Downward dogging your way to a better body image

Beverly Price, RD, is a nutritional counselor and yoga instructor who runs a business called Reconnect with Food, helping women explore their relationship with food, body image and emotions…through yoga! Below, she offers up some great info – take a look:

I don't think most people connect yoga with body image. What's the link?
In the United States, we have totally “Westernized” yoga, making it all about the “poses.”  Actually, there are eight facets or “limbs” of yoga and only one of those are the poses.  The other seven are about the philosophy of yoga which can be very instrumental in healing the mind, body and spirit.
I have found that in working with yoga as a tool in eating disorder recovery, my clients begin to enjoy their body for the first time and begin to define their body in terms of “what it can do” versus “what it is.”  They learn that they are not mere extensions of their body, but possess beautiful internal qualities.
For many people, part of maintaining their weight or struggling to maintain a certain weight is learning to tune in to their body's signals of hunger and satiety.  For individuals with eating disorders, particularly binge eaters, eating only when hungry and stopping when your body is satisfied will result in your body slowly returning to its natural set point weight.  Unfortunately, most people who have attempted to control their weight through dieting are fearful of allowing themselves to decide when and how much to eat. Yoga can help those with weight and food issues trust their body and understand the messages—hunger and fullness sensations-- given to them by their own body.

Is this why I always feel so calm and centered after a yoga class?
We use deep, diaphragmatic breathing in yoga, which helps calm the nervous system and reduce stress hormones.  Most individuals breathe from their chest all day long, creating the “flight fight mechanism,” which fuels their already existing stress.  Interestingly, the neurologist, Antonio Damasio, headed the team that created the Iowa gambling experiment.  Dr. Damasio studied patients with damage to a small but critical part of the brain called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which lies behind the nose.  The ventromedial area plays a critical role in decision-making.  People with damage to their ventromedial area are perfectly rational.  They can be highly functional, but they lack judgment.  Addicts can articulate very well the consequences of their behavior, but they fail to act accordingly—because of this brain issue causing the disconnect between what one “knows and what one does.”   Studies have shown that meditation can act on the cerebral cortex improving awareness, focus and memory.  Further studies are warranted to understand the exact mechanics of yoga and how yoga can help food addiction and related eating behaviors involving these intricate brain centers.

Have you seen women with eating disorders heal with the help of yoga, when more conventional therapies haven't worked?
Yes.  I run a variety of programs, called Reconnect with Food, ®ranging from a partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient program, weekly support groups and individual counseling that all incorporate yoga.  I have found that the yoga helps to shift my clients’ relationship with food on a deeper level than talk therapy along can do.  The yoga is solution focused vs. simply talking about issues.  I work with many individuals who have tried everything, with little or short term success, incorporate long-term recovery skills with yoga in their toolbox.  I also train yoga teachers and mental health professionals, in a week long training, on how to incorporate yoga for their own clients with eating disorders.

Are there any special poses we can try to feel better about our bodies?
In my Reconnect with Food® Programs, I teach a Hatha yoga flow, with long-holding challenging postures, held for a certain length of time, while maintaining the breath.  These poses are often uncomfortable, physically and mentally.  Often, individuals tend to want to “run away” from uncomfortable situations.  As individuals learn to tolerate uncomfortable emotional states without running toward food for comfort, for which they truly may not be hungry, or numbing out by turning away from food, they can transform and grow.  I also use “yin” poses, which are long holding posses that work with the lower half of the body, involving little muscle work.  The yin postures are more challenging to the mind as while in these poses, you are not “doing” but “being.”  The work in a yin flow is to maintain stillness and learn to be comfortable sitting with yourself.  Overall, practicing yoga can help maintain discipline, help an individual to feel and accept uncomfortable emotions and avoid eating and other impulsive behaviors.

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