Yoga and Eating Disorders

A Q&A with GenPsych Therapist Jamie Hanley

Jamie Hanley, MS, LAC, ERYT is an eating disorder and yoga therapist at GenPsych in Brick. Her incorporation of yoga into the HEAL (Healthy Eating and Living) Program has been well-received by eating disorder clients, helping them to connect how they feel physically with their thoughts and emotions.

Q: What is your background with yoga?

A: I began practicing yoga at the very end of college, at the suggestion of my mother, who had heard it helped manage stress. That was over ten years ago, and I can honestly say the teachings of yoga have changed me as a person. I’ve significantly reduced my stress levels and am much less reactive because I’m able to take a step back and breathe. I’ve also come to appreciate my body in a completely different way. These changes were so profound for me that I had to share these teachings with others, and working with eating disorders seemed like a natural fit.

Q: How does yoga help someone who is struggling with an eating disorder?

A: Yoga allows clients with ED to reconnect and appreciate their bodies in a safe way. Clients with eating disorders are often trying to escape their bodies or take up very little space. Through yoga they are able to reconnect and ground themselves. Yoga also offers tangible opportunities to practice the skills we teach in DBT groups such as radical acceptance, riding the wave, and mindfulness.

The style of yoga I offer at GenPsych is extremely mindful. We move with purpose. We move slowly, often fluidly, but always mindfully. We incorporate a lot of yin yoga and restorative yoga – still practice that allow the client to rest in a shape while practicing a breathing, mindfulness, or meditation technique. I do a lot of guided meditation practices, yoga nidra, conscious relaxation, whatever technique will meet the clients’ energy levels that day.

Q: In yoga, one must be very aware of their body. Does this present any challenges (or opportunities to grow) for those struggling with an eating disorder or body issues?

A: Yes! It can be very uncomfortable, and therefore can be completely transformative! Yoga gives our clients a whole new way to appreciate their bodies. I do a body gratitude meditation with them fairly often, and it’s mind blowing. Sometimes they’re really uncomfortable, but to be in recovery, one has to get comfortable being uncomfortable. So I stress that our yoga practice is an OK place to be uncomfortable, and use physical and mental grounding techniques to manage their anxiety.

Q: Are there any other complementary/supplementary therapies for eating disorders that you have found particularly effective?

A: Our clients enjoy when I incorporate essential oils into their yoga sessions, as well as therapeutic self-massage balls on their feet. In the HEAL program we like to get creative, do art therapy projects, and they love music therapy. We really like to break up the day so that there’s some variety, so they don’t feel as though they are talking or doing worksheets all day.

It’s important to remember that yoga isn’t a cure all. Yoga has its place among other traditional medicinal, therapeutic, and complementary practices, as part of an integrative approach to healing that we find very beneficial to our eating disorder clients.

Jamie Hanley, MS, LAC, ERYT-500  has been offering yoga in mental health settings since 2008.

Jamie has over 1000 hours of training as a therapeutic yoga instructor, with a specialization in yoga for mental health and wellness and holds a MS in Psychological Counseling from Monmouth University.

In 2013, Jamie conducted research on the application of yoga for clinically diagnosed anxiety and depression, and found improvements in mood to be significant both pre- and post-session and cumulative over the course of ten weeks.

She teaches yoga asana, breathing practices, mindfulness, meditation, and guided relaxation to clients diagnosed with bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, OCD, various eating disorders, trauma, and substance abuse disorders in her studio and clinical settings, both individually and in groups.

Jamie is the founder and director of Elevate Yoga in Hazlet, NJ, where she offers workshops on yoga for well-being and stress management, as well as yoga teacher trainings.

GenPsych’s HEAL Program is available at our Brick location. For more information or to request an appointment, call (855) 436-7792.