Friday, May 25, 2012

Yoga is Tricky When it Comes to Eating Disorders

I'll need to say more about this in a future post but here goes. I have been a part of the Eating Disorders Program at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario for years. I appreciate that they choose to include yoga in their program for people on the path to recovery of eating disorders, however...

If you take a look around at yoga teachers and yoga students it quickly becomes apparent that yoga attracts people with eating disorders. Even some of the hatha yoga practices in recent texts include the practice of purging. (I'll find the reference to one of my books here.) It at leasts shelters people with the idea of "conscious eating" and fasting, making a home for some of the tricky practices that border or straddle disordered eating behaviours.

When one of the students in the Eating Disorders program graduates and says they want to continue a yoga practice, I caution them about continuing with classes on the "outside." Not all yoga classes will be relaxing and non-triggering for people who have been super-concerned with their weight and appearance. Classes that feel more like a work out, classes in mirrored rooms, classes led by teachers who have a BMI below what is considered healthy, and so on, are so prevalent and would do more harm than good for the young people fresh out of rehabilitation that are looking to feel safe in their bodies.

A long time ago I studied yoga in India. As many people who've travelled to India can tell you, sometimes you get really sick there. That happened to me and I was sick for days at one point. I ended up getting house calls from a doctor while I convalesced in a hotel in town, rather than back at the ashram. I had lost a ton of weight and was just under a hundred pounds when I returned to the ashram. I walked in and one of my teachers said, "that's great for your yoga practice!" I thought the guy was crazy, especially when I mentioned that I'd had dysentery and that this was not healthy.

Recently I've been asked to categorize yoga classes by how much effort is involved in the class, like how much you might sweat. Another way I'd like to label them is to consider how much the class has a potential to be triggering or how much it is an "allowing" class.

I think fasting and being aware of hungry signals and ignoring them has a place. I think even all of the "kriyas" or cleansing practices, have a place. I just think it's no surprise that there's a mix-up and that some  people with eating disorders can hide in a yoga (as opposed to yogic) environment.

So while I appreciate the value of having a mirror to see the poses for alignment and having a good work out for those of us who could stand to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, and watching a thin body at the front of the class show how beautiful the pose can be, I'm painfully aware that there are sometimes people in a class who are there hurting themselves either mentally and/or physically in the class and would  be better served in a different environment.

The photo is taken from this website


Asteroidea Press said...

So good, Jamine. I hope you write more about this! (I tried to post it on FB, but it didn't like the blogspot address.)

Jamine Ackert said...

Thanks Megan. I appreciate the feedback and I will write some more about it.

As for the Facebook link - the site auto-switches to a .ca and that didn't give a preview thumbnail, so I made it the .com but I know it sort of breaks the link. At least I think that's what the problem is!