Unrolling Your Yoga Mat on the Road to Recovery

yoga practitioner

“Yoga is an immensely vital component to sustaining my recovery and my life… On my mat, I have a home that provides salvation and safety and community. I have a least one moment each day to put into practice the values I learned in treatment: living with compassion and gentleness and acceptance, breathing into the present, letting go of expectations, and embracing vulnerability and authenticity with the knowledge that I am whole. I can process my emotions intuitively, in all their raw glory, without judgment or fear. My somatic pain melts away. I am able to look inward and connect to every part of myself: past, present, future, little girl, wise woman, higher power. Through yoga we become one; we heal, we play, we cry, we smile, we chant, and most importantly we breathe. Even on my hardest days I can find peace, joy, gratitude, and hope on my mat; I can see a future and a life filled with light and love. With yoga I will never be alone and I will never be without a home. Perhaps, that is the greatest gift of all.”          

– former Reasons patient

At Reasons, we believe firmly in the power of yoga on the road to recovery. The practice of breathing, staying present with your physical sensations and emotions, and moving mindfully can reveal an abundance of opportunities to foster the connection between body, mind and spirit.

Those who are less familiar with eating disorder treatment might be surprised to hear that a physical activity like yoga can be a source of great support in recovery. When incorporating yoga into a recovery plan, it’s important to consider the individual’s medical risk factors and previous relationship with exercise. But all bodies need movement. Feeling strong and capable in our bodies is a key component to living a full life. And, for those working toward eating disorder recovery, tapping into a sense of strength is crucial to breaking down perceived self-limitations and making respectful adjustments for one’s own body. Many physical practices, including yoga, can foster a sense of strength without a focus on weight loss, body shape or size.

Key Principles

When leveraging yoga in the journey to eating disorder recovery, a mindful approach with guiding principles is key.  With that in mind, we wanted to share some of the key philosophical beliefs we foster as part of a therapeutic yoga practice:

  1. Learn. There is a wealth of evidence on the scientific benefits of yoga. Originally, yoga was designed as a means to prepare for meditation – by stilling the body and mind and calming the nervous system. Part of eating disorder treatment at Reasons includes education on the structure of the nervous system and its role in mood shifts, digestive function, vocal constriction and anxiety levels. Learning about the science of yoga and its impact on the nervous system can help you connect the lessons you learn on your mat to the lessons you learn in treatment. Those learnings can illuminate new paths to respond to life’s triggers and can help you choose a course that feels grounded in safety.
  2. Breathe. Breath is not only your “prana,” or life-force. It is a powerful tool that has been scientifically proven to shift your brain state. Yoga therapy offers a series of breathing techniques for you to explore and apply within and beyond treatment.
  3. Align. Practicing yoga with a strong focus on safe and healthy alignment can offer far more benefits than simply a more comfortable yoga pose. Understanding your physical and structural habits can help you uncover the root cause of old defense mechanisms that no longer serve you. How your body is aligned can radically affect confidence and willingness to heal.
  4. Move freely. The body knows how to healthfully discharge unwanted stress and reset itself. Authentic, free-flowing movement can allow you to begin strengthening this innate knowledge and trusting your body’s intuition. Intuitive moment can also help you create appropriate boundaries in physical space and in relationships.
  5. Check in. “Can I take a deep breath?” and “Do I feel safe?” When practicing yoga, we believe it is essential that you can answer yes to these two questions. If the answer is no, slow down and start tuning into the information that has presented itself.

Together, these principles can help mold your yoga practice toward a focus on recovery and nurturance. When you can practice with a sense of awareness and curiosity, you practice at the crossroads of compassion, forgiveness, discipline and surrender. These are the moments that help us to respectfully accept the things we can’t change, and to take responsibility for the life in our own hands. And those are some of the most important lessons on the road to recovery.

The Reasons Yoga program philosophy and key principles were developed by Jillian Szafranski, RYT.

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