Sprout Yoga

Archive for May, 2009|Monthly archive page

Keep it Simple: Why Yoga Can Help Heal Eating Disorders

In Uncategorized on May 14, 2009 at 6:57 pm

Sometimes I hear from yoga teachers that they are hesitant to volunteer to work with people with eating disorders or PTSD because they feel like they don’t have adequate training. I respect that and Sprout Yoga is working on training programs to address that, so that more yoga teachers can provide more yoga to more people. However, at the same time, a part of me thinks, its a lot more simple than that.

I get a manicure when I am feeling like poop about myself or my body. Why? Because ages ago, maybe even lifetimes ago, I read an article about the simple things you can do to improve your body image. One of them was to find one spot on your body that you liked a lot, and treat it really well. Say, for example, you have pretty feet. Get a pedicure, buy some fancy pants lotion for your feet and really love on that part of your body. Then see if week by week you can expand that part that you like by an inch or more. Sticking with your feet, try moving up to your ankles, then your calves, pretty soon you have your entire lower body and why not throw your hips in too? While you are at it, the belly is right there near the hips, and its pretty good… you get the idea. So a manicure is a way for me to see that I like my hands, and that I’ve done something to appreciate my self. Body image is incredibly complicated and healing from disordered eating and body hate is complex. But there are some things that can be simple and can add up.

I think yoga is one of those things that can be simple; maybe not for everyone recovering from an eating disorder/body hate, but for many people. No one person can do all yoga poses (asanas) perfectly: its an incredible anotomical anomoly to be able to do that. And, each day that you approach a yoga class or session, you never know what parts of you will be tighter than the day before, so on some days a pose will be easy and you can do it with grace, on others, well, not so much. A practicing yoga requires that you remember these things each time you do it. In fact, the poses themselves will remind you of the changes in your body on a regular basis. In that way, you discover and connect with your body each time you do yoga. Just yoga. Not even yoga for special needs, or a yoga class targeted to people with ED or body hate. Just a plain old vanilla yoga class will remind you that your body is uniquely your own, and some poses will be easier for you than your neighbor on the mat next to you, just as your legs are longer or shorter than that neighbor next to you.

There are many things yoga teachers should be aware of when teaching people with ED, including body posturing, language and even specific asanas that should be avoided (for example, strenuous twists might not be advisable for people in recovery from bulemia). But the prevalence of eating disorders in the population means that at any given time in any yoga class there may be people in recovery attending the class. In other words, yoga teachers are already teaching people with or in recovery from ED.

Studies have also shown that yoga can reduce anxiety and separate studies have shown that the ED population has a significantly higher rate of anxiety disorders than the general population. That’s another reason that yoga can be beneficial for those in recovery. However, people with more type A personality traits should avoid yoga that is only based on stillness meditation, as studies have also shown that type A personalities have increased heart rates when told to sit quietly. So what type of yoga should they do? A flowing vinyasa class might feel delicious. A vigorous class of harder balancing poses might focus the mind off of a constant stream of negative anxiety producing thoughts and allow for a brief respite from the anxiety. Trust me, its really hard to have anxious thoughts and balance in a headstand at the same time.

So if yoga is helpful for people with ED/in recovery from ED, why don’t more people do it? Well, cost is definitely a factor. That’s why Sprout Yoga exists – to bring yoga to people who can benefit from it, for free. That’s why Sprout Yoga needs yoga teachers and yoga studios as partners and volunteers. Visit the Sprout Yoga web to sign up  – www.sproutyoga.org or to find a volunteer teacher in your area.

I know a lot of other people who don’t do yoga because they feel so self conscious in their bodies that they don’t want to go to a yoga class where they will do poses that might make them feel or look fat. This I can sympathesize with. I held back from training to be certified to teach yoga because I thought I didn’t “look like a yoga teacher.” You know what I mean, long lean lines of a body. Instead, I look like me: one part amazon, one part fertility goddess. But in my certification program I found a yoga teacher who embodied the strength and grace I’d wanted to have in my own yoga practice, but not in that traditional look (she teaches here: http://asktheyogateacher.com/about/ and is at the bottom of the page). Strong, loving, dynamic and able to move with grace and ease into a scorpion (pinchasana) she taught a killer class that had everyone no matter what size sweating and beaming. Yoga is for everyone. Yoga can be done by everyone. Some classes in some studios even accomodate women with larger bodies. http://community.nytimes.com/article/comments/2009/05/14/health/nutrition/14fitness.html

So how can yoga be of benefit to women who struggle with feeling as though they will be exposed in a yoga class? One on one teaching is an option – I teach individuals in recovery from ED alone or in classes. Then its just me with my long monkey arms who reminds you that we all look differently and can do different things. But even just attending a yoga class can help with the feeling of exposure. When you see people you think who look ideal but who for example can’t touch their toes, yet you easily do this, you are instantly presented with an opportunity to receive information about your body. That is, you know that the ideal you are seeking is a myth – there is no perfect body that can do everything. And that won’t heal an eating disorder, but it is one more simple thing that can add up.

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Sprout Yoga: How You Can Help Our Mission

In Uncategorized on May 11, 2009 at 2:34 am

Sprout Yoga’s mission is to create and support a national network of yoga teachers and licensed counselors who understand how yoga can play a role in healing from eating disorders. As a part of this mission, Sprout Yoga seeks to train, advocate, inspire and coordinate yoga teachers across the country on community yoga and the vital need for non-fee based yoga classes. Sprout Yoga believes that this kind of karma yoga benefits not only the community, but the teachers themselves. Sprout Yoga also seeks to work with the mental health community to create greater understanding about what role yoga can play in healing disorders with dissociative aspects, such as eating disorders and post traumatic stress disorder. Sprout Yoga’s mission is also to create a bridge between the valuable research and education already in existence in the mental health community and yoga teachers.

We achieve this mission, as my young friend Faith says, “the same way you eat an elephant, one bite at a time.” We have several outreach projects currently underway, but hampered by the costs of printing and mailing. You can help Sprout Yoga by showing your support and donating to our cause through our homepage at www.sproutyoga.org.

Eating Disorders and Yoga: Towards a FULL recovery

In Uncategorized on May 5, 2009 at 3:02 pm

In their article in the Qualitative Health Research journal, authors Jill Anne Matusek and Roger M. Knudson propose a radical new approach to what constitutes recovery from an eating disorder. They urge that recovery should be considered (and measured or studied) not by cessation of physical symptoms, but relief from the pyschological and psychosocial factors accompanying anorexia, bulemia and complusive overeating. Rethinking Recovery From Eating Disorders: Spiritual and Political Dimensions, Qual. Health Res. 19:5, p. 697.  The authors begin by noting “Overall, the ‘best’ evidence-based therapy interventions are hardly producing good clinical outcomes, with only 30% to 50% experiencing relief from their symptoms and/or recovery.” (Citations omitted). The authors also note two strains of outcomes from eating disorders in the mainstream media  – either full recovery with hope for the future, or containment of symptoms and management of chronic disordered eating.

Interestingly, the authors note that recovery from an eating disorder can be seen solely by weight restoration and cessation of disordered eating, but they caution that this approach is not enough and provides only a superficial level of the experience of recovery. Because they were not satisfied with the more short sighted view of recovery, the authors undertook a study “through a narrative approach aiming to capture and present the women’s recovery experience through storytelling and performance-based texts.” Id. (Citations omitted). They note that there have been realistically only three studies aimed at capturing the spiritual aspects of recovery from ED; by Garrett in 1998, Reindl in 2001, and Redenbach and Lawler in 2003.

The three studies reviewed in the article provide a clear link to yoga, noting that eating disorders “are an extreme form of desire: a spiritual craving expressed through the body…” where recovery includes “an abandonment of food/weight obsessions, a firm resolve to never again starve, binge, and purge, and no longer feeling cut off from oneself and others.” Id. at 698. “…Overcoming bulemia involved coming to terms with the core sense of shame associated with needing and wanting, experiencing a sense of “enoughness,” recognizing and listening to bodily sensations, and learning to tolerate emotional distress.” Id.  Interestingly, several of the women interviewed for the research study conducted by the authors practiced yoga. Id. at 699.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali comprise the underlying principles of yoga. As I’ve blogged on before, these sutras provide in concise pithy statements, the foundations of yoga. The sort of “why are we doing this” background. In those Sutras, we find “The art of Yoga is the repeated practice of restraining the fivefold movements so one can detach from desires and achieve ultimate freedom.” Sutra 1.7. This Sutra refers to the movements of the mind, which are described in Sutra 1.5 as “The mind modifications are composed of fivefold movements that are either afflicting or unafflicting, distressing or undistressing, pleasing or painful, troubling or untroubling, disturbing or undisturbing.” So in Yoga we are seeking to calm the mind (See Blog Post on Yoga for PTSD and Sutra 1.2), and reduce our desires. We do this to access that part of ourselves that is real. That part we talk about when we say we “feel like ourselves again.”  This is a basic principle of yoga, that Pain comes from the inability to separate true self from the illusory self. Sutra 2:17. In this way, doing yoga, with a firm emphasis on the foundations of yoga, such as the sutras, appears to be more useful in recovery from eating disorders than merely just focusing on stopping the disordered eating behavior. But there’s more to yoga than just reducing desires and calming the mind.

The aim of yoga is to connect, both with the body and mind, then with the self to all other selves, all other people, and finally to the higher power/higher self, god, universe or whatever you choose to call it. See Sutra 1.19 (“What arises is a state of awareness where the seer is merged with nature.”) When we practice yoga regularly in a studio or other environment, we sometimes feel connected to the other people in our class. That’s one reason we say Namaste at the end of class. To salute that element of universal light that exists in all of us, all around us. Some yoga teachers end class by chanting “Jai Sri Satguru Maharaj Ki” to which the students respond “Jai!” Its meaning? “May the Light of Truth overcome all darkness” to which the students respond “Victory to that light!”

The article goes on to mention that recent research has found that women who recover from eating disorders believe that spirituality was an important factor in their healing and recovery. (citations omitted). In concluding about the many studies they cite, the authors state “These findings support the broader empirical evidence that spiritual practices promote physical and emotional healing beyond the realm of eating disorders.” Id.

The authors report that “What emerged from these accounts is an understanding that overcoming an eating disorder requires attention to the whole human being in all its mental, emotional, physical, social and spiritual richness.”  Id. at 703. They summarize their findings as “Recovery from an eating disorder appeared to be experienced by recovering/recovered women as a spiritual (re)connection of the self to body, nature, and society.” Id. at 705 (citations omitted). “The results of this study argue that treating eating disorders and their recovery requires a reconceptualization of treatment and recovery to include a focus on the whole person, with particular attention to spiritual and political dimensions.” Id.  The authors also note that recovery is an ongoing process of restoration and discovery. Id.