The Pros and Cons of Yoga in Anorexia Recovery

I've been going to hot yoga 5 times per week now (on average) since sometime in March 2022 (approx. 7 or so months). I started with 2-3 classes per week which quickly ramped up to 4-6 classes per week. Some weeks I did less and some weeks I have been going 7 days in a row or to more than one class per day (ie., an intense exercise class followed by a deep stretch and relax for a total of 2 hours of activity in the infrared heat). The temperature is some 34-38 degrees, depending on the class and instructor.


Over this time, my body has changed considerably. I have lost inches on my waist, my face has slimmed down, and I have gained muscle in my arms, thighs, and feet. I have increased core strength from the pelvic floor to the base of my skull and I have actually gained weight (muscle weighs more than fat, I remember).


I have become stronger physically and mentally, and have increased my flexibility and mobility beyond my wildest imagination. I can touch the floor, put my hands under my feet, do fire log pose, zip up a back zipper on a dress (something I couldn't do before), and so much more...


Some days I'll say joining hot yoga as someone with chronic illness has been the most empowering commitment of my adult life. I have worked up my strength and can attend different intensity levels of classes and do poses I never thought possible.


As many of my readers know, I also have fibromyalgia. When I started yoga, I was barely able to lift and move my 15-pound weighted blanket or grate a brick of cheddar cheese. Now, I lift and toss the blanket onto the bed, roll around with it with ease, and buy cheese snacks and not bricks (I may love yoga now, but cheese grating will never be for me).


I can carry groceries into the apartment in one trip without the same level of struggle. I can scratch my own back. I know how to stretch to release tension and fascia pain. I have less tension and fascia pain because I am constantly working on it and with it and through it...


I started going to hot yoga to:


  • get exercise into what was a sedentary lifestyle

  • get help with fibromyalgia pain and stiffness

  • access a community

  • work on improving mobility and strengthening my body

  • try to get strong enough to stand up on a paddle board

I have achieved all of those things and more, to be honest.


I exercise, I am more mobile, flexible, and have less inflammation over all, I have a sense of community, and I did a three legged dog on my paddleboard first time I took it out...I had no problem standing up!

Cautions to keep in mind regarding hot yoga classes and memberships as someone who has lived experience with anorexia...


Despite the many positives I have gained, including increased overall confidence in my abilities (and physical appearance), I have also noticed some potential red flags in myself that are worth sharing to raise awareness for others with histories of anorexia or otherwise disordered eating.


In other words, for the past few months, I've been reflecting on yoga studio culture and the pros and cons of going to yoga as someone with a history of eating disorders.


Here are my thoughts as for now.


Pros of yoga during anorexia recovery or relapse

  • Stress reduction (may take some time before you're comfortable at new studio to experience full stress relief effects of yoga practice)

  • Get in touch with inner self (calm the inner chaos)

  • Connect to community of like-minded humans or find new social network outside anorexia recovery or behaviors

  • Learn healthy coping mechanisms through yoga philosophy

  • Practice healing breathing techniques

  • Build strength and self-trust

Cons of yoga during anorexia recovery or relapse


These are the things that can be triggering for someone who has anorexia or who has had anorexia with orthorexia or exercise-purge subtype. These are the things to watch out for and, work on either actively and consciously not engaging or finding some other studio or leaving honest, heart-forward reviews to hot yoga studios about how their culture or practices may be negatively impacting their members living with anorexia and other eating disorders. I don't expect people in the diet, fitness, and wellness industry to stop trying to make us feel inadequate in some way or another in order to promise the solution we are worthy of enough to pay for. You see how this works in businesses that need to make money? What you can do is check out the following stuff that may come up, know that you're not alone if it bothers you, and that you are worthy of hearing if you do decide to leave a review!


This is not a complete list, to be sure, but it is what I have noticed from personal observations and few discussions with yoga members across studios.


YOGA CONS


  • Thin privilege exists in yoga studies, too (nowhere is immune)

  • There are plenty of people's bodies to make comparisons with at yoga studios (for better or worse)

  • Some studios have wraparound mirrors which can trigger fixations and obsessions with the way the body looks rather than how the person feels

  • Studios may contribute to fat-shaming by making claims of helping people sculpt and lose cellulite and drop inches or by guilting them when they don't go often or sign-up for membership

  • Studios may miss the mark by hosting so-called body positive yoga but then calling it "yoga for curves"

  • Classes named things like "Buns, abs, booty..."

  • Some studios sell weight loss supplements and items geared toward toning down, slimming down, or detoxing

  • Some instructors may speak openly about weight-related topics in class

  • Competitions in studios that encourage excessive exercising (ie., 30 classes in 30 days)

  • Eating too close to class time isn't ideal for exercising and dipping and bending so it's easy to skip meals with the justification (especially when instructors say, "I hope you didn't eat before class," or "Sorry if you ate before class!")

  • Yoga classes often occur during mealtimes (early morning and right after school drop off, lunch hour circuits, evening sessions that may encourage some to skip full meals or skip eating altogether or just have something liquid afterwards because we're taught not to eat too close to bedtime)

Advice From an Anorexia Survivor (Who Loves Hot Yoga)


A few words of advice from an anorexia survivor who loves infrared hot yoga for fibro pain management, mental health, and other physical benefits. Try your best at the following options for coping so you can still enjoy yoga and not let the other stuff grate on you.... ;)


(progress is more important than perfection):


  • Ignore what other people are wearing, how they are moving, how much they may or may not be sweating, and whether or not they look like they are "in shape"

  • Remember that yoga really is for every 'body' and you don't need anything special, particular, or trendy to attend (ie., don't let lululemon get in the way of you and yoga)

  • Go to a variety of instructor's classes to begin with and find out who fits with you (leave the rest well alone)

  • Avoid classes where the focus is on a specific body part or goal (ie., getting abs or a tight booty)

  • Avoid exercise trackers, smart watches, and counters of any kind

  • Remember that your body isn't meant to be progressively stronger each and every single day, it will ebb and flow in what it is able to do each day

  • Keep easy-to-eat and nutrient-dense items around that won't give you that too-full feeling like nuts, cheese snacks, dried fruits

  • Take days off. If you feel anxiety about taking a day off, take another day off. Don't let yoga become an obsession or way to punish yourself.

  • Switch up the types of intensity of classes you attend (for example, I do a weekly mix of deep stretch and relaxation, hatha, vinyasa, yin and yang, and buti yoga).

  • Eat food at any time you can. No, seriously, just eat the food. Exercising daily without properly nourishing your body is a recipe for illness and injury. If it comes down to eating before bed or eating a dinner-like meal the morning after a hard class the night before, do it. There are no rules when it comes to intuitive and healthy eating except for listening to what your body needs.

  • When you don't feel like going to yoga because of what you're wearing, how you look, or how you feel about a certain body part, go. Set an intention for your practice to come to peace with yourself.

If you lose interest in yoga or if you become overly strict about your yoga routine (to the point where you are cancelling on other people or it is causing relationship problems or you can't seem to be okay with taking a weekend off, you may want to consider speaking to a mental health professional or reading more about anorexia nervosa here.








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