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Nada Yoga: Using Sound in Yoga for Disordered Eating

In Uncategorized on January 29, 2010 at 3:00 pm

I was recently asked to recommend yoga music to a friend living with bulimia. I say living with bulimia because even when you reach the point where you no longer feel compelled to engage in the symptoms of bulimia, the disease will still lurk in your life. Recovery means rearranging your life so that you give yourself the tools you need to recognize when its starting to show up again, and are able to use your skills to take care of yourself. Yoga is one of those skills, and sometimes even mimicking the environment of a yoga studio can help inspire connection with the body and ease of mind. Obviously, mimicking a yoga studio in your house is most easily done with music. But choosing music for those living with an eating disorder or disordered eating (or related disorders) should be informed by a few key topics.

First, consider Nada Yoga, the yoga of sound.  It is called the science of divine vibration.  In essence, by listening to music with a repetitive quality, you prepare for meditation. Nada Yogis work both with external sounds as well as internal – heartbeat, breathing, etc. The goal of Nada Yoga, like all yoga, is the merger of self and higher Self, and to reach a place of ultimate quiet. This is why some yoga classes including chanting before meditation. In chanting god’s name with “love and devotion” you bring yourself closer to that place of ultimate quiet. Commentators on the Vedas also note that Nada Yoga is effective for those with a musical sensibility.

Practioners suggest listening to the quality of sounds – in terms of coarse or fine and learning to distinguish those fine sounds. The body, they say, operates in fine sounds. Of course, to be able to listen to any sound, you need some music that shuts out the noise of the world. By that I don’t mean turning the volume up to 11 as in Spinal Tap, but music that allows for all other distractions to fall away. These practioners suggest music that allows your mind to be one pointed, focused entirely.

So in choosing music, consider that which would allow you to come to a calm state, where you could listen, literally, to your body, your breath, your heart beat, your pulse. But remember, its where you could listen to these sounds, not where you have to. And consider music that seduces you to listen to it, that has a somewhat irresistible characteristic to it.

Consider however, that you will not be practicing Nada Yoga. That is to say, you will not be sitting still using music as your means of transportation to a higher union. Instead you will be combining that music with movement, to allow yourself to ease the mind so that you can experience the body, you can tolerate physical sensations. Dissociation of the body so often tags along with disordered eating. Learning to tolerate bodily sensations (such as the stomach being full or simply where your hips are) an often be an integral part of healing from disordered eating.

Second, temper that choice by considering the disorders related to disordered eating. This is the key, I think, in choosing the right music. Anxiety disorders have a high comorbidity with eating disorders. Specifically, traumatic stress related disorders, such as PTSD, are very common. Those with PTSD have a heightened awareness, a hyperawareness. So avoid any music with sharp stops and starts. Also, obsessive related disorders, such as OCD, are common among people with eating disorders, so avoid music that has a highly repetitive quality. This is key because much of music intended for Nada Yoga involves the sitar and playing a repetitive, harmonious sound. So I hate to say it, but avoid the sitar music. Also avoid anything with repetitive chanting. This means things with melodies are good.

At the end of the day, its whatever moves you. I’ve taught an entire class to Stevie Nick’s Shangri-La. Why? If you listen to that CD its nearly entirely devoted to addiction recovery. Its moving, it’s inspiring, it has that seduction like quality that brings you in. I’ve taught to the Grateful Dead. Why? A simple, happy melody can feel grounding and relaxing. I most often teach to Krishna Das and Deva Premal but for more up tempo music, I enjoy anything from Buddha Lounge. You can listen to all of those artists for free on http://www.lala.com


Body Positive: Asana for Disordered Eating

In Eating Disorders and Yoga on January 23, 2010 at 5:38 pm

I often am asked by yoga teachers and therapists to explain which specific poses people with disordered eating should do. I usually side step this question as the point of doing mind body work for those with disordered eating or eating disorders is not that a specific pose will make you love your body, or if you just did more balancing poses you would feel more balanced and therefore be able to stick to a meal plan providing you with enough nutrition. On the contrary, the mind body connection one gets from yoga for some can take more than a few classes to catch on or for some can start from the first pose (or asana in sanskrit).  The point is the approach to yoga as a mind body practice that can help those with disordered eating and eating disorders cultivate a tolerance for the body and an ear for what the body needs.

So, you say, that’s fantastic, but aren’t there some poses that would resonate more with people with disordered eating? Of course. Here’s a brief run down of poses and series that can be used in healing eating issues. If you want to know more, check out our soon to be released manual, with information on eating disorders, body dysmorphia, yoga concepts, and suggested themes for class, with sample meditations.


Poses that activate the throat chakra, such as plow pose and reverse plank pose: by bringing energy into the throat, with the understanding that it can open up communication with the self, in terms of how you speak to your body and learning to speak to your body with compassion.

Poses and series that focus on surrender, such as child’s pose and reclined bound angle pose: by creating space to open up some area, like the heart in child’s pose or the hips in bound angle pose, you can allow yourself to experience your body as whole and weighty and with guidance from the yoga teacher, get into the root of any body dysmorphia in terms of size of the body or size of a particular body part such as the hips.

Poses that activate or open the third eye chakra, such as child’s pose or fish pose: by activating the third eye, with information about yoga’s view on information – direct experience versus information from others – a sense of trust of the self can be created. That trust can then be fostered into being in other areas of your life. A simple example would be allowing yourself to be the body shape that is healthy for you, rather than listening to information from others, such as magazines or television, about what body shape you should have.
The possibilities of poses and series and approaches to yoga for eating disorders and disordered eating are never ending. Which, if you think about it, is brilliant as healing from an eating disorder requires as many approaches and tools and methods as possible, as the disease is cunning and powerful.

Yoga and Body Dysmorphic Disorder

In Uncategorized on January 5, 2010 at 4:09 am

In every eating disorder, be it anorexia, bulemia, binge eating or anything else not otherwise categorized, there is an element of body dysmorphia. Body dysmorphia is literally not seeing what you are when you look at yourself whether its in the mirror or simply looking down at your thighs.

There are those that have Body Dysmorphic Disorder (“BDD”) related to an eating disorder (“ED”) realm, but different. Related in that both disorders have an element of anxiety – with anxiety being significantly correlated and/or comorbidly related to ED. In ED, the anxiety causes and triggers the disorder. In BDD, the anxiety IS the disorder. BDD is characterized by being excessively concerned or preoccupied with body image. In essence, when related to weight, BDD is an obsession and intolerance of the body and the perceived flaw of being fat.  Some psychologists classify BDD as a form of obsessive complusive disorder.  Keep in mind though, those same psychologists classify bulemia and anorexia as anxiety disorders. So how is BDD different from the general public’s malaise with their body?

“Many people are somewhat critical of their appearance, and some people will go to great lengths in attempt to change what they consider to be flawed. Plastic surgery is increasing in popularity, and more people are willing to take the risk of “going under the knife.” A specific aspect of appearance can be surgically altered or “corrected” through procedures such as rhinoplasty (or a “nose-job”). Many people who have had this procedure are happy with the results and can move on with their life. When, however, BDD is a factor, the nose will never be perfect — or if they are satisfied with the nose, another obsessive fixation on a different body part will take over.”

BDD occurs when the individual is so preoccupied with their perceived flaws that it impairs occupational and/or social functioning, sometimes to the point of severe depression and anxiety and development of other anxiety disorders. BDD, like ED, can be caused by biological, psychological or environmental factors, with many researchers linking BDD to abuse or neglect. Sue Jones, of yogaHOPE -www.yogahope.org – once summarized BDD as doing what most abuse survivors do – turning their feelings of being bad or unworthy – into concrete form. Instead of thinking  “I am bad or unworthy inside” as many who suffer from addictions do, they those with BDD think “My body is bad or unworthy.”

In clinical terms, “body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) and anorexia nervosa are severe psychiatric illnesses involving perception of appearance. While there are differences and are treated as distinct disorders, they have many similarities including obsessive scrutiny of appearance features, possible perceptual distortions, and anxiety,” says Jamie Feusner, M.D.

The suicide rate for those with BDD is double that for those with depression, and some researchers state that suicidal thoughts are as common as occurring in 80% of those with BDD.

BDD is treated through therapy and medication – most likely cognitive behavioral therapy and selective serotonin inhibitors. Its interesting that there is little written about Yoga as a treatment for BDD. When asked about the relationship between the two, noted psychologist Kelly McGonigal stated “yoga helps by cultivating a healthy body image based on internal sensation and awareness, not one based on cognitive distortions.”

Articles like this http://www.observer.com/node/51695 in the New York Observer detail how many with BDD seek out yoga for the spiritual relief from the disorder and from related eating disorders. More scholarly articles note that

Modern psychological studies have shown that even slight facial expressions can cause changes in the involuntary nervous system; yoga utilizes the mind/body connection. That is, yoga practice contains the central ideas that physical posture and alignment can influence a person’s mood and self-esteem, and also that the mind can be used to shape and heal the body. Yoga practitioners claim that the strengthening of mind/body awareness can bring eventual improvements in all facets of a person’s life.

Author Info: Douglas Dupler, Rebecca J. Frey PhD, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, 2005,  available at: http://organizedwisdom.com/helpbar/index.html?return=http://organizedwisdom.com/Body_Dysmorphic_Disorder&url=www.healthline.com/galecontent/yoga

Others state that: “there are excellent treatments for BDD. One of them is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with uses exposure and response prevention. Also the addition of mindful awareness training, cognitive restructuring….” Eda Gorbis, PhD, MFCC Assistant Clinical Professor, UCLA School of Medicine.

Yoga is a form of mindful awareness training – a way to experience the body while in an anxiety free zone (or anxiety reduced zone) due to the deep breathing and conscious awareness fostered by the practice. Yoga and CBT are closely linked.  CBT’s goals are to restructure the thinking patterns of the patient towards tolerance of anxiety provoking triggers. Yoga’s goal is to reduce the whirlpools of the mind, by changing behavior, perceptions and reducing automatic instant response cues (pratyahara).

Unlike the times where I normally say, “Yoga is so much more than the postures, its benefit to eating disorders comes from the sutras and other resources,” in treating BDD, it is the postures that assist in treatment. By providing a controlled environment where students can experience being present in their bodies, even for short periods of time yoga takes on many of the characteristics of CBT work. Classes are also beneficial to those with BDD because cues are given to breathe deeply, and to stay “on the mat”, giving students tools for handling the intolerance of certain feelings in the body – fullness in the stomach, width of thighs, etc.

In that way, yoga can be seen as a form of CBT and mindful awareness training at the same time. Given that BDD is chronic and worsens without treatment, it makes sense to advocate for any method of treatment that would be beneficial.

Get Real With Recovery

In Uncategorized on January 5, 2010 at 3:16 am

I sat down to write a post about some of the debate in the body diversity and eating disorder advocacy world going on over Miss Universe’s decision to pose nude in an Australian magazine without photoshop. Its lovely, no? Info about it here: http://www.beautifulyoubyjulie.com/

Here’s the thing though – over the last month or so, several advocates such as Voice in Recovery – http://www.facebook.com/#/AVoiceinRecovery?ref=ts – have noticed a trend to discuss body types as “real women.” As in, Miss Universe is not a real woman because she fits within the runway model physique. The term “real women” has been used to refer to women with larger hips, breasts and in general stature or shape. In referring to some models as not “real women” they essentially state that one shape is better than another.

I think this hurts women, and hurts those in recovery from an eating disorder or disordered eating. Why? Because by saying one shape is better than another, or truer than another, or more “womanly” than another, the same paradigm of appropriate, acceptable, laudable still exists. You are “womanly” from your ability to give birth and/or nurture children and things. You are “womanly” by your ability to create and conceive, be it children or campaigns or clothes or constitutions.  You are not womanly from your shape. I love many women who are terrific mothers and shaped like pencils, some like rulers, others like chalk erasers. Not all women are shaped like hourglasses, some are closer to clocks, others like the hands on clocks. Nor are you more of an eating disorder advocate based on one shape over another.

I’m particularly fired up about this issue because I think referring to one shape or another as “real” is incredibly harmful to those in recovery from eating disorders or disordered eating. When I was at my smallest point, not even acknowledging that I was restricting, only referring to it as entirely losing my appetite and not eating, where friends would call to make sure I’d eaten something like three meals (me: “coffee, yogurt, bagel” them: “that’s one meal, not three”), I could shop in the children’s section. I’m 5’8″. I remember saying this to the law student running the eating disorder awareness week at my law school. She agreed – it was the only section where tops would fit, she said. I couldn’t believe that her round frame had ever been as small, as flat chested as I had been. And here’s what sucks – I didn’t want to look like her, so I put off facing my food issues for a long time. I put off fully totally surrendering the weird crap I do with food to both a higher power and a nutritionist because if recovery looked like her, I wasn’t going to be able to tolerate it.

Recovery from eating disorders or disordered eating (what I went through), doesn’t look like anything. It isn’t big or small or constantly cheery or mad all the time. It isn’t turning into a poet and sticking your middle finger up at the world. Its being healthy. Eating to fuel your body and your mind and your spirit. Thats what being real is. Its getting real with yourself and your own individual needs. Its flaunting your awesome perfect body, whether you have beautiful muscles, or long lines. Curves or angles. Its being real with who you are and what you bring to the table. And pencils and rulers and chalk erasers and clocks and hourglasses can all do that. Because they are all real.

And for you yogis who think that there is only one shape or size of a yoga teacher – you are wrong. In America, in gyms maybe there is one acceptable size of yoga teacher. But true teachers come in all forms, sizes, shapes and teach in all manners. Check out Christina Sell’s wonderful book, Yoga from the Inside Out, which discusses her own battles with bulemia and addiction and yoga and the anusara yoga tradition/lineage’s approach to shape.