By Ashley Lane, Yoga for Eating Disorders Writer
“You have two homes, earth, and your body. Take care of them.” -Unknown
Amidst COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, it can be difficult to find opportunities to get outside and connect with nature. We as a modern society have forgotten our interconnectivity with all living things and the earth. We have forgotten that our bodies are 70% water, just like the earth, and are made of the same elements found in clay and dirt.
Yoga reminds us to slow down and relax in order to reconnect with the natural world’s energy. It’s impossible to realize that connection when we are doing rather than being and preoccupied with the vibration of the ego. Carolyn Costin, a therapist and author of Eight Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder, says that, “With an eating disorder, you’re constantly not in the moment—you regret this or that, or you’re worried about what you’re going to eat in the future. Being able to be outside changes what we focus on. Nature brings us back to a core essence that is not the chattering ego-mind.”
Kate Siber, Outside Magazine correspondent, learned to reinhabit her body and overcome her eating disorder by being outdoors. The groundedness that comes from being immersed in nature allowed her to shift from imposing a steely will over the body to actually inhabiting it. “It was as if experiencing the ceaseless changing and rhythmic cycles of the natural world helped me realize that changeable nature of my own body. I started to think of it more as an inscrutable collection of processes and a map of sensation to be felt and known, rather than a product to be controlled.”
In a study by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, patients with eating disorders participated in nature walks, usually barefoot, which allowed them to reconnect their bodies with nature, have better proprioception (the sense of the body’s location in space), and an open minded perception of their bodies. Patients who explained their disorders as something ‘in their head’ achieved embodiment by connecting their mind and body to the world through their feet.
The natural world accepts us as we are. Therapists and social workers at wilderness therapy programs for troubled youth, such as Aspiro Adventure and Evoke Therapy Programs, have discovered how helpful their trips are for people struggling with eating disorders and body image challenges because they find freedom from social media, mirrors, and insidious demands to look a particular way. They also practice mindfulness as opposed to obsessing over the past or the future; they’re simply being.
Let this Earth Day and every day be a reminder for you to prioritize self-care through the natural world. If your options for getting outside are limited, try infusing elements of nature into your indoor environment. Scheduling a screen-time break to simply gaze out a window can do the trick. Mindfully witnessing the sights, sounds, and smells of the moment can guide us through challenging moments by teaching us the concept that “this too shall pass.”