When I began my yoga teacher training in 2014, I read an incredible book by a renowned yoga teacher, Erich Schiffmann. In his book, “The Spirit and Practice of Moving in Stillness” (1996), he states, “The purpose of yoga is to facilitate the profound inner relaxation that accompanies fearlessness.”
I recognize fearlessness as doing something so great as recovering from an eating disorder. As the yoga teacher at BALANCE, I always aim to promote fearlessness in our weekly yoga classes.
Studies on yoga as a complementary therapy to eating disorder treatment have been conducted, although findings appear to be inconclusive at this time (Balasubramaniam, Telles, & Doraiswamy, 2012). Despite this, it has been found that two-thirds of residential treatment programs have implemented yoga therapy into their treatment programs (Frisch, Herzog, & Franko, 2006). Yoga is clearly doing something right on the ground.
Physically, yoga is known to modulate the stress response, calm the nervous system, reduce the heart rate, lower blood pressure, and ease rapid breathing (Harvard Mental Health Letter, 2009). In my experience, yoga therapy brings the focus back to the function, not the form, of the body. This can be incredibly rewarding for someone suffering from an eating disorder. Yoga demonstrates to the patient that physical strength, mental clarity, and inner relaxation can be more positive attributes than thinness, yearn for control, or perfectionism. Yoga can even help cure the cognitive distortions an eating disorder creates.Through the three pillars of yoga- physical practice, breathing techniques, and meditation- clients can work to separate their fears from reality, to reduce anxious thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and to find inner relaxation.
I welcome all of us to welcome more yoga into our lives, to welcome the fearlessness that comes with inner peace and internal fierceness. And to those struggling with eating disorders, perhaps you will consider adding yoga, even something as simple as belly breathing, into your recovery. It may even ignite your fearlessness deep inside.
This post was written by Cassandra Lenza, MS, LCSW, RYT. Cassandra is the Clinical Director here at BALANCE. She is an experienced individual, group, and family therapist specializing in the treatment of eating disorders through the Center for the Study of Anorexia and Bulimia (CSAB), where she was extensively trained. Cassandra has conducted psychotherapy and evidence-based interventions in numerous eating disorder outpatient treatment programs throughout New York City. She is a member of the National Association of Social Work (NASW) and Yoga Alliance, weaving yoga and mindfulness into the therapeutic process as BALANCE’s resident yoga teacher.