Yoga for Body Awareness & Acceptance

Yoga is defined as a “union” or the coming together of our separate aspects – body, mind and spirit – into one harmonious relationship.  It is often described as the experience of finding balance, or existing in the place between doing and being.

Eating Disorders & Yoga

In the midst of an eating disorder this balance, or union, between body and mind is often upset. Individuals with eating disorders often experience negative body image, and typically have significant difficulty embracing or nurturing their bodies in nonjudgmental ways.  Furthermore, the mind is often exhausted with negative thoughts about altering the body.  The mind may also be preoccupied with rigid and relentless food rules or thoughts about acting on symptoms which are harmful to the physical body.  Some might say that eating disorders represent the antithesis of a body-mind union as the two parts are often at war with each other.

Yoga room

CED’s new yoga room

Individuals with anorexia (AN), bulimia (BN), binge eating disorder (BED) and other specified eating disorders commonly suffer from co-occurring anxiety and/or depression.   These illnesses can further complicate one’s ability to practice mindfulness or establish a mind-body union.  Given that body awareness and mindfulness can be such powerful tools in the journey towards eating disorder recovery, individuals may benefit from trying new and enjoyable ways to incorporate them into their lives.  One of these ways is through a practice of yoga.

Yoga as an Adjunct to Evidence-Based Eating Disorder Treatment

The practice of yoga is well-suited to provide a number of specific benefits for individuals with eating disorders because of its gentle use of the body and the incorporation of mindfulness skills.  Other therapies that incorporate a mindfulness component, like DBT, have been shown to be beneficial to eating disorder recovery.

It has long been accepted, and a number of formal studies have shown, that practicing yoga can help reduce stress and anxiety. It can also enhance your mood and overall sense of well-being.  Yoga has been utilized in the treatment of various conditions including chronic pain, depression, and heart disease.  While there is limited research on the specific effects of yoga for individuals with eating disorders, initial findings are promising but more randomized controlled trials are needed. Many of the research studies on yoga for eating disorders thus far have been fairly small.  In general, those small studies seem to support the efficacy of yoga as an adjunct treatment for anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder but more research is needed.

Nourishing Body and Mind at The Center for Eating Disorders

At the Center for Eating Disorders patients explore and develop many coping skills through individual therapy, family therapy, group therapy, art therapy, occupational therapy and CED Leafnutritional counseling.  Through the application of evidence-based treatments such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Family-Based Treatment, our patients learn to utilize tools like symptom blocking, grounding skills, deep breathing, emotion regulation, relaxation,  goal setting, leisure exploration and communication. Our goal is to teach the individual to nourish and nurture the body, through proper nutrition as well as through holistic care and attention.

In addition to these existing modalities, The Center for Eating Disorders is now offering Yoga for Body Awareness and Acceptance as an additional way for patients to work on healing their bodies and calming their minds.  Within the context of the group setting, our qualified yoga instructor will guide patients through Asana (poses), Meditation, Guided imagery, Pranayama (breath work), and a cultivation of a nonjudgmental attitude towards the physical body.  Through yoga, patients will experience gratitude for a body that is healthy enough to carry them through life.

Yoga for Body Awareness and Acceptance

In this particular yoga practice, patients will utilize asana to bring awareness to the physical body while connecting breath to movement.  The instructor will help individuals utilize meditation to cultivate mindfulness and a compassionate awareness of what is occurring in the present moment in the physical body without judgment of that moment. Standing postures will be used to promote stability, strength, and balance cultivating an outward focus as well as seated postures to promote internal focus, healing and flexibility.  Groups will also include positive affirmations.  Yoga for Body Awareness and Acceptance will encompass elements of both restorative yoga and gentle yoga, each of which are described below:

Restorative Yoga
Brings recuperation to the organs, nervous system and consciousness. Using long holds to soothe the mind and encourages the student to have an inward focus. With more description and commentary accompanying the postures.  The slower pace of practice will awaken and encourage deeper openings in the physical body. This class is appropriate for all levels of practitioners. Typically utilizing props like blankets and blocks. Most if not all poses are seated or reclined poses. Poses are held for 3-4 minutes, while the teacher reads to the student, or plays music.

Gentle Yoga
Focuses on deep relaxation, rejuvenation, and healing. It promotes physical and mental fitness through poses, breathing exercises, readings, guided imagery, relaxation, and meditations. Appropriate for all levels and ages, especially those new to yoga or seeking a soothing practice. Includes standing and seated postures as well as some vinyasa (flow).

It’s important for individuals to know that yoga is not a standalone treatment for eating disorders. Utilizing Yoga as a complementary eating disorder treatment involves specific elements of yoga practice and should be facilitated by a qualified professional who is familiar with the unique mental and physical aspects of eating disorders.  Yoga for body awareness should not incorporate excessive exercise. Rather, the physicality of yoga should be a means through which the therapist or yoga instructor can supervise a patient’s meditation.    Given the potential medical consequences of eating disorders, individuals should never engage in yoga or other forms of physical movement without prior consent from their treatment providers.

Meet CED’s Yoga Instructor

SZ - yoga instructor

Sarah Ziemann  RN, BSN, RYT 500, Certified Yoga Instructor 

Sarah’s love for Yoga began in 2003 when she received the Book “The Heart of Yoga” in which yoga is explored specifically with adapting to the individual at any age, lifestyle and current state of health. Sarah has worked as a Registered Nurse at the Center for Eating Disorders since 2009. She completed her advanced yoga training at Baltimore’s own Charm City Yoga Center, studying under Kim Manfredi Blades.