As both a dietitian and yoga teacher, I’m interested in the parallels between yoga and intuitive eating. In this post, I explore how yoga supports intuitive eating by examining my personal experience. I hope you enjoy!
My First Yoga Class
I was 15 years old when I attended my first yoga class at the local YMCA in my small midwest town.
The yoga instructor had purple hair and wore mix-matched clothing–striped leggings and a Wonder Woman t-shirt to be exact. I rolled out my sticky yoga mat and scanned the room for others my age.
Waiting for class to start, I worried: How do I fit into this equation? Where do I belong?
Like many teenagers, I was preoccupied with fitting in and constantly worried about what others thought of me. I struggled with anxiety, poor body image, and disordered eating (read my story). At the time, I was unaware of how yoga would help me through each of these struggles.
How Yoga Supported My Intuitive Eating Path
Today, I’m pulling back the curtain and bringing you 5 ways that yoga helped me make peace with my body and continues to support my well-being.
1. Dropping comparison
My yoga mat became my safe-haven. It became the one place where I did not worry what others thought of me. I accepted the invitation to slow down, tune inwards, and listen to my body. With focused attention on my breath and movement, the worry of what others thought of me faded in the background. I wasn’t trying to compete or compare myself to others in the room. Rather, I was simply enjoying the experience of being in MY body doing MY thing. Self-care > comparison.
2. Discovering joyful movement
Before yoga, I participated in certain exercises for the “caloric-burn” effect, even if I found it boring (hello elliptical). Through yoga, I found an activity that left me feeling energized and empowered. THESE are the feelings that brought me back (and continue to bring me back) to my yoga mat. Also, I learned how to modify poses to meet my needs. Even today, you’ll see me with blocks and straps when I take a yoga class! This closely parallels Intuitive Eating Principle #9, Exercise Feel the Difference, where the focus is placed on exercise that feels good.
3. Focusing on process versus outcome
Rachel Brathen (aka Yoga Girl) says, “the goal of yoga is not the handstand.” In other words, the goal of yoga is not the pose itself. The goal is to honor the process of growing and being in connection with oneself–the whole self. I couldn’t agree with this more! Growth in yoga can be measured in inches; the ability to stay present for a second longer, to hold a pose for breath more, or sink into a stretch an inch deeper. Similarly, Intuitive Eating emphasizes progress over perfection. It places attention on health-promoting behaviors versus a fixed outcome like weight.
4. Developing self-awareness
Even on the days that I feel low about myself, there’s something magical about the ability to be present to those feelings on my yoga mat. Self-awareness sounds like:
- I’m feeling…
- It’s come to my attention….
- I notice…
Self-awareness helps us objectively observe our thoughts and feelings versus immediately becoming them. Notice the difference? Yoga gives me the space to explore and work my self-awareness muscle. Self-awareness plugs in with nearly every principle of Intuitive Eating!
5. Coping with emotions
Yoga has been my vehicle for calm and rock to sit on during challenging times. Stress is a part of life, and it’s essential to have skillful ways of coping with stress. Yoga has become one of those skillful coping mechanisms for me! This closely intertwines with Intuitive Eating Principle #7, all about navigating emotional eating. With an increased ability to identify my emotions and positively respond to stress, my frequency of emotional eating decreased.
The Gift of Yoga
As I look back on my introduction to yoga, I wouldn’t change a single detail.
My first class was like unwrapping the bow of a beautifully wrapped present. Under layers of ribbon and wrapping, I discovered the true gift of yoga: becoming best friends with myself again.
Today, yoga remains an integral part of my movement and self-care practice. It has transformed the way I relate to my mind, body, and spirit. If you’re looking to develop your self-care practices and need support, contact me–I’d love to help you by designing a routine that helps you feel grounded and refreshed!