As I work to support women struggling with eating disorders, I am aware that the body can feel like their number one enemy. The images in the media and the cultural focus on size and shape prey on young women's vulnerable minds. They become victims trapped in a body that does not conform. Controlling their food and exercise seems like the best solution to find love and acceptance.
Overtime, once again they will learn that love and acceptance are not gained by body image. They are gained by an internal felt-sense of joy, ease and pleasure within the confines of the muscles, skin and bones - and even the fat. When this love and acceptance are for the Self - then the rest of the world will follow. They will find out the intrinsic value they have in being women. Beautiful from the inside out.
Getting from point A to point B seems like a million mile trek unless you find tools to help you traverse the long journey. One of the most profound, effective, and FUN tools is movement. You might call it dance but this can be limiting since many people have a pre-conceived notion of what dance is. The idea in using the word movement is that it is very open ended. It could be moving in any way at all. There is no right or wrong way to move.
For the purposes of healing and recovering the lost parts of yourself, it's important to begin to recover a deep attention to your inner urges. Moving to the rhythm of music while keeping focus on your internal impulses is an impactful way to cultivate that inner attention.
This week for our movement group at the IOP, I brought a play list of songs inspired by the 5rhythms practice developed by Gabrielle Roth. (The rhythms she proposes are Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, Stillness.)
I began by leading the women into their bodies methodically, beginning with the head - moving down to the toes. As we felt into the music, we each dove deeper into the interior of our bodies. Once we had opened up in this way, I let the songs play in order with sparse guidance amidst the music.
Some of the prompts I offered the moving women were:
At the end of the movement experience we took 5 minutes in complete silence and stillness, laying on our backs. I asked each woman to place a hand on her belly and hand on her heart at the completion and say thank-you to her body. In reflection some women shared the complexity of having had a good time moving but simultaneously knowing that they are not grateful for their bodies much of the time. Others shared that they recognize the abuse their bodies have been through and they can appreciate them for enduring it all.
Once again, I am left with the important take-away that healing is a practice. Having used self-destructive coping tools to deal with the stressors of life for a long time, it's not easy to convince you that there are other options out there. You will need to find new, expressive and self-empowering tools to use - and just like with any craft, you will need to practice to master their art. But once mastered, these tools will be rewarding beyond your wildest imagination.
Moving toward recovery is a beautiful opportunity to get back in touch with lost parts of your embodied experience. Find music you like, that you resonate with, that shakes you up, that brings your to your knees. Music that makes you pray. You might find that you thank your body at the end. And surely your body will thank You.
Yin Yoga is a passive style of yoga developed by Paulie Zink and taught by Sarah Powers and Paul Grilly that integrates yoga poses and knowledge of Chinese meridian theory. Meridians are lines of energy that run through the body and correspond to internal organs. These can be accessed through acupressure, acupuncture, hand-on-healing, and even by your own stretching to activate them.
The Stomach/Spleen meridian pair are the main meridians you can target for benefits relating to disordered eating.
"The stomach meridian is the yang meridian and is paired with the Spleen yin meridian. It helps support physical and emotional nourishment. It functions with the Spleen meridian in the assimilation of Qi from food through digestion and absorption. The Spleen supports self-esteem and open mindedness." (Taken from NaturalHealthZone)
The idea in Yin Yoga is to target the energy lines so it's not as important that you do the exact pose in the exact right way. As long as you feel a stretch, an opening of energy, a deepening of sensation - in the area you're working on.
Here are some tips for your Yin practice:
Here is a list of some poses that correspond to the Stomach/Spleen Meridian:
Escaping uncomfortable feelings is actually doing you more harm that good: A Somatic Psychology approach to TOLErAtINg DIsCOmFOrT
What are people so afraid of? When it comes to emotions, why are people so afraid? It’s the sensations in the body that are hard for us to tolerate. Whatever it is that is uncomfortable makes us feel like we’re going to fall apart, explode, collapse, or hurt. And the thought of any of those happening to us is unbearable. So we divert our attention, run away, eat, don’t eat, sleep or get high. We all have found some way to get through the difficult sensations somehow.
But the problem is that by doing all of these things – we end up having to do them over and over and over because we can’t escape that life is uncomfortable. So without getting into our bodies – diving in to the core of the sensation – we never learn how to be with the difficulty and how to manage ourselves better. We are blocking our way to growth and fulfillment.
When we learn to be with the discomfort – we learn to tolerate it – we can become curious about it. And when we become curious about it, we are cultivating a witnessing part of our minds that can make other choices. And when we make space for other choices, we have space to learn to influence ourselves; that is to actually change the shapes our bodies are making and change how we interpret them. For example it’s possible to turn our fearful tingling into courageous sparkling or to turn tight nervousness into strong confidence.
This way, the sensations become tools. We can shape-shift inside them. We can become artists within the framework of our own bodies.
Imagine the inside of your body is a blank canvas. If emotions start to happen naturally, and you become fearful that you will be taken over – you shield yourself, protect yourself, use a black shadow over the whole thing so as not to have to look… Sadly, you will never know what you are missing.
In actuality, with no sensation, your canvas is white and empty. As emotions start to flow, sensations begin to creep up – if you take a look with curiosity – colors will begin to fill in. Depending on the emotion – it might be washing you over with red, little dots of blue, or blinding yellow. And as you look, you could choose to add a little hint of gold. Or a smudge of green.
This is a visual way to think about what we can also do on a sensory level. For example, being overcome by anger feels HOT. Taking a deep breath can cool you down. Or maybe splashing your face with cold water before responding will help you have more space. And little by little you get to choose how much heat to allow.
I know that it’s not easy to interrupt a strong flood of emotion when it comes on. This is why practicing when you’re not in a difficult moment is very important.
Taking a breathing pause a few times a day is a good place to start.
Try this: Set an alarm on your watch or phone for 3 random times throughout the day. Each time the alarm goes off, stop what you are doing and count three full breaths. Get curious about the experience. How long do 3 breaths feel? How do 3 breaths affect your body? Your mind? Your mood?
This is one small step toward your growing capacity to tolerate discomfort and handle the stressors of life with just a little more grace.
Yonat Piva, MA, LMFT
I write about navigating the challenges of prenatal, postpartum, parenting & relationships. I believe we can inhabit our bodies with a renewed sense of fulfillment in being a human woman.