Recipe for Using Yoga to Heal Food & Body Issues

Food + body issues + yoga: I feel they beautifully go together because yoga means to yoke, to connect. Not only the shapes, or postures, the asana practice – but mind, body and spirit. So we use the breath, we notice our thoughts, we turn toward the subtle body messages that are coming up in a way not only to connect with ourselves to know how/when/where to nourish ourselves literally and figuratively, but also to connect with others, which taps into healthy, sustainable, grounded nervous system functioning (not to mention healthy collective connection with the world around us, which is greatly needed now!). 

How does a yoga practice (or mindful movement practice) help the spectrum of emotional eating? Yoga is such fertile ground in terms of connecting those food and body issues – whether you’re on the yo-yo dieting cycle, hopping from diet to diet, whatever is the trendiest diet in the in the news, or what friends are talking about. Or, emotional eating – that broad spectrum of emotional eating – binging, purging (of any kind), obsessive calorie-counting – whatever those behaviors are that take you away from a true source of nourishment and wisdom. But, your body does have that. We have to practice coming back to that deep source of knowing, and it is a practice. It's returning to that wise source of knowing again and again and again.

Our Culture of Food and Body Wars: It's one of those things - it can be taboo. People still don't want to talk about it or admit, “Hey, I struggle with this.” I would like to invite you to know you are not alone. The struggle is common. And, it's also no wonder with the messages that we get in this culture that you should be a certain shape size, look, etc. The food/weight pressure is really a dangerous and manipulative distractor from connecting to that richer place within for creativity and living in a healthily embodied way.

There is a way to break free. A way that can help you discover your true path or paths and to live in a more sustainable, fulfilled way. I offer body-based psychotherapy and movement education, and one way is to use yoga (through the lens of developmental, bio-psycho-social movement patterns of somatic psychology) as a framework, as a place to land, as a place to have the earth hold and contain the reintegration of mind, body and spirit. In this way, we can start to explore and re-pattern the nuanced, complicated world of food and body issues. 

Find connection and safe space. Again, you're not alone. And, it's important to find a safe space for that, especially to invite healthy nervous system functioning which messages to the rest of you, “it’s okay to lay down your guard, you can lay down those grueling diets and behaviors.” Yoga is accessible, mainstream – in studios, online. It's such a wonderful place to start exploring the messages within the body like interoceptive awareness, the internal body signals that help us to know: Am I hungry? Am I not? Do I want to stretch, or do I want to open? Do I want a more staccato-type rhythm to my day? Do I want to flow like water? Or maybe I want a little taste of everything. 

To find and build that internal connection and deeper wisdom within, use the following Three Cs recipe:

a)    Curiosity – What is this about? Put on your investigator hat or glasses, microscope or binoculars, and you say, “what is this about?” Look at your patterns and behaviors and feelings from all different angles. Where do they come from? Begin to gently ask yourself, “Why do I do this? What am I trying to get?” That's where you get really curious.
    You might experience different sensations or feelings arise when you begin a yoga or mindful movement practice. You might feel resistance. You might hate it. You might feel it’s not intense or sweaty enough. Or, you might feel it’s too much to move. You might not feel flexible or strong enough to hold your body or your feelings or anxiety. You might also discover endless possibilities of turning within and realizing how mysteriously and graciously connected you can be with your own body. 
    In being curious, you practice leaving judgment behind like you might be curious about why a little kid or a sweet animal does what they do. The judgment keeps you from discovering your truth, and it keeps you from the next C…

b)    Compassion – Having compassion for yourself, especially when you pay attention to your body or get on the mat because sometimes the mat practice isn't fast enough, or maybe your body is “too soft” (It’s not enough, you want to bite off more than you’re served), or your body doesn’t seem flexible enough to do what you want it to do (by the way, we practice to get more flexible not only externally, but internally, in our hearts and our minds). Or, perhaps paying attention to your body is triggering or uncomfortable (so you go back to being Curious). Again, it's a practice having compassion for yourself, which also helps being more compassionate and patient with other people.

c)    Care – How can you care for what you discover? How do you care with your need to do more? How do you care for the distress of what comes up either in your wildly beating heart or the incessant thoughts or your desire to do something else with your body or your feeling of not being “good enough.” How do you care for that? Sometimes care is doing things that we don't really want to do but we also know that that's kind of part of the growth and that's part of the expansion and the stretching and the internal muscular endurance. And, then sometimes the care is allowing space to soften, to rest. Care is broadly defined, sometimes it’s an internal, abstract job, sometimes it’s an external, concrete task.

Review and practice the Three C’s as a way to return to yourself and begin exploring how to befriend your body as a gateway to befriending and reconnecting with your mind and spirit as well. Practice being CURIOUS, COMPASSIONATE, and CARING when inviting your body into your healing journey. Whether you’re in a class or doing an online video, or working with a psychotherapist and becoming interested in noticing your body’s postures or non-verbals, instead of simply getting through the poses, movements, sequence or technique – STOP. Pause. Pay attention to the breath, to pay attention to the subtle body, to pay attention, and become curious about the places that feel tight, or numb, or open, or vulnerable, or perhaps places that feel like they need to be supported or held. You might be able to notice and watch even playfully any judgment that comes up, and you can have compassion around it all.

If you’d like to experiment with a basic sequence of yoga-based developmental movement, I recently posted a video offering an intro and practice to my Movement Education. Watch here: I introduced it with the idea that you enter the practice like you're a seed in fertile soil and you want to get really comfortable first, and then you want to sprout and grow. In that practice, we start on the ground and work our way up and that's a sequence that I often teach in which we can get creative, but that's a basic practice of developmental movement. 

Developmental Movement as a path to answering “What am I Hungry For?” We were all once embryos, once nourished in a very quiet, sustainable way attached to the uterine wall. We expanded outward with our limbs, our brain, our spinal cord, not in that particular order. But returning to that place of nourishment – of attachment – that's the quality of sustainability in which you can return for that deeper sense of source within. It is possible and sometimes, many times, it takes support and help to find that that place of feeding yourself, of nourishing yourself, of re-attuning to yourself, to notice not only “what are you hungry for?” but also:

o    “What makes me full and what doesn't it?”
o    “What is delicious and what's not food-wise but also in a deeper sense?”
o    “How do I want to be in this world?” 
o    “How do I want to attach, and with whom?”
o    “Who and what drains me of my rightful energy, and how can I say no?”
o    “Where do I want to individuate and grow, and how?”

In mindfully led movement – or in my signature movement group “M-Bodied: How to Heal Your Dance with Food – we can play with these developmental shapes, movements and patterns that we've all already done before in the womb as babies from which we've expanded and been birthed onto Earth. That's where an intentional yoga or mindful movement practice comes with wonderfully rich tools to take us back to our bodies, to Nature 101. 

We can ground, we can be held, Mother Earth can hold us. And then, we can press, and we can say no when we need. We can open our hearts. We can expand. We can set boundaries where we need. We can even connect with others and hold others where we and they need. You can discover your deeper hungers, to help heal your dance with food, body image, weight, shape, and all of those things that are really blaring alarms that there's something richer and way more delicious going on. 

I promise discovering those riches can happen, and it's a beautiful journey. Again, it's a practice, you don't have to be alone and you don't have to struggle and it's my wish for you to be Curious, to have Compassion, and take really good Care.

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