Perhaps one of the most devastating and enduring consequences of an eating disorder is the isolation and loneliness experienced by the affected person. Eating disorders both create and thrive in isolation. Making the presence of collaborative and supportive relationships an integral part of the healing and recovery process. Knowing this, I was thrilled to learn that this year’s World Eating Disorder Action Day theme is #WeDoActTogether, which highlights the importance of creating and maintaining relationships in recovery. For me, isolation, shame, and loneliness contributed greatly to my eating disorder. It was only when I started my yoga practice that I was able to find a connection back to my true self, drop the identity tied to the eating disorder, and begin to create supportive relationships that have been integral to my journey of healing and recovery.
Like any stay-at-home mom of a preschooler, toddler and infant I was already somewhat isolated when my undetected postpartum depression developed into an eating disorder. You could say it was the perfect storm of genetic predisposition, life circumstances and isolation that caused me to first develop an eating disorder at the age of thirty-four. Within this isolated environment the eating disorder thrived, creating further disconnection from self and others.
The isolation persisted well after I received a diagnosis and began treatment. Even though close friends and family were aware of the eating disorder and were doing their best to be supportive, I still found it extremely difficult to be in social situations and truly connect with others.
With eating disorders having the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, we often hear about the devastating and frightening health consequences of the illness. What is not often spoken of, however, is the loss of connection to self and others, the loss of presence, awareness, and joy for the affected person. If you have ever heard someone say, “An eating disorder is about the food but not really about the food” this is what they are talking about. Eating disorders affect the whole person, mind, body and spirit. Making it equally important to help those affected by eating disorders to find ways to reconnect with themselves and others as it is to get the body back to a place of health and wellness. This is where yoga can play an integral role in the recovery process.
The practice of yoga helps to strengthen the ability to be present with thoughts, feelings and emotions. Through presence you also strengthen self-awareness, allowing you create a stronger connection with yourself. This is vitally important in eating disorder recovery as it can be difficult at times to distinguish between your voice and the voice of the eating disorder. The voice of the eating disorder can be strong and powerful. Awareness of what thoughts and behaviors are fueled by the eating disorder is essential in working against the eating disorder voice and making choices from a place of health and recovery. Yoga taught me to discern between my voice and that of the eating disorder. Allowing me to make choices that supported my healing and recovery.
As I reconnected with myself, I witnessed my ability to be truly present and connect with others strengthen as well. Through my yoga practice I found a community of people who were on a similar path. People who were committed to a path of healing through presence, awareness, and self-study. I had found a community that held space for my self-inquiry and healing. My fellow yogis supported and acknowledged my growth and successes. They also gently and lovingly nudged me, held me accountable when they saw me making choices not in alignment with my recovery. Through the practice of yoga I developed authentic and supportive friendships. Yoga also connected me to the innate wisdom that resides in me, in all of us, that knows I am already enough, just as I am.
When in recovery it is important to be mindful of not only the style of yoga you practice but also to find an instructor who teaches from a place that truly supports wellbeing and honors the needs of the individual. Below our some guidelines to follow when engaging in a yoga practice during recovery.
Guide to Practicing Yoga Outside of Treatment
When choosing to practice yoga outside of treatment it is important to make sure that your practice continues to be supportive of your recovery. The following questions will help guide you in determining whether or not your practice is supportive of your health, well being, and recovery.
You need to be very mindful of your intention behind your practice. Every time you choose to go to a class or do yoga at home, ask yourself, do I want to do this to support my health and well being, my recovery? Or is my desire to engage in yoga being fueled by my eating disorder?
After every class or home practice, ask yourself “Was this supportive of my recovery?” If you answered yes, list examples of how it was supportive. If you answered no, list examples of how it was not supportive. It is possible that you will have times when you answer both yes and no. Use your answers as a guide for the next time you want to engage in physical activity. Keep returning to your recovery, health focused intentions for practicing.
Choosing a Studio/Class Supportive of Recovery
Do not attend heated classes. There are many classes in the area that offer non-heated classes. If you cannot find one, ask Nikki for assistance.
Do not practice more than one time per day.
Do not skip meals or snacks to attend classes. Many classes are offered during the lunch or dinner hour, however there are also classes offered at other times. Try to choose those. If your schedule does not allow that and you find yourself attending a class over the lunch or dinner hour, be sure to eat a light snack before going to class and then eat your full meal afterwards. Your yoga practice does not support your recovery if it results in missed snacks or meals.
Even with following the above guidelines, you may find yourself in a class/studio that is not supportive of your recovery. Unfortunately, there are teachers/studios that focus on only the physical aspect of yoga and may engage in talk that you may find triggering (diet talk, use of yoga to change/fix your body, encouraging to push yourself physically). If this occurs, you have every right to leave the class. Your health, wellbeing and recovery are your number one priority. When you find yourself in an environment that is not supportive of that, you are under no obligation to stay and finish the class.
Your yoga practice can be a wonderful support in recovery and an on-going source of self-care. Do not be discouraged if it takes you trying a few classes and/or teachers before you find the right fit.
If you would like some help in choosing a class that is a good fit for you and/or you are interested in discovering how individual lessons can support your healing and recovery journey please contact Nikki at firstname.lastname@example.org
500 RYT, 200 HR E-RYT
*This was adapted from a post originally written as part of The Yoga and Body Image’s campaign to support World Eating Disorder Action Day that takes place annually on June 2nd. Below is my personal story of how the practice of yoga helped me move through the fear and isolation in my own recovery to help me create supportive relationships that were integral to healing. At the end you find some guidelines to follow in creating a yoga practice supportive of recovery.