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Benefits of Yoga for Eating Disorder Recovery

Article Contributed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC, President @ Eating Disorder Hope and Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC

Eating disorders, including Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating Disorder, take a tremendous toll on any individual who has suffered through these diseases. It influences the mind, body, and spirit of a person. Recovery often involves careful attention and nurturing to heal the physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds inflicted by an eating disorder.

The ancient Indian practice of Yoga is a movement therapy often used in the recovery process from an eating disorder. The nature and core of yoga exercises are developed as a practice to unite the mind, body, and spirit, accomplished in various ways and forms. Behaviors associated with eating disorders often cause a disconnection between body and mind. For example, in bingeing episodes, one will often eat beyond a level of comfort and satiety. Though the mind may be registering a level of fullness, this is often ignored during periods of bingeing. Similarly, with anorexia, the brain is often dangerously malnourished to the point that coherent and logical thoughts cannot be made. Eating disorders also impact emotions, cognition, and relationships, all as a result of the drastic ways in which the body and mind are affected by eating disorders.

While healing from eating disorders requires multi-dimensional treatment that addresses medical, nutritional, and psychological concerns, Yoga can be a beneficial modality incorporated in the healing process. The practice of Yoga teaches awareness of the body’s functions and feelings, which can be helpful to a person who has been disconnected from body and mind. Mindfulness is at the core of Yoga therapy, which encourages deeper perception and awareness of oneself, which is often neglected in the throes of an eating disorder.

Research has demonstrated that practicing Yoga and meditation can be an effective discipline for integrating the mind and body, improving physical, mental, intellectual, and spiritual health [1]. Studies have also shown that Yoga can be an effective method of managing and reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and mood-related disorders [1]. Practicing yoga in conjunction with pharmacological and psychological interventions could be a complementary therapy that creates the following benefits for someone in recovery from an eating disorder:

  • Increased attentiveness to one’s body functions and feelings
  • Improved mood and decreased irritability
  • Improved body image and self-confidence
  • Greater sense of well-being
  • Increased feelings of relaxation
  • Healing from physical tension and pain
  • Improved ability to focus
  • Physical benefits, such as greater muscular strength, cardiovascular function, and flexibility
  • Improved sleep patterns
  • Diminished impulsivity and irrational thoughts/behaviors
  • Better interpersonal relationships
  • Increased optimistic outlook on life and positive mind-state

Recovery from an eating disorder is a process that slowly restores the sufferer as mind, body, and spirit heal.  While treatment for an eating disorder should be comprehensive to thoroughly address possible causes of the disease, Yoga can be a beneficial practice to complement the recovery process.  Whether you are a health practitioner in the field of eating disorder treatment or currently in recovery, being aware of the potential of Yoga can be a helpful component of building a wellness plan.

If you are interested in learning more about how Yoga can be beneficial in your recovery process, be sure to discuss this fully with your physician and treatment team.  As with all forms of exercise in the recovery process, you should proceed with full supervision from your physician and under the guidance of a certified Yoga Instructor.


References:

[1]: Woodyard, C.  Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life.  Int J Yoga 2011. Jul-Dec; 4(2): 49-54.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3193654/


Page Last Updated and Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on
April 11, 2014
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com, Additional Resources for Eating Disorders

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