Using Yoga Therapy To Treat Eating Disorders
December 15, 2021

What is Yoga Therapy?

Yoga therapy takes a holistic approach to dis-ease, integrating the physical, energetic, emotional, wisdom, and spiritual dimensions of a person. It is the specific use of tools and techniques available in yoga to address illness, alleviate suffering, prevent the onset of disease, and maintain a state of well-being. It is self-empowering, non-invasive, and progressive. In fact, yoga can help treat a number of conditions, including eating disorders, as I share in this article.

My journey as a Yoga Therapist

My journey with yoga began in 2007 intending to touch my toes. Over the years, I progressed from the physical aspect of yoga to what it could do for the mind, emotions, and spirit.

I trained under the traditional lineage of Ashtanga yoga, studied Yoga Psychology and Yoga Philosophy, Ayurveda, and energy work. Soon I was helping friends and family with physical and emotional issues by suggesting simple changes to their lifestyle and routine. For this reason, I decided to take up yoga therapy full time, to empower people to reclaim their health and happiness

My work in yoga therapy includes asana or physical postures, meditation techniques, pranayama or breathing exercises, rest and relaxation practices, mantra or affirmations, diet, techniques for balancing emotions, breaking negative thought patterns, and deep listening and counseling.

Alice – a client with a history of Eating Disorders

I met Alice through a friend. She was seeking support for an eating disorder, which she had been suffering from for over 5 years. Evidently, she was overweight. Alice would go through periods of bingeing and then restricting food intake, excessive exercising and then not leaving the house for days on end. She would eat too fast, too much, and then almost always vomit.

My work with Alice

Our first session was a detailed conversation to understand the issues Alice was going through – physical and emotional. We discussed her past, her lifestyle, routine, and limitations. We then identified core issues and set goals.

Those with eating disorders find it challenging to register signals from the body, which is why yoga is helpful. Therefore, the feelings of pain, hunger, fatigue, or fullness often go unregistered by the mind. We started with an asana practice that was focused on coordinating movement with breath, activating and stretching different parts of the body, and transitioning into movements slowly and mindfully. The purpose was to establish a deeper body-mind connection and to re-train the mind to receive cues from the body. 

The next step was to build acceptance of the body. Alice carried a distorted body image to the extent of almost hating her body. Therefore, we used yoga in a way that was non-competitive, non-judgmental, and accessible. I encouraged Alice to use props, become comfortable with where she would get to in a pose, and be mindful at all times of any sensations of pain arising when she would push her body.

Helping restore confidence

Alice was uncomfortable with taking up space. She wanted to shrink physically, emotionally, and socially. She felt shame. I used pranayama (breathing exercises in yoga) to help her become comfortable with expansion. I also introduced poses that were big, expansive, and heart-opening so she could feel ok with taking up space. This would sometimes bring up difficult emotions in her and I had to make sure that I was, at all times, slow, patient, and compassionate.

The last step was to work with her on an affirmation that she would most align with. She chose “My body is my sacred home. I value it by taking care of it.” I then created guided hypnosis meditations for her that she could use before sleeping to help her break habit energies, overcome negative thinking, and develop self-confidence and self-esteem.

Alice’s recovery

Within three months, Alice had stopped overeating and vomiting. In six months, she lost 15 kilos of weight, without following a strict diet or going to the gym. She now has a healthy relationship with food, but more importantly, she has come to love, accept, and value herself. With some consistency, yoga helped Alice take control over her past previous eating disorders. I am grateful to have been part of her incredible journey.

Nidhi Garg

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