(Please note that this is based on my own experience of eating disorders with anorexia and bulimia, I can’t speak for all eating disorders and would welcome views from across the spectrum)
Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week which focused specifically around the theme of body image.
I put out a small post on my Instagram mentioning how I’ve recovered from past eating disorders but now campaign for mental health awareness and had a couple of people reach out to me about their experiences with their own or friend’s eating disorders. I always welcome people reaching out to each other particularly around eating disorders to encourage you to talk about it instead of keeping it all hidden away. Interestingly, these conversations turned to yoga as it’s no secret I am a bit of an avid yogi!
So then I began really thinking of all the ways yoga could actually hopefully help you on the path to recovery. I’ve tried to summarise this down to 5 reasons:
1. You switch off.
If you have an eating disorder you are probably consumed by it. It’s probably all you think about. How hungry you are, what lie you need to tell your friends later. That comment someone made. Planning for how much weight you’re going to lose still. It. Is. EXHAUSTING. Yoga is a moving meditation. For the one hour you are on your mat, you are focused on your breath. Your movements, losing yourself in the flow of it...ok and maybe how much you hate chair pose.
2. You respect your body.
So often with eating disorders you are hating your body. Picking at your flaws. Seeing all the faults you want to change. When I used to run long distance I would get stupidly competitive, time myself and get so nervous before I just went out for an afternoon jog. Count how many calories I burned, not let myself stop until I had finished the distance I told myself I would do, no matter how tired I was. That’s not relaxing!! In yoga you can make amazing progressions and learn some interesting and challenging poses or asanas but you are using your own body weight, not using weights at the gym you probably shouldn’t be pushing yourself to lift. You are there on the mat for one hour, to move your body and FEEL GOOD doing it. It’s all about re-wiring that philosophy from pushing yourself to accepting yourself.
Which brings me onto my next point -
3. It’s a non-competitive community.
Yoga is non-judgemental. I can probably say that every single class I’ve been to the teacher ALWAYS encourages you to back off if it doesn’t feel right. A good yoga instructor will never push you to do what your body doesn’t want to do. “If you want to spend the entire class in child’s pose, please do” one of my teachers says. He says he would be happy if we did because then you are being strong enough to know and accept what your body needs and sometimes that’s more powerful than trying to do a pose your body and mind don’t want to do. Your yoga studio or your mat is a SAFE SPACE.
4. Strong not skinny.
I remember one of the things I was scared of about recovering from anorexia was that I was going to get ‘fat’. Whenever someone would say ‘oh you look well’ I would panic that that meant I’d gained weight. I’m sure if you’re reading this you can relate. ‘Recovery’ seemed synonymous with ‘gaining weight’ and I thought people wouldn’t leave me alone until I was ‘fat’. Well that’s just not true. Let’s grow stronger not weaker! Feel energised not drained! Rested not exhausted!!
It’s been so amazing to feel my body become stronger from my own practise. I don’t lift weights, I move my body. I play with headstands and handstands instead of my food, I practise love and kindness instead of self-hate. And you know what - yes, I traded in my skin tight jeans for Buddha pants and dungarees because let’s be real they are far more comfy and fun and basically you are always yoga ready so, yes please.
5. You meet amazing like-minded people.
Eating disorders can be lonely as hell. Secret bathroom visits, sneaking out for a run, hiding food or eating in secret. You lie to your partners, parents, housemates. It is just you and your mind where your eating disorder lives.
Well, yoga classes / retreats / studios can be the best place to meet just some bloody lovely, super chill, non-judgemental people! Even on social media I’ve connected with so many yogis in the yoga community around the world all of whom just want to encourage, share and learn from each other. Nothing needs to be a secret because no one is going to judge you. Thank you to the teachers I’ve had who have led me to this point. Yoga has been the best thing I’ve ever started.
SO. Join me in THIS journey. Not the one you might be on currently. If anyone wants to start a self-love yoga club or come along for some super chill yoga times hit me UP!