How Yoga Helped Me with my Eating Disorder

I remember watching the leaves dance in the wind. I used to wonder if I could become light enough for the wind to blow me away too. I didn’t know I had an eating disorder; I thought I was just sick. I guess I was but not in the physical sense. Like many people, I thought you had to be hospitalized to have a real problem. I thought losing twenty pounds in two months was only an issue if you were already slim in the first place. I thought I wasn’t ‘skinny enough’ and I couldn’t be sick if people were telling me how great I looked.

When I started practicing yoga, I still didn’t realize I had an eating disorder. The reason I started is because I wanted one of those yoga bodies people always talked about. I remember the song “Don’t Talk to Strangers” by Hedley, and the lyric “…got that ass doin’ yoga.” Exercise was something I needed to feed into my eating disorder. I wasn’t very good at sports but I was flexible so I played to my strengths. In the early stages of my practice, I hated that I was ‘wasting time’ meditating before and after the session, so I would ignore those parts of the YouTube tutorials.

One day I was practicing with YogaWithAdriene and at the end of the video she told us to meditate on gratitude for our bodies. I didn’t really understand that and it irritated me. My need to obey what I viewed as authority, however, led me to actually expressing gratitude for the body I hated so much. After a while, I found myself continuing to do so throughout the day when I was off the yoga mat. This didn’t cure my eating disorder, but it definitely kick started me into viewing my body in a way I had never before.

Another thing I learned from yoga was how to let go of my need for perfection. One thing about anorexia is most often it’s correlated with extreme perfectionism. For me, this didn’t just apply to outward appearance, but in everything I did. I don’t know where I picked up the idea that I wasn’t valuable unless I was perfect or that I didn’t deserve to love myself if I made a mistake, but yoga helped me realize this is untrue. In yoga, we are encouraged to embrace mistakes as a beautiful part of everyone’s yoga journey. My yoga instructors on YouTube would often openly admit their mistakes in their videos. Individual journeys were also a constant idea mentioned by all of my yoga instructors. Something I often heard when I started attending yoga classes was the importance of focusing on your own mat and understanding that everyone has different experiences and skills. It sounds simple, but it really helped me begin to stop comparing myself to others and loosen my firm grip on perfectionism.

Yoga also helped me become closer to God. When I practice yoga, I feel like I am liquid flowing through the air around me where all the sticky anxieties of the material world can’t grab hold of me. I would put on my worship music and meditate on the lyrics without the distractions of my busy mind. As I mentioned, my yoga mat is a place that I can let go of my need for perfection and be confident in who I am. When I don’t feel ashamed, I don’t feel I need to hide from God. My relationship with God offers me a resiliency I can’t find anywhere else. I started to look at myself as a creation of God. I have always been very adamant about taking care of all of God’s other creations and I started to wonder why I didn’t do the same for myself.

Yoga also helped alleviate my anxiety, something strongly associated to my eating habits. Grounding myself and engaging in mindfulness engages the parasympathetic nervous system, which releases hormones associated with relaxation. I was primarily operating out of my sympathetic nervous system, the system associated with our fight or flight response. People have always joked around about how easy it is to startle me, but it’s actually a sign of how anxious I am all the time. Yoga allows me to balance out my nervous system and tap into the hormones I need in anxiety-provoking situations.

In yoga, we are encouraged to gain awareness of what our body is trying to tell us during our practice. It’s ironic I spent so much time obsessing over my body but really had no awareness of its inner workings. I used to feel like I was floating, not able to grab onto anything solid. Even when I felt emotions, it was like they were happening outside of me and I was experiencing them around my hollow shell of a body. That sounds dramatic, but it’s the best way I know how to describe it. Now I feel at home in my body and it wraps around my spirit like a hug from an old friend.  I can hear my body tell me what it needs and I respond accordingly. This not only helped me stay one step ahead of myself and prevent myself from being vulnerable to anxiety but it also allowed me to gain a reciprocal and loving relationship with my body.

Yoga taught me to exercise because I love my body, not because I hate it. It opened my eyes to the beautiful things my body offers me and showed me how I could return the favour. The process of developing a healthy relationship with food and my body has been a long one and continues to this day. I still ‘lose my appetite’ when I’m anxious and I am still addicted to perfection in so many aspects of my life. I don’t know how long it will be until I am fully healed from disordered eating, or if I ever will be, but yoga has taught me the beauty in the journey and to be patient with growth. Now when the wind blows around me, I feel my strong body firmly in the ground and I am reminded of how far I’ve come.