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January 9, 2019

Yoga Therapy: A Healing Modality for Eating Disorder Recovery

Yoga pose for Eating Disorder Recovery Yoga Therapy

Yoga therapy is a holistic healing modality that applies Yoga practices and philosophies to balance health. As an individualized approach, the client’s goals are the focus of each session. Common goals for individuals seeking yoga therapy include but are no means limited to lifestyle changes, health, stress, pain, emotional distress, and mental health.

In traditional yoga classes, participants follow a sequence led by the teacher. In comparison, yoga therapy offers a highly personalized and therapeutic experience. With the guidance of a certified yoga therapist, clients explore various elements of Yoga to incorporate into daily life and support their personal growth.

Depending on the client’s goals and preferences, yoga therapy sessions include a mixture of discussion, education on lifestyle, yoga philosophy and direct experiences, such as asana (yoga poses), breathing exercises, guided relaxation, meditation, and grounding methods.

Benefits of Yoga Therapy for Eating Disorders

As a supplemental modality, yoga therapy offers those in recovery from an eating disorder a safe space to develop new tools and coping strategies as they explore their work with their outpatient team. Breathing exercises can help calm anxiety, slow down spinning thinking, and cultivate presence and mental clarity.

Yoga poses build mental and physical strength and help lead to more comfort in and appreciation for their bodies with time, practice, and support. This aspect of Yoga is also a gentle way to reintroduce movement into life and observe their reactions to the process, which can then be explored with their yoga therapist and outpatient team.

Woman practicing yoga

Overall, this attention to embodiment through Yoga poses can assist clients in learning how to feel sensations and emotions again and even relearn hunger and fullness cues.

Improvement in mood and self-esteem often occur as the Yoga practices developed in session are carried into daily life, creating a sense of personal empowerment and hope in the client’s ability to manage symptom use, practice new perspectives about food and nourishment, and reframe negative body image thoughts.

Grounding methods can help clients manage anxiety at meals and when encountering other recovery challenges. The core Yoga philosophies of kindness, compassion, and acceptance, to name just a few, are extremely valuable for reframing food rules and additional self-destructive thoughts and behaviors.

Promising Research

Peer-reviewed studies on yoga and eating disorders are increasing in number and quality. One research study of outpatient eating disorder recovery clients found that yoga lessened body image dissatisfaction, anxiety, and depression.

In a few other studies, yoga was shown to reduce ruminating about food and eating disorder symptoms. An increase in emotional awareness was also found.

Extensive studies on the healing role of yoga in eating disorder recovery are needed, no doubt. However, the current research is promising and captures the anecdotal evidence that so many in eating disorder recovery are telling about their personal yoga stories online.

It also speaks to the growing trends of yoga being offered in eating disorder treatment programs as well as therapists, dietitians, physicians, coaches, and other mental health professionals incorporating yoga into their treatment plans for their clients.

Finding a Certified Yoga Therapist

To find a yoga therapist, seek out those certified by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT). These experts have completed at least 800 hours of training.

This comprehensive training includes the philosophy of yoga, the psychology of yoga, biology, anatomy, and neurology, plus the techniques of yoga poses, breathing, meditation, relaxation, etc. They are also trained in making these practices accessible, sensitive to trauma, and adaptable.

Group of 3 women doing yoga at sunset

To find a local yoga therapist, search the directory on the website of the IAYT. A trusted yoga instructor, dietician or therapist may also be able or recommend a yoga therapist with the credential mark of C-IAYT.

Some yoga therapists, like myself, specialize specifically in eating disorder recovery. Some are more general or have a different specialization. Take time to ask the yoga specialist you are thinking about working with questions so that can make an informed decision and have a sense for how the sessions will best serve you.

By learning how to breathe, reconnect with our bodies, be present, and open our minds to new healing possibilities, yoga therapy can shine a bright light on our innate strengths and support us as we take steps in our recovery journey.


References:

1. Hall A, Ofei-Tenkorang NA, Machan JT, et al. Use of yoga in outpatient eating disorder treatment: a pilot study. J Eat Disord. 2016:9;4:38.
2. Carei TR, Fyfe-Johnson AL, Breuner CC, Brown MA. Randomized controlled clinical trial of yoga in the treatment of eating disorders. J Adolesc Health. 2010;46(4):346-351.
3. McIver S, O’Halloran P, McGartland M. Yoga as a treatment for binge eating disorder: a preliminary study. Complement Ther Med. 2009;17(4):196-202.
4. Dale LP, Mattison AM, Greening K, et al. Yoga workshop impacts psychological functioning and mood of women with self-reported eating disorders. Eating Disorders. 2009;17:422-434.

Additional Reading:

1. Costin C, Kelly J, eds. Yoga and Eating Disorders: Ancient Healing for Modern Illness. New York, NY: Routledge; 2017.
2. Cook-Cottone C, Douglass LL. Yoga Communities and Eating Disorders: Creating Safe Space for Positive Embodiment. Int J Yoga Therapy. 2017 May 11. doi: 10.17761/IJYT2017_Methods_Cook-Cottone_Epub.
3. Neumark-Sztainer D, MacLehose RF, Watts AW, et al. Yoga and body image: Findings from a large population-based study of young adults. Body Image. 2017:27;24:69-75.
4. Pacanowski CR, Diers L, Crosby RD, et al. Yoga in the treatment of eating disorders within a residential program: A randomized controlled trial. Eat Disord. 2017;25(1):37-51.


About the Author:

Jennifer Kreatsoulas ImageJennifer Kreatsoulas, Ph.D., E-RYT 500, C-IAYT, is a certified yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. She is an inspirational speaker and author of Body Mindful Yoga: Create a Powerful and Affirming Relationship With Your Body. Jennifer provides yoga therapy via online and in person at YogaLife Institute in Wayne, PA, and leads yoga therapy groups at Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia.

She teaches workshops, retreats, and specialized trainings for clinicians, professionals, and yoga teachers. She also mentors professionals who wish to integrate yoga into their work with eating disorder clients. Jennifer is a partner with the Yoga & Body Image Coalition and writes for Yoga International and Yoga Journal and other influential blogs.

She has appeared on Fox29 news and WHYY’s “The Pulse,” and has been featured in the Huffington Post, Real Woman Magazine, Medill Reports Chicago, Philly.com, The Yoga International Podcast, and ED Matters Podcast. Connect with Jennifer: www.Yoga4EatingDisorders.com.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on January 9, 2019.
Reviewed & Approved on January 9, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

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