Yoga is the act of union, where we create connection and let go of separation. Yoga provides a safe and grounding space to explore the connection of the embodied brain-mind and body together. Yoga also offers a place to unwind and release through growth and understanding.
Often, people battling with an Eating Disorder feel separated and/or disconnected from their body and this becomes a barrier to recovery. By being mindful and bringing awareness back with simple and gentle queuing, yoga offers a route for mind/body integration. Yoga helps the brain rewire and reconnect with the body by giving the openness and space of being in the body in a safe, grounding, challenging and empowering way. This is often a powerful and transformative experience for our patients as they often experience being present in their bodies as dangerous, bad or scary.
Pranayama (breath-control) practice induces positive stress to train the emotional and physical body to tolerate and control the breath, mind, and body during stressful situations. Breathing techniques help ease discomfort and surf out uncomfortable feelings and/or emotions. For example, learning to breathe through a stressful situation for one more breath allows patients to pause, breathe, and surf out an urge preventing an impulsive decision. So, the next time that individual feels the urge to use an eating disorder behavior, she will have the techniques to breathe through the situation and send a signal to the brain to wait just a moment longer, surfing out the urge. With practice that moment can eventually lead to sitting through an urge or craving and no longer acting on a behavior. Eventually, as the brain rewires with this new approach, pausing to evaluate and act rather than reacting to an urge becomes the new “default mode”.
Another aspect of yoga is the practice of meditation, a continuous inward flow of consciousness. Meditation practice helps to bring focus back into the present moment, on the yoga mat and in daily life. One of the most beneficial things I’ve discovered through meditation is learning how to sit with discomfort while remaining present. The feeling(s)/urge(s) that come up just before you act on a behavior are so uncomfortable that it seems impossible to manage. Imagine having a safe space where it is possible to learn to sit with this discomfort. Yoga and meditation can provide this space. Whether it is laying in a Reclined Butterfly restorative pose trying to keep your mind in the present moment, holding and breathing through Warrior 1 pose, or waiting an extra moment before acting on an urge, meditation builds strength to sit through discomfort and pause before responding.
Recovery, like yoga, is a process. A loving, open, understanding and gentle stance towards difficult moments lead to sustained success in long term recovery (not to mention it will lead to a thriving life)! There is no magic quick fix; it is a dedicated and continuous practice, on and off the mat.
With gratitude to all of those putting in the effort to shape their journey.
Taylor Bird, Avalon Hills Yogi