It has become very common for our eating disorder clients to say that exercise is their outlet for stress, it’s ‘what they do to relax.’ And yet, when we ask more questions, the popular forms of boot-camp style exercise, rigorus hot yoga, and some styles of cross training often described ( in high-anxiety, fast tempo, aggressive atmospheres) are doing a number on their nervous systems. Many clients often confuse exhaustion with relaxation. After all, if this was truly relaxing, wouldn’t they feel some kind of overall relaxation affect hours or days afterward? And many do not. Of course, we are not saying that some intense workouts can’t be fun and healthy- of course they can…But when we are talking about individuals with Anxiety Disorders coupled with severe Eating Disorders, it is usually not the most advisabe form of physical therapy.
It is in our American culture to worship the most intense, hard workouts and dismiss that which is considered ‘easy’ or ‘not that challenging’ physically. However, its interesting to watch many who consider themselves to be healthy and in superb condition, when asked to sit or lie down and breath for 5 minutes. Many are virtually unable to do so. The intense discomfort with being present with the breath, thoughts, and slowing down is overwhelmingly uncomfortable. After all, didn’t yoga start so that the ancients could be healthier and able to sit for longer periods of meditation without distraction from the pains of the physical body? This is not about shaming or blaming, but about bringing attention to the ideas that we accept as true, and perhaps asking the right questions, and adapting our routines in order to strive for more balance, in action and in stillness.
Eating Disorder patients must be especially careful due to the severe imbalance in electrolytes and hydration while in an active disorder. Also, many workouts can deplete the physical body of minerals and vital resources, and without proper nutrition, we see accelerated aging of the skin, bones, organs, and nearly everything else. And lastly, we even see heart attack and stroke in very young patients (teens and 20’s) who exercise aggressively while in their eating disorder. We do have yoga in the Center, however it is calming and relaxing, and meant to help restore balance- which is so greatly needed.
I’ll leave you with a little excerpt from Psychology Today, siting some of the dangers of aggressive styles of ‘yoga’:
“But, not all yoga is relaxing. There are trendy forms of yoga today that emphasize nervous system activation rather than relaxation. Hot yoga (Bikram Yoga(link is external)) is one of these yoga systems. Bikram Choudhury synthesized this system of yoga from traditional Hatha Yoga techniques. A Bikram Yoga class runs for 90 minutes, consists of the same series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises, and is ideally practiced in a room heated to 105°F (≈ 40.6°C) with a humidity of 40%. I know many people who swear by this form of yoga. But, as you can imagine, hot yoga is not meant for beginners or especially for people whose physical or mental conditions make them especially sensitive to changes of temperature. Hot yoga and intense power yoga classes actually activate the excitatory nervous system (sympathetic nervous system(link is external)) and induce a stress response in you.”**
Thank you and please be safe and mindful as you create your healthy life!
–Erin Fischer, Yoga Therapist, Eating Disorder Center of San Diego
*This article is intended for those suffering from eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder, in the greater San Diego area, seeking affordable treatment and services