give you:

  • Space to focus on your body with no ill intent of changing it based on society’s standards
  • A place to relieve any tension stored up inside your body
  • A place to reconnect with your body
  • The space to be more mindful in how you choose to move your body
  • ‘Ahimsa’ or the practice of nonviolence, towards both yourself and others
  • Connection to your body and what it is able to functionally do for you

When setting out on a yoga journey when you’ve struggled with an eating disorder, it will be important to set guidelines so as to make sure you don’t overdo it or let it become harmful.

Here are some suggested guidelines:

  • No goals for number of times, hours, calories, etc. per week
  • No goals about what your body would look like
  • No goals for how you will feel about your body afterward

It can be hard to not allow yoga to be something used by your eating disorder, which is always still looking for footholds to climb back into your life. You have to refuse to let your eating disorder take something that can aid your recovery and use it as something to drag you back under the current and back to your disorder. Without setting guidelines for how you will feel, you don’t allow unrealistic expectations to come into play.

Slowly but surely, I have begun to find myself more at peace with my body because of regular practice. Yoga has given me the space I needed to reconnect with a body I fought for too long.

Yoga has given me this and so much more. I am still early in my yoga journey and I cannot wait to see where the journey takes me. I am forever grateful for how yoga has helped me embrace recovery from a disorder that almost took my life. Yoga is admittedly not for everyone, but it can be a great tool to have in your toolbox. Learning to slow down and be mindful is difficult but necessary. If you’re struggling in your recovery, why not try yoga? What do you have to lose?

If you are interested in starting a yoga practice, there are many free resources available to get you started. Look online to find resources, as well as at your local community center or through local organizations.

Yoga is not always, however, a substitute for traditional methods of recovery. Yoga can be a great supplementary action to take along with therapy, nutritional counseling and more. Always make sure that you are cleared for exercise by your doctor and treatment team and evaluate whether it’s a healthy choice for you. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock image via kieferpix

Originally published: February 16, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home