Healing Body-Image Disturbance Through Yin Yoga

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Body-image disturbance is one of the hardest challenges to overcome in eating disorder recovery. Not only is it one of the most difficult issues to treat, but also it is usually the last hurdle to be overcome during eating disorder recovery. Often, longstanding negative thoughts, feelings and core beliefs about one’s body are nearly impossible to change, until the way one actually experiences one’s body changes. Yin yoga offers an accessible entry into allowing a different experience of one’s body.

Yin yoga is a quiet, slow-paced, meditative practice, in which gentle floor poses are held for three to six minutes (or longer), with the muscles relaxed. Because is it such a gentle practice, nearly everyone can practice this form of yoga, no matter what stage of recovery they are in. By mindfully observing one’s experience with acceptance, curiosity and non-judgment, Yin yoga allows deep access to what is unfolding within one’s body, and enables one to begin to inhabit one’s body in a new way.

Not only does Yin yoga offer deeper access to the body, Yin also gives one greater awareness of what is going on in the mind. This yoga practice enables one to listen and get intimate with oneself by tuning into thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. While in postures, one can practice mindfulness meditation or breath work to calm the mind and bring about equanimity. When one brings mindful attention to moment-to-moment experience in the body, heart and mind, one is able to turn toward any discomfort with self-compassion to transform one’s experience.

To meditate means to go home to yourself. Then you know how to take care of the things that are happening inside you, and you know how to take care of the things that happen around you.

Yin yoga also opens energy channels (acupuncture meridians) and regulates the flow of life force energy (chi) in the body, therefore it is similar to having a needle-free acupuncture session. Unlike active forms of yoga, such as Hatha, Vinyasa or Iyengar, which focus on activating muscles in the body, Yin yoga targets the connective tissues and the fascia of the body, which run throughout the body and provide pathways or acupuncture meridians for the flow of energy.

When pulling, stressing, and compressing the connective tissues as one does in Yin yoga, there is an increase in the conductivity of energy through the acupuncture meridians to balancing chi that flows to the organs of the body. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, each organ is associated with positive and negative emotions (see chart below). By opening meridians to improve energy flow and balance chi in the organs, one is more easily able to work through and let go of emotions held in the body — emotions that can be difficult to access in traditional talk therapy.

Yin yoga can and will change your life, if you allow it. I know firsthand, as it did just this for me, and it was an important part of my eating disorder recovery. I was disconnected from myself and my body in every way, and when I started doing Yin, I had the time to inspect where I was misleading myself, and from where it originated. The time held in poses afforded me this opportunity, which I had never allowed myself before — to stop, remain still and be with what was arising. I experienced a flood of emotions coming to the fore, and during the first year in my practice it seemed I was shedding, each time, a viscous layer of me that kept me in the dark. Tears would emerge without any encouragement and post practice, I would feel calmer, clearer, more connected to myself, and more whole. It’s not to say this was easy—to face myself and my demons—but the courage I was building that came from the practice, was giving me the wherewithal to tackle and handle the places where I had separated from myself and my body. Finding the “Middle Way,” as the Buddha discovered, has brought me heaps of joy in my life, and I keep discovering new facets of myself that I never knew existed. Hallelujah to Yin yoga!

Traditional Chinese Medicine Five-Element Theory

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Other benefits of practicing Yin yoga, include:

  • Calming and balancing to the mind and body
  • Increasing mobility and flexibility in the body, especially the joints and hips
  • Lowering of anxiety and stress levels (no one needs that)
  • Improving stamina
  • Deepening relaxation
  • Improving ability to sit for meditation
  • Ultimately benefitting one’s Yang or active yoga practices

Yin yoga not only improves physical and emotional wellbeing, it can be the key for unlocking deeply rooted body image disturbance in eating disorder recovery. Yin yoga teaches us to “be” and to “accept what is” in any given moment. As one becomes more present and wakes up from unconscious living, one’s appreciation of the preciousness of their body and their life increases.  Poet Mary Oliver asks, “Tell me, what will you do with you one wild and precious life?” If you are in recovery for an eating disorder or if you want to experience the many physical and emotional benefits of Yin yoga, I sincerely hope that you will give this unique and healing yoga style a try. Namaste.


Marcella Cox, LMFT and RYT, is a psychotherapist and yoga therapist at Cielo House in Burlingame, CA, where she teaches Yin yoga. Her private psychotherapy practice is in San Carlos, CA, and she teaches Yin yoga at The Bay Club in Redwood Shores, CA and Mindful Self-Compassion at El Camino Hospital, CA.  Marcella was trained in Yin yoga by Sarah Powers, founder of the Insight Yoga Institute.

Marcella Cox