As you may know, recovery from an eating disorder is not a walk in the park – almost everyone has days where they struggle with difficult thoughts, emotions, or behaviours, as well as days they feel strong and motivated to continue on their path to recovery. Personally, I have had quite a few days recently where I had to work harder to tune out my own inner critic, who was criticizing my lack of productivity, my introverted nature, and my inability to connect with others. In the past, I would have managed these thoughts with eating disorder behaviours – restricting, isolating myself, working out past the point of enjoyment. Luckily, I have found alternatives to these behaviours, and after months of experimenting with alternatives, know which ones serve me well. These behaviours, whether they are activities I can do on my own, or involve reaching out to others, can be thought of as tools in my wellness toolbox, which can be easily accessed in more difficult times.
I am a true believer that meditation can be a powerful behavioural tool in one’s wellness toolbox. Meditation can sometimes be dismissed for being a religious or spiritual practice, however it is something that is very individualized – you can practice it in a way that fits your needs. You can meditate while sitting upright or lying on your back; you can focus on your breath, on a mantra or series of words, or on a series of movements such as yoga poses. You can meditate for five minutes or for an hour; you can do it alone or in a guided class. Meditation is a practice that can help train the mind to let go of the mental clutter that builds up because of stress, pressure, self-judgement, worry, and expectations in one’s life. It dates back to ancient times, with roots in both Hinduism and Buddhism. In Buddhism, meditation is viewed as one way to end suffering, which is thought to be a normal experience in human life. In Hinduism, meditation and yoga are thought to be paths to understanding one’s true self (atman) and one’s place in the world (brahman). Today, it has been scientifically proven that meditation has a range of benefits for one’s wellbeing, including decreasing depression and anxiety, and improving attention and focus (read more about the benefits at http://liveanddare.com/benefits-of-meditation/).
For someone beginning their own meditation practice, sitting down and trying to focus on the breath can be intimidating, and can leave them feeling exposed to their own self-judgement, criticisms, or worries. I would suggest looking into a meditation app (such as Headspace), a meditation podcast, or a gentle yoga class on Youtube or in the community. Meditation is an ongoing practice, and similar to recovery, some days it will be easier to tune out your thoughts and emotions than others. If thoughts do come up, rather than attaching to them or judging them, just acknowledge that they are there and then bring your focus back to your breath or your mantra. This may be challenging if you are in crisis or having intense negative thoughts, so I would suggest other tools on those days, such as reaching out to a supportive friend or family member. For some examples of mantras for daily living or meditation, I would recommend the book “Living your Yoga” by Judith H. Lasater – she provides daily mantras based on different qualities, such as self-judgement (“Perfection is an illusion”) and fear (“I am willing to act in the face of fear”).
It is important for everyone to have their own wellness toolbox, regardless of whether they have struggled with mental health challenges or not. Finding your own ways to nourish the body and the mind as well as develop self-acceptance are ongoing explorations on your path to recovery. You may already have your own wellness tools to turn to in more difficult moments – some common ones include calling a friend, cuddling with a pet, lighting a scented candle, or having a warm bath. I believe that you can never have too many of these tools, and encourage you to be curious about exploring other options, including meditation or yoga. You never know what you might discover about yourself!
By Jessica, MScOT