It is becoming increasingly apparent in our everyday culture that the prevalence of the practice of yoga is on the rise.
As yoga studios increasingly show up, as well as yoga in gyms, workout videos, studio boutiques, and the subculture of clothing companies such as “Lululemon,” we are starting to take to heart the significant effect that yoga has.
We have heard the great side effects that come from a yoga practice (peace of mind, an open heart) but what if yoga could be used as a therapy for a very severe disorder that is much more prevalent than one might expect?
Eating disorders are an increasing occurrence throughout the nation. According to the National Association for Anorexia and Associated Disorders, up to 24 million people in the United States, including men and women of all ages, suffer from an eating disorder (ANAD, 2012).
The two most well-known eating disorders are anorexia, also known as anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa, also called bulimia.
Despite their prevalence, surprisingly little is known about what causes eating disorders and how best to treat them and prevent relapse.
Studies have shown that the practice of yoga has had a positive effect on women whom have participated in its praxis during their recovery from an eating disorder.
In a study by researcher Lourdes P. Dale and colleagues at the University of Hartford, they have found that some traditional interventions for women with disordered eating may neglect some of the mood and body awareness issues that come with eating disorders.
The purpose of a study they carried out was to focus on these neglected symptoms by looking into the effects of a six-day intensive yoga workshop for women with a history of disordered eating.
In this study, what was reported was that the women were able to become aware of and identify their emotional states, and in addition were better able to handle the natural fluctuations of their moods.
Most interestingly, following the practice there was a significant decrease in the women’s level of eating concerns.
What was furthermore most hopeful, the researchers believed, was that the benefits from this yoga workshop continued to affect the women even long after the workshop was completed.
In a similar vein, Lauren Ball is a certified yoga instructor and is currently working as a recovery coach at The Lotus Collective, a treatment center for eating disorders located in Santa Cruz.
Ball herself has recovered from an eating disorder.
“When I started doing yoga I realized that a lot of the philosophy I was learning in yoga was the same philosophy I was taught in my treatment programs, mainly mindfulness and attention to breath.”
In addition to the unique correlation of yogic philosophy and recovery, she was able to keep herself in the recovery frame of mind on and off of the mat.
Ball has brought her experience and teaching skills to the Lotus Collective, where she teaches yoga to women in recovery from eating disorders. She has observed a shift amongst her students who continue to practice working through their disorder on the mat.
Even in her very early stages of walking these women through weekly yoga sessions, as well as facilitated Yoga Nidra (which means yogic “sleep,” an ancient meditation technique) Ball has already seen a shift amongst these women.
“In the beginning many of them were unable to sit still in a relaxing pose for any length of time at all. They were almost irritated by it, and it seemed to be more torturous than relaxing for them.”
Ball explained that, like any journey through recovery, in the beginning it was a challenge. After the initial struggle, soon came continuous practice and determination amongst her students.
Ball said that now, weeks after the first yoga session, the same women’s reports have shifted into loving the classes she teaches and they continue to look forward to what is to come in their yoga practice.
“They have definitely gained a heightened awareness of the critical voice in their minds. It’s a lot easier to see that ED (eating disorder) voice when you're actively listening for it,” Ball explained.
Ball uses thoughtful techniques and different assets from her own well-studied understanding of yoga.
“The women I teach are all so receptive to the yoga philosophy. Just like yoga is the stilling of the mind, recovery from an eating disorder is the stilling of the mind. Recovery is yoga.”
Ball continues to be an advocate for women, shedding light on yoga and its significant healing effects.
“Becoming a yoga teacher gave me a reason to stay in recovery, strengthen my healthy voice, and help others who were struggling.”
Research like this shows that there are alternative ways to find healing and recovery from disordered eating.
For more information and resources, you can visit the Lotus Collective’s webpage at www.thelotuscollaborative.com/
Ball, Lauren. Email Interview. May 06, 2012.
Dale, L., Mattison A.L., Greening, K., Galen G., Neace W., & Matacin, M. (2009). Yoga Workshop Impacts Psychological Functioning and Mood of Women With Self-Reported History of Eating Disorders. Eating Disorders, 17, 422-434. doi:10.1080/10640260802714555. Abstract:http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10640260903210222#preview
Lululemon Athletica. Retrieved May 13, 2012.
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. (2012). Retrieved May 13, 2012.
Reviewed May 14, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith