A guest blog by dietetic intern Tanya Mezher
Part of what intrigued me most about interning with Anastasia Health is her holistic approach to disordered eating, which includes offering yoga therapy as a course of healing and treatment. My first experiences with yoga began about five or six years ago when I sought out ways to diversify my exercise routine. The gym I visited regularly happened to offer classes to its members and I often watched curiously through the glass windows at the synchronizing yogis, as I reluctantly clung to my habit on the treadmill. Eventually, I would join my first class, forever transformed. I quickly became enamored with the uplifting, holistic effect of each experience. Yoga is much more than a physical movement - it has become a form of grounding, anxiety and stress relief, creativity, playfulness, spiritual meditation - a way to care for myself, my body, my mind, my soul. It has helped me increase awareness of my internal dialogue and thoughts - creating space for loving gentleness, kindness, patience and peace toward myself and others.
The practice of yoga is innately therapeutic, and for many, has been incorporated into their days as a way of life. Yoga has significant benefits on stress marker levels, flexibility, respiratory and cardiovascular function, anxiety, depression, pain, sleep and overall quality of life. By addressing an individual as a whole being where the function and wellness of the body, mind, and soul are intricately intertwined and cannot be healed apart from the other - it is no wonder yoga therapy is considered a complementary and alternative approach to medicine.
Yoga therapy is particularly influential as a complementary approach to treatment for eating disorders. Eating disorders are often categorized as anxiety disorders, in which individuals cope with emotional and psychological issues through objective manipulation of their physical bodies and behavior. Individuals who struggle with disordered eating also generally experience disconnection from and discomfort with their physical bodies - often ignoring or completely out of tune with hunger and fullness cues. The practice of yoga can be considered an embodiment or external expression of what is happening internally within the individual. By intently focusing on each breath and movement - one is brought to an awareness of the physical and emotional feelings that are present. With pauses in the stillness, an individual can be gently guided to confront anxieties, which in our typically fast moving pace we tend to bury or flee from, often resulting in harmful behavior as a means to cope. This increased sense of self-awareness facilitates a unique process of healing and attunement to our needs and respect for our bodies.
Regular yoga therapy has been shown to significantly improve body satisfaction in individuals who participate in as little as 30 minutes of yoga per week. Ultimately, yoga therapy is a self-healing practice, the frequency, and duration of which are based on individual needs. Yoga can be complex and approached from various styles, however, it can also be as simple as breathing into the depths of the belly or taking a few minutes to sit in a squat to start to feel a shift in energy and mood.
[1.] Woodyard, C. (2011). Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life. International Journal of Yoga, 4(2), p.49.
[2.] (2017). Yoga: In Depth. Retrieved from: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/yoga/introduction.htm
[3.] Neumark-Sztainer,D et al. (2018). Yoga and body image: Findings from a large population-based study of young adults. Body Image, 24:69-75.