My Relationship with Yoga: It’s Complicated
By: Courtney Howard
Yoga can prove to be a blessing or a curse when you have an eating disorder. Though it can help with your spiritual healing and the seemingly elusive mind-body connection, it might also be triggering or practiced compulsively to an unhealthy degree depending on where you are in your recovery.
I have had a complicated history with yoga over the past decade. At first, I practiced yoga for all the wrong reasons. There was absolutely no spiritual component to it, and I honestly didn’t know there was supposed to be. It was simply another form of exercise that I could abuse.
Early in my recovery, I wanted nothing to do with yoga. I found it incredibly triggering.
While in treatment years ago, the required weekly yoga group was nothing like the fast-paced power yoga I was used to, but instead a reflective practice that I simply could not handle at the time. When the instructor would tell me to just lie still, breathe, and let go of my thoughts, it almost felt condescending. I felt like screaming, “If I could just ‘let go of my thoughts’ then I wouldn’t be here in the first place!”
In fact, there was one time when I actually did scream that. It didn’t go over well.
Through my work in the eating disorder community over the past few years, I have heard from others that yoga has been triggering to them for a variety of reasons. It can trigger body image issues, or the poses might feel uncomfortably vulnerable for survivors of trauma. For some, the comparison to others and self-judgment might intensify disordered thoughts. Or, like my own experience, it might feel impossible to sit with your feelings due to anxiety or other co-occurring disorders.
But now I get what all the fuss is about.
Though I’m certainly not a yoga expert, I now understand that it is about appreciating your body, not fighting against it. This means being grateful to your body for what it allows you to do, not judging it for not bending and twisting the way the person next to you might be. It is about being present in the moment, and I am distanced enough from my past experiences for this to be possible.
By incorporating mindfulness into your yoga practice, you can restore your mind-body connection, strengthening your mental health and overall recovery. In fact, a recent study confirmed that practicing yoga can reduce eating disorder behaviors and food preoccupation among adolescents.
There are so many types of yoga, from gentle yoga to hot yoga or Kundalini, there is bound to be a style that fits your needs.
That being said, if you still find it triggering for one reason or another, explore alternative ways to practice mindfulness and build self-appreciation. Just try not to write yoga off entirely. In a few months or years, depending on your own journey in recovery, it might be just what you are looking for.
About the Author:
Courtney Howard is deeply committed to supporting the eating disorder community through her role as Director of Operations & Business Development at Eating Disorder Hope. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. from San Diego State University, holds a paralegal certificate in Family Law, and is a Certified Domestic Violence Advocate. After obtaining her certification as a life coach, Courtney launched an eating disorder recovery coaching practice in 2015 and continues to be a passionate advocate for awareness and recovery.