YOGA AND BODY IMAGE
by, Jessica Mariglio
Distorted body image is often the last lingering challenge related to eating disorder recovery. Repairing a sense of self and respect for one’s body after a battle with an eating disorder is one of the most difficult hurdles to overcome in the recovery process. Oftentimes negative self-talk, judgmental beliefs about the body, and unhealthy perceptions persist long after the more acute symptoms of eating disorder have been addressed. These beliefs and perceptions are deeply rooted and difficult to change, often remaining entrenched until there is a direct experience of engaging the body in a different way.
Yin yoga offers a gentle, compassionate entry into a new experience of the body. This practice incorporates a simultaneous sense of rest and exploration by gently guiding the body into simple shapes and holding them for between 3-6 minutes at a time. Because this practice is slow and gentle, using the floor and bolsters for support, it is appropriate for nearly every stage of recovery and all levels of experience. Unlike other forms of yoga, there is no pushing, tension, or heating elements to the practice; it is instead a practice of coming into the present experience as it is, gently greeting one’s individual limits with equanimity, curiosity, and acceptance.
More than a physical practice, this style of yoga encourages an introspective space to witness the thoughts, feelings, and experiences that arise as the body relaxes over time. Through cultivating a sense of awareness, the practitioner can begin to change their relationship to the thoughts and words that feed self-doubt, criticism, and insecurity. One of the main principles of yin yoga is non-judgmental awareness, which encourages deep access into the mind and a new relationship with the body as it changes over time. By bringing mindful-awareness to the present-time experience of the body, heart, and mind, the practitioner is able to practice greeting any discomfort with compassion and openness rather than resistance and judgment.
Not only does yin yoga improve physical and emotional wellbeing by introducing the concepts of flexibility and expansion in a new way, but it can also be beneficial for undoing tightly wound knots related to body image disturbance in eating disorder recovery. This is a practice of accepting what arises in any given moment-- a process that encourages the practitioner to become more present and mindful, increasing appreciation for what their unique body is capable of and releasing any concepts of comparison and perfection.
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