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Yoga For Eating Disorders: A Game Changer

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Yoga can be a game changer in eating disorder treatment.

I know. At 15 years old, I nearly died from a stroke resulting from severe anorexia. I was 58 pounds, severely depressed, and had given up on my life. Fortunately, my life was saved by an amazing team of medical professionals. But while traditional treatment did help me survive—when I left the hospital (I was there for 18 months!), I still hated my body, was plagued with self-deprecating thoughts, and lacked the resources to fully step into life.

A few months later, my outpatient therapist encouraged me to try yoga. I was resistant — I thought yoga sounded too touchy-feeling, too new-agey, too gentle for my tastes. The only reason I went was because I desperately wanted to change my body; I felt it had gotten too big to tolerate, I felt like (despite the fact that I was still 10 pounds underweight) I needed to burn calories to prevent myself from getting fat.

That first yoga class changed everything. This practice re-introduced me to a body I hadn’t —truly felt—in years. Yoga taught me how to listen to my body’s needs, appreciate it for its functions rather than form, and be with emotions I nearly killed myself trying to starve away.  More importantly, yoga introduced me to a community that became like a family to me. Over the next few years, I went from surviving to thriving; from living half a life to experiencing joy and freedom like I never imagined possible.

The statistics around eating disorders in this country are discouraging. Nearly  24 million Americans suffer from eating disorders, and only one in ten ever receive treatment. This disease kills nearly half a million people every year—daughters, sisters, brothers, friends, and spouses. That’s not okay. I know there’s a way out of this illness, and I believe yoga can be an incredible tool in paving the way.

Over the past several years, I’ve put a lot of thought into which elements of the yoga practice were helpful in my recovery and which weren’t so much (I think some aspects of yoga culture can actually exacerbate an eating disorder). I’ve developed a program called Yoga for Eating Disorders™ that teaches patients practical tools for learning how to tune into hunger and fullness signals, cope with difficult emotions, and relate to their body as an ally rather than an enemy. Without those skills, it’s nearly impossible to be successful in recovery.

This month, I launched a campaign to raise $50,000 to offer Yoga for Eating Disorders™ at treatment centers around the country at no charge. More importantly, I’ll be using the funds raised to collect data for an evidence-based study on its effectiveness as a complementary treatment for eating disorders. This program teaches patients critical skills for long term recovery; potentially shortening treatment, reducing relapse, and ultimately saving lives.

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But I can’t do this alone. I need your help. If you feel inspired by this story or have been touched by an eating disorder personally, please take a moment to donate to the campaign. Every dollar counts. Here are a few ways you can help:

Donate:

Today! Every little bit counts – even $5! If you’re going to contribute, please don’t wait! It’s very important we build momentum early in the campaign; if people see the campaign is successful, they’ll donate too. Your donation is tax-deductible. To donate, please click here.

Like,  Comment On, or Share our campaign page:

Word of mouth goes a long way!

Tell a yoga studio in your city about the campaign:

Some studios are offering to give a free class to anyone who donates. If your studio is interested, they can email me and we’ll set them up as a studio partner.

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About the Author:
Screen Shot 2013-08-06 at 3.36.45 PMChelsea Roff is a nationally-recognized author, speaker, and yoga instructor. Chelsea’s story of recovering from anorexia and a subsequent stroke was recently showcased by Sanjay Gupta on CNN. Her writing has been featured on the front page of CNN.com, and she writes regularly for Huffington Post, Yahoo Shine, Care2, and Yoga Journal.

Prior to entering the world of yoga, Chelsea worked as a researcher in a Psychoneuroimmunology laboratory. As a student of neuroscience, she came to appreciate how stress affects mental, emotional, and social health, and how mind-body practices like yoga can improve the outcome of chronic illnesses like HIV/AIDS and cancer.

Chelsea currently lives in Venice, California, where she can be found cartwheeling across the beach, hiking in the mountains, and practicing yoga poses on her little pink scooter. She speaks regularly at recovery centers, universities, and professional organizations about eating disorder issues, and supports leadership teams at yoga service organizations around the country to more effectively serve in-need populations.

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