Yoga‘s ability to boost the immune system and tone the body have been studied numerous times. Yoga and meditation have often been suggested by physicians to help people suffering from all sorts of physical challenges, from back pain to insomnia. And now, doctors are increasingly using yoga for eating disorders. Some of the top treatment centers in America are utilizing comprehensive treatment plans incorporating meditation and yoga for eating disorders. Yoga for eating disorders can teach people with diseases like anorexia and bulimia tools for building greater acceptance of their bodies, and healthy ways to deal with their emotions using yoga.
In 2005 Psychology of Women Quarterly published an overview of two studies regarding the effects of yoga on body awareness and body image. While the studies were somewhat small in the number of participants, the results were compelling. They found that “yoga practice is associated with greater body awareness and responsiveness, which, in turn, are associated with lower levels of trait self-objectification, greater body satisfaction, and lesser disordered eating attitudes.” Another article in Sexuality Research and Social Policy discusses yoga’s ability to help people base their self-worth on other aspects than their physical appearance.
Yoga teaches practitioners to tune in to bodily sensations, and to balance effort and relaxation to maximize poses. And because yoga is typically done without mirrors, unlike some other forms of aerobic exercise, it enhances students’ internal awareness rather than relying on external, visual cues. As a mind-body practice, yoga also connects breath with movement, and can help people to deal with the emotional aspect of eating disorders. So Kundalini Yoga for anorexics can be supportive because you keep the eyes close, giving less opportunity for the person to criticize their own body, and supporting a more internal experience. And yoga for bulimics can help them inhabit their body and feel the sensation of an emotion comfortably through breath, rather than dulling it with food.
It’s important for people suffering from eating disorders to receive treatment supervised by qualified caregivers, and this includes instruction in yoga or meditation. For people suffering from eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, gentle yoga practices are thought to be more appropriate than more strenuous practices, which can trigger competitive or unhealthy emotions. Yoga teachers working with patients with eating disorders tend to focus less on physically “perfecting” poses, and more on the sensations of the body and exploring the body’s boundaries.
Of course yoga is not a magic bullet or a guaranteed preventative for eating disorders, and should be practiced with care. People with eating disorders who are interested in using yoga as part of their recovery should seek out yoga teachers who have an understanding of eating disorders, and experience working with people who have them. When used in conjunction with comprehensive care, yoga can be a valuable tool for recovery.
Some good tools to include in a yoga tool kit for people with eating disorders can include the book Meditations for Addictive Behavior by Mukta Kaur Khalsa, which compiles meditations, quotations and nutritional information to help combat various addictive behaviors.
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