Yoga can Assist in Eating Disorder Therapy
by: Ashley Podzius, former Regional Director of Clinical Partnerships at Selah House
Although eating disorders have different symptoms and affect individuals differently, they often seem to have a common thread of rigidity, control, and a negative or distorted body image. Research has shown that yoga combined with intuitive eating can help to decrease eating disorder symptoms. This practice of relaxation, mindfulness, and breathing helps to reduce body dissatisfaction and the drive for thinness, improving body image. Yoga in residential treatment for an eating disorder can encourage self-acceptance and peace and helps clients focus less on their external appearance and more on their internal self and mind in a non-judgmental space.
Ashley Podzius, former Regional Director of Clinical Partnerships at Selah House, shares her story of how yoga helped her find acceptance and freedom from her eating disorder.
For a long time, my whole life was dedicated to restoration – restoring my mind, rebuilding my heart, and re-establishing trust. I spent my energy learning ways to cope and following a plan that kept me stable. I wanted recovery, but I didn’t want to see my body change. I wanted recovery, but I didn’t want to lose something I worked so hard for that had become my sole focus daily. I couldn’t bear to part with one thing that was truly my own. I spent so much time living up to the expectations of others and living up to what “every other college student” was accomplishing.
I felt overwhelmed, I felt lost, I felt out of control. The one thing I could control, however, was my body. Letting go of that special piece of me that was truly my own was like losing a best friend. When I was sad, anxious, depressed or feeling overwhelmed there was one thing that was always there for me, my solace, my eating disorder.
However, the façade faded, and I later realized that my eating disorder wasn’t there for me as a form of support, but a way to self-destruct.
Using Yoga to Find Inner Peace
During my first year of recovery, I was motivated, but then my journey seemed to plateau. I craved a change and a new adventure. I was also longing to move my body again. But after years of over-exercising, excessive cardio and long-distance running, I needed to ease into movement that was slow and healthy. My friend told me about yoga, but like so many others, I had so many misconceptions about the practice. I thought it would be constant sitting, listening to soothing sounds of nature. The only thing I was right about was the sitting. I found that regardless if I was sitting or moving my body, my mind was working, I was in my thoughts, and working on staying present in the moment.
I remember my first practice like it was yesterday. I felt so alive for a change, I was connecting with not only the poses and my breathing, but also with the music and the feeling of my body moving. As someone who was disconnected with my body for so long, this feeling was uncomfortable yet beautiful at the same time. After spending so much of time judging and pointing out my flaws, I was finally able to see my body for what it allowed me to accomplish, rather than what it looked like from an outside perspective.
I know eating disorders are not “just about food,” and improper nutrition can also lead to a chemical imbalance in the brain, which can lead to depression. For me, the depression was co-occurring with my eating disorder. Depression is more than just being sad, it can impair daily functioning and cause suicidal thoughts. That was my story. I found strength in my support system. I was able to share my feelings about my depression and even thoughts of leaving life all together. Realizing my depression and eating disorder were working together, I returned to therapy and dug deeper into yoga.
I took my practice of yoga off my mat, reading into the philosophy of yoga and diving more deeply into meditation to take me away from negativity and back into myself. I slowly started peeling away layers of doubt and judgments and began craving adventure and a deeper understanding of the practice that allowed me to re-discover myself. This thirst for knowledge eventually led me to register for a 200-hour residential Yoga Teacher Training.
I didn’t go to Yoga Teacher Training with the goal of teaching – I went to free myself from my past struggles and stories and return to myself. I flew to Napa Valley for a month to dive deeper into the background and history of all eight limbs of Yoga. I spent 30 days with 30 beautiful souls including my teachers, Gina Caputo, Kathryn Budig, and Caitlin Rose Kenney. What I gained from that training and constant practice was complete freedom. Freedom from the chains of all the thoughts and acts of my painful experiences, and freedom from negative body image and all the baggage that it came with. Yoga created a complete transformation in my mind, my soul, and my outlook on the entire universe. Not only was I able to trust and love those around me, but I was able to love myself.
I finally returned to myself. I was able to identify my values, my goals, and more importantly, I was able to identify positive qualities that I had within myself- qualities that were always within me but were hidden through these emotionally challenging parts of my life.
I owe a large part of my transformation and the qualities I confidently possess today to the practice of yoga. I made a choice and surrendered to all that I learned about acceptance and truth, and I was able to realize my potential. I could smile again and mean it. The image I had on the outside finally reflected the image I had in my mind and my heart. I felt endless love for the universe and to myself. Loving myself was something I never even thought of, complete release of my eating disorder was something I deemed impossible. Recovery is possible, and I am living proof.
Find Freedom at Selah House
If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, you are not alone. We offer a Christian-based, clinically excellent program for girls and women (ages 12+). Our program incorporates yoga to help clients focus on strengthening their mental, emotional, and physical health that contributes to developing a self-awareness that promotes self-esteem. Our goal is to help each client reconnect and rebuild a healthy and positive relationship with their body. For more information on our program, call us today at 866-324-8081 or complete our contact form. Selah House can help you reclaim your life.