Published on February 28th, 2019 | by Sandra Powers0
Yoga Can Help with Body Image and Eating Disorders
by Sandra Powers
Yoga is not about changing our bodies to look like a model on the cover of Yoga Journal magazine. It’s about shifting the importance from external appearance to those qualities that make us unique and amazing. Yet virtually every image promoting yoga practices feature thin, white, flexible, acrobatic, beautiful, serene-looking people in expensive yoga clothes doing very difficult poses in amazing places all over the world. In a culture where millions of females and an increasing number of males suffer from eating disorders, this type of marketing is not sustainable.
Jen Kraft, E-YRT, and Melanie Struble, LCSW, LCADC are the co-founders of Body Positive Works, a wellness center in Saddle River, New Jersey that offers programs, classes and services to both help prevent and aid in the recovery from eating disorders and related issues.
“The reality is that physical poses are only a fraction of the yoga journey. Most of my students are shocked to hear this,” Kraft, a yoga instructor, explains. “Like everything else, our Western culture has exaggerated the physical aspect of yoga and turned it into a competition. In truth, asanas, the physical yoga poses, were created because people were having trouble sitting for long periods of time in meditation. Physical postures were needed to keep bodies strong and flexible enough to sit! The purpose of the yoga practice is to rid the body of physical and mental stress and distraction, so that we can live in the present moment with no judgement, attachments or unrealistic expectations.”
In yoga, the body is viewed as a temporary home for our permanent souls.
Yoga philosophy fully supports a positive body image. Struble, a psychotherapist who specializes in eating disorders and addictions, explains, “Yoga teaches us that our bodies are temporary and are constantly changing by the minute, but as a culture, we are desperately trying to prevent that change. We spend billions of dollars on products, procedures and anything else that can freeze time. But when we try to control something that is always changing, it creates a sense of anxiety, depression or both. We cannot help that our bodies change, age and fluctuate. Our bodies are doing what they are designed to do…change. But what does not change? Our inner, unique qualities that we are born with, those that get even richer over time. If we are funny, we will always be funny. If we are kind, we are always kind. If we are intelligent, we will always be intelligent.”
Yoga can reestablish our relationship with the body.
Babies are in tune with what they want and are never afraid to speak up. They cry when they are hungry and stop eating as soon as they are full. They sleep when they are tired and wake up when they have rested. As we age, this connection to the body’s internal mechanisms gets off track and the natural signals for hunger, fatigue and basic survival become muted or are ignored.
Society has created an unrealistic body ideal that can make people distrust themselves, which is especially true when someone is suffering from an eating disorder. Kraft explains, “In our yoga practice, we learn to notice when we are comparing and judging ourselves to others or ideals. Over time, we learn to hear our bodies natural signals again. I encourage my students to ask themselves to notice how they are actually feeling…not think about how they should be feeling. I then try to empower them to respond to the signal.”
Choose a yoga class carefully.
There are many different types of yoga and many studios, so choosing the right place can be overwhelming, especially for those with eating disorders or body image issues. It is important to choose a studio that will enhance their recovery and support the process of reconnecting with their own body.
Struble says, “I make yoga non-negotiable for my clients’ healing. We discuss all of the benefits of a true yoga practice, and seeking a place that offers a balance of every aspect of yoga, including spirituality, physical poses, self-study, breathwork and meditation is imperative.”
When they opened Body Positive Works, Kraft and Struble had a very clear vision in mind for the yoga studio within their healing center. There are no mirrors in the studio, and if they are comfortable enough, students are encouraged to close their eyes when they practice to reduce the inclination to look around and compare themselves with others. Their classes are not based on levels, and their teachers customize each practice to meet individual needs.
“When a student comes in and says that they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at yoga, I say there is no such thing. Yoga is a practice—never perfected and always changing, just like our bodies and our lives,” Kraft says.
Struble advises, “If we can learn that we can’t be perfect on the yoga mat, we can translate that off the mat, and start to accept and honor our body as the home to our soul.”
Body Positive Works is located at 96 E. Allendale Rd., in Saddle River. For more information, call 201-708-8448, email Info@BodyPositiveWorks.com or visit BodyPositiveWorks.com.
Sandra Powers is a contributing writer for Natural Awakenings magazine.