Better Together – Eating Disorder Recovery and Yoga

May 30, 2017

If you want to talk about my sense of community and how it relates to yoga, I’ll tell you that yoga has contributed significantly to my feeling connected and meaningful in this world that I am constantly trying to figure out. After being hospitalized for anorexia and bulimia three times and barely making it through college, I decided to start fresh in Chicago and entered a master’s program at Northwestern University. I lived there for seven years, maintaining once a week therapy and celebrating remarkable milestones with my recovery. I obsessed about my body less, I restricted less, I found other ways to cope with my stress besides binging and purging – I was recovering. I met my now husband as I was entering full recovery, and we got married in 2014. Just last year, we decided to relocate to my hometown of Birmingham, Ala.

I’ll be honest with you – I have very few friends here. I can count them on one hand here. A lot of that has to do with the fact that I’m introverted and emotional and pensive, in a way that sometimes disconnects me from the world around me. If you were often “in your own little world” as a child, you know what I’m talking about. I also work from home with very little in-person interaction, and I spent seven years building a community of friends that is now 700 miles away. I’m lucky to have my family and my husband and my pets, truly, but in maintaining my recovery, a fulfilling community of friends is so important.

Over the summer last year, I began helping out at a yoga studio in my community, because I knew one of the teachers there and I had hosted a body image workshop at the studio with her. What started as a way to, honestly, get free yoga classes and get out of my house a few times out of the week, turned into long lasting friendships and a true sense of community.

When you become friends with yogis, you not only likely share common interests in health and wellness, but you are constantly making each other better. I always leave a conversation with one of my yoga friends knowing something I didn’t know before, and wanting to try something new to help myself feel better. Like, I’m gonna go home and make turmeric milk for the first time because I’m inflamed and my yogi friend said it would help me.

In the South, we say, “How are you?” as a greeting, and move on with our lives. But my yogi community really means it when they ask that – we take care of each other.

I have become a stronger person, a more loving person, a healthier person through my connection to the yoga community. But I often get the question from other people striving for eating disorder recovery, and especially those recovering from exercise addictions: “Is yoga my only option?”

The answer is NO. I practice yoga in my house when my back hurts, in the car when I’m stressed and late to a meeting, and in my favorite restorative class on Thursday nights. But my yoga practice is not the only thing I do for my health – it benefits me when I practice in combination with other wellness activities. When my nutrition and sleep are off, no amount of yoga is going to “fix” me. If I sit all day every day and don’t move my body, even in doing household chores, no amount of yoga is going to make my joints feel better. If I’m actively binging and purging, yoga will not help me until I address the “why” behind my self-destructive behaviors – I have to see my therapist and sometimes a psychiatrist for that.

But when I am working hard in other arenas of my life, yoga helps. I have to make a conscious effort to find joy in other physical activity, while diversify the movement I participate in and limiting how often I do it. I spent too many hours obsessing on the treadmill instead of LIVING MY DAMN LIFE. So, if family events take up my whole weekend and I don’t have time for yoga or exercise, I’m gonna roll with it. And it took nearly a decade to make that decision for myself.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, I’m not here to tell you that yoga will instantly make you find a sense of community. But in combination with your wider network of support, yoga can be the most lovely, healing source of friendship and balance that you will wonder how you got on before you found it.

This year, I celebrated 10 years since the day I left treatment for the third time. I recognize that in myself every day when I look in the mirror, even if I’m having difficulty with my body that day. And I hug my yogi friends every time they ask me “How are you?” – and I know they truly mean it.

 

 


Nicole Rohr Stephani is a writer in Birmingham, Ala. She suffered from anorexia and bulimia for 10 years, completing 3 stints in treatment, before finally entering recovery. To this day, she still deals with more bad body image days than good ones, and realizes she is not alone. In an effort to create a positive community for men and women who are paralyzed by negative body image, Nicole founded Body Boop, a blog and events company. Nicole lives with her husband James, her dog Jackson and her cat Hershey, who are all constant sources of joy and support.
Body Boop Instagram: https://instagram.com/mybodyboop

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