How Yoga Can Help To Heal Eating Disorders
At a young age, I internalized the belief that in order to be worthy of love and success I needed to be perfect.
This meant that my hair looked nice, my grades were good, I didn't argue with my parents or my teachers, I aimed to do my best at all things.
Everything was under control.
However, I also had this odd yearning to feel etherly light. My struggle with eating began in middle school, and developed throughout high school and into my twenties.
One unexpected afternoon (at 25), I found myself lying in a psych ward hospital bed with my mom staring confusedly at me from a chair in the corner of the room. I was suffering from depression and anxiety which had escalated due to the eating disorder and my desire for control over and distance from my pain.
There's a moment I won't forget, a flashback of a woman being escorted to another room in the hospital. She was sort of being dragged, not kicking and screaming, but passively, like she had given up, and like she had done this a hundred times before.
I thought to myself, my god Morgan, you've got to pick yourself up and heal this thing.
So that's what I did.
It's true that all blocks can be removed by the power of choice. I'm not saying it was easy. But I was exhausted.
Thankfully, I had a couple of books that my foremost yoga teacher had given me that lived highlighted and scratched to pieces by my bedside. I knew yoga was the path for me. So I did what I had to do to make it the priority. This involved leaving my relationship at the time, moving to a shitty apartment for $275 a month, finding a part time serving job that would support my studies and giving up my career as a performer.
Looking back I giggle at myself for truly taking the yogic approach i.e. give up everything you have and trust the process!
In time, yoga healed the eating disorder.
Here are the guiding principles that supported my personal healing.
Mis-identification of the Self | Asmita
One of the primary causes of suffering or Kleshas in the Raja Yoga tradition is mis-identification of the self with the seen also known as the I-Self.
While it is natural to attach your sense of self to your physical appearance, the reality is that the body is of the nature to ebb, to change, and ultimately to deteriorate. Your spirit however, is of the nature to expand.
The body has limits. The soul is limitless.
Your true nature is love, presence, and joy.
You are not defined by the shape or size of your body.
It is important to care for your body. To treat it with respect. Feed it healthy foods and move around. And to sometimes let all of that go and just enjoy life.
When we attach our sense of self to external measures, we suffer.
Fear of not experiencing past pleasure again | Raga
Another klesha or primary cause of suffering in the yogic tradition is Raga, or attachment to certain pleasures.
This is relevant because most people with an eating disorder or disordered eating habits attach themselves to a specific moment in time when they felt they were at an ideal weight or body image. And they spend a lot of energy and time (all of it really) trying to get back to that.
This is detrimental, because it is impossible. Your body is changing every second. You are in a constant state of metamorphosis.
Accepting that you are of the nature to change and practicing mindfulness can help.
Becoming the Witness | Sakshi
Likened to mindfulness, witness awareness is the practice of quieting your mind, sitting still in meditation, and watching your thoughts, impulses and emotions without judgment.
Witness awareness helps us to connect with the big picture.
It is important to appreciate the present moment and to feel the love and goodness that is cocooning us at all times. We know that immeasurable suffering is often accompanied by abundant hope and gratitude.
“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” - Thich Nhat Hanh
Joy is in the simple pleasures.
Sit down on a pillow and feel your feelings.
The Science of Life | Ayurveda
I have found Ayurvedic wisdom helpful in navigating the unfriendly waters of my changing and fluctuating physical sheath. It has encouraged me to approach my constitution as though it is a plant, of an elemental and dynamic nature. Now I recognize the shifts in my body as fluctuations in energy and quality, rather than so narrowly, light or heavy.
Suffering as Opportunity | Duhkham
I have come to understand that pain is the teacher. Instead of numbing out or attempting to control my pain, yoga has taught me to lean in and learn. Nobody's life is free of suffering. Suffering reminds us of our humanity and of the reality that we are blessed living and breathing beings in the world. Become consumed in perfection and I guarantee, you will miss out.