Podcast Transcript

Episode 6: Courage in Recovery: A Heartfelt Conversation with Author, International Speaker, & Yoga Therapist, Dr. Jennifer Kreatsoulas

[Bouncy theme music plays.]

Sam: Hey, I’m Sam!

Ashley: Hi, I’m Ashley and you’re listening to All Bodies. All Foods. presented by The Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders. We want to create a space for all bodies to come together authentically and purposefully to discuss various areas that impact us on a cultural and relational level.

Sam: We believe that all bodies and all foods are welcome, we would love for you to join us on this journey. Let’s learn together.

Ashley: Alright. Hello everybody. Hi Sam. Hi Jennifer, how are you?

Jennifer: Hello, thank you for having me.

Ashley: Absolutely!

Sam: We’re really excited about this episode.

Ashley: Yeah, we have Jennifer Kreatsoulas with us today and, Sam, I’m going to let you tell us a little bit about her, but just wanted everybody to know that was listening that this is going to be an awesome show and Sam and I are kind of geeking out a little bit already, so…

Sam: We are, it’s true. So we have Jennifer here, Dr Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, CIAYT, is a certified yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. She is a sought-after international speaker and former host of Real Body Talk an online interview talk show. Through her virtual school Yoga for Eating Disorders, Jennifer offers individual yoga therapy, groups, classes, and continuing education and mentoring for professionals. She is the author of Body Mindful Yoga and The Courageous Path to Healing. Her writing has been featured widely in print, broadcast, and online media, and you can learn more at www.yogaforeatingdisorders.com. Welcome, Jennifer.

Jennifer: Thank you so much, Sam and Ashley. It is such a joy to be with you both today. Thank you.

Sam: Oh no, thank you. We have so many questions because this is your second book—

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sam: And we read The Courageous Path to Healing and I just want to say that I was so moved by your book that I cried multiple times reading it.

Jennifer: Wow

Sam: And I wanted to have this opportunity to talk more in depth about this book, because I thought to myself, there are so many people out there who I really think could learn so much from your book, specifically how yoga and eating disorder recovery goes together so seamlessly. And I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what yoga is supposed to do for you in in eating disorder recovery or is supposed to do for you with your body image, and you really have a way of communicating specifically how yoga has helped you emotionally. And it was really fascinating to me, and I just want to encourage anyone out there in eating disorder recovery, I feel like even if they’re really not into yoga, it doesn’t matter. I feel like your book could help them in a lot of different ways. And so anyway, one of the questions that I had for you, I mean this is really, it was such a vulnerable story that you shared, a lot of really personal details, what I assume to be really some of your darkest moments in eating disorder recovery and relapse. And I’m just curious, what has this process been like for you sharing the story so openly with the world? Vulnerability is so scary for so many people, and I was just curious what that was like for you.

Jennifer: Thank you for your really kind words and gracious introduction. Yeah, I think this book is, you know, captures the darkest and the brightest moments, right? Because it is kind of the story of, you know, discovering, right? So those pivotal moments that, when I was first diagnosed with an eating disorder and then later with the relapse as a mother, those dark moments and the dark moments that followed, but then led to, you know, more awareness and more understanding and more healing and more living, right? Living in a way that is free of the eating disorder. So, my hope is to share that possibility that the dark will lead to the light. Um, but certainly I will be honest and say, you know, the book is coming out in a few days, and I’m definitely having a bit of that “vulnerability hangover” that Brené Brown talks about, like, “Oh my goodness, oh no, how is this going to be received? What are people going to think of me now? My clients are going to know a lot more about me, how is that going to feel?” You know, just, things that I didn’t really think about when I was writing it, because, you know, honestly, I just felt so called to write and to write very authentically, because I feel so strongly that when we can relate to other people’s stories, we feel less alone and we feel more hopeful for our own healing. And so as much as this is my story, my intention is for it to be a window into other people’s own stories, and that’s why I include different reflections and yoga inspired practices. And by that I don’t mean, like, asking people to get on the mat and doing poses, right? It’s much more contemplative and introspective. Because I want to invite people to recognize the ways that they are already being courageous in their own healing. So, I definitely am a little anxious with the book about to come out, but certainly hearing your sharing about how the book moves you, that gives me a lot of hope that others will be moved as well.

Sam: I have no doubt.

Ashley: Yeah.

Sam: I think there are so many moments, and I mean, if you’ve ever felt depressed, if you’ve ever felt unsafe to really share what you’re truly feeling authentically, which we all have at some point—

Ashley: Right, right.

Sam: This book really captures those moments and then how you worked through it, and how you were able to harness your inner wisdom, harness that courage to step out of your comfort zone, and to talk about what you were really going through. And I don’t think we talk nearly enough about pregnancy and the postpartum period in eating disorder recovery, and you talk about that quite a bit in your book as well, which I think is so helpful for folks who have a new child and they’re trying to navigate both.

Ashley: Jennifer, I wanted to say here, so I am a new mom. Um, I am six months postpartum and I was reading your book and, you know, it’s—I’m like having emotions right now, just thinking about reading it yesterday and thinking about the moment where you talk about hiking with your family and then just kind of doubling over and noticing your children, and noticing your husband, and noticing that it was time. And that was just so… it just sat with me so much, especially as a new mom and having, you know, this daughter that I want to take care of so much and just give my everything to. And I just could really feel, I think, so much of that pain that you may have been experiencing in that moment. And it bring me to ask, what do you want—what could you share with new mothers in this process? New mothers that might be walking through eating disorder recovery, or eating disorder relapse, what would you like for them to get out of this?

Jennifer: Yeah, yeah. Congratulations on your baby girl. That is certainly so joyful.

Ashley: Thank you.

Jennifer: Yeah, this is such a topic I’m so passionate about, I think we need to be talking about it so much more. Thank you both for raising this question. You know, at that time, I had to two children. My oldest was about to turn three, and my youngest was about to turn one. Just referring to the chapter that you’re speaking about, when it’s Mother’s Day and we go for a hike, and I am so sick and depleted that I just can’t push the stroller, right? Um, you know, this was after months of postpartum depression, of sleep deprivation. I loved being pregnant the first time around. Loved it, loved it, loved it. It was the most empowering time of my life, I felt so just amazed by my body and what my body was doing in creating a human being. I mean, I never felt, like, so purpose driven as I did, right? And with my second pregnancy, it was different, right? Because I had a toddler, I didn’t have the luxury of being exhausted and resting. This was a new ballgame and so, yes, I enjoyed that connection with my body, but it had, I had stress, a lot of stress involved. So when my second daughter was born, it was just so overwhelming. And I want to make clear, like, anything that I say isn’t about my children. I adore my children, I love my children, I would do it all over for them.

Ashley: Absolutely.

Jennifer: Like, it’s not about them, it’s about the parent’s experience, right? When all of a sudden you are no longer the center of your life. I mean, that’s the reality, right?

Ashley: Yes!

Jennifer: And so, you’re no longer the center of your life. Your marriage is no longer the center of your life, or your partnership, whatever that relationship is. And you are trying to forge new ways of living and existing while being sleep deprived, while trying to nurse or breastfeed if that’s what you choose, while trying to keep another human being alive, right?

EVERYONE LAUGHS

Jennifer: And if you’re dealing with postpartum depression or some, you know, variation of hormonal shifts that bring on, you know, really strong emotions and helplessness and hopelessness. I mean, that is serious. And I guess what I would say, to answer your question finally, is if you’re going through that you deserve to be seen and heard and validated and supported and to know that there is no shame, like, this is not you being incapable of being a mom, right? This is something, like it’s biological, right? I mean, we don’t have a lot of control over how our hormones are responding to just having given birth.

Ashley: Correct, right.

Jennifer: So, this this is not your failing, you know? And if you find that eating disorder symptoms are creeping back in, or getting louder or taking over, you know, please heed those red flags. And if you are in a place where it’s time to pull in more support, please do that. Please do that. And know that it’s not a shame. It’s not a shameful thing. It’s you being courageous and being committed to yourself and to your family, to your recovery, and take those steps for yourself because it can be so lonely and dark otherwise.

Ashley: Thank you so much for sharing that. I just, I couldn’t agree more with you, and just speaking to truly the intense and insane hormonal changes that come with being a new mother.

Jennifer: Oh, yeah.

Ashley: And then navigating, perhaps, the stress of the eating disorder on top of that. I mean, it just sounds so overwhelming, you know?

Jennifer: Yes. Yes, it is. I know for myself, you know, when I relapsed when my children were babies, you know, it was like my brain just, it just snapped back to the eating disorder, you know? Even though it had been many, many years, it just snapped back. It was like the overwhelm, and the stress, and the emotional upheaval, it was so intense that my brain just didn’t know how else to cope.

Ashley: Yeah.

Jennifer: And I literally remember giving birth and within hours it was like this brain had snapped back in me, and here I am holding my newborn with just overflowing love and thinking about, “How am I going to get rid of this baby weight?” and “How am I going to start eating less?” and “How am I going to, blah, blah, blah, blah?” Like, it was like, whoa, where the heck did this come from? But it was clear where it came from, right? So, I always like to, you know, share that I really believe, like, the eating disorder, it’s trying to send us a message. And if we can look at it as a messenger, you know, if I—when I finally was ready to acknowledge it as a messenger, right? When I went back into treatment and I was—I had to be ready to acknowledge that, right? When I was finally ready, it was like, “Oh, you’re letting me know that I’m overwhelmed, that I am, you know, stressed, that I’m exhausted, that I feel like nothing in the world belongs to me anymore, you know, like everything is for my children and my family.” And look, I’m not complaining about that, but that’s an adjustment. And the body changes, and feeling just so lost to myself, not even knowing, like, what color I like anymore!

Ashley: Right, right.

Jennifer: But that’s what all those months of suffering were trying to say, like, “Hey Jennifer, you’re going through a hard time right now. You need some support and that’s okay.”

Sam: I love that. I love how the framing that emotions are a messenger. It’s like, “What is this trying to tell me? What is my body trying to tell me? What are the sensations trying to tell me?” Rather than judging it. And, you know, from the research I’ve come across with pregnancy, eating disorder recovery, postpartum period… The qualitative research, so, the narratives that these new moms are telling themselves, it’s often these “Shoulds,” like,

  • I should be happy
  • I should be fulfilled by motherhood, 100%
  • I shouldn’t be angry with my kids
  • I shouldn’t be angry with my partner

Sam: And it’s the, those stories that end up making people feel worse.

Jennifer: Absolutely.

Sam: And it’s really, I think what your book really communicates, is how important it is to accept what you’re feeling. And that it’s okay to feel like you’ve lost your identity, it’s okay to feel frustrated or angry. Like all of that is okay.

Ashley: Well, and just to add, as you share multiple facets of your own story, Jennifer, in your book. Um, just again, the amount of people that relate to that or have that exact experience. It is so healing for them to hear that they’re not the only ones that are dealing with this. I tell my clients all the time, well, I ask them the question, if it feels like they live on an island by themselves, and nobody gets it or understand it. And of course, they always shake their heads. And we always work to shift that message, that narrative so much because the truth is, we share so much in common with humanity. And I just really appreciated that chapter in your book and just hearing some of your really vulnerable moments as a mother to two babies, you know? Um, yeah, I just—thank you for that. It meant so much.

Jennifer: Oh, I’m so glad, thank you.

Sam: You know, what comes up for me, you know, the years I’ve worked with new moms in treatment, and one of the really common stories that comes up, in my experience, is this belief that they, again—here’s the “Should” again—they should be home, that they shouldn’t be in treatment. Or my kids need me home more than I need treatment. And I’m just curious, what guidance or message would you like to share with those moms that are thinking that way?

Jennifer: I mean, I’ll say I had the same narrative within myself. I fought it tooth and nail. When it finally, you know, came time to say, “Yeah, I need help” I was like, “I’m only doing day treatment. I cannot abandon my children. I can’t risk traumatizing them. I can’t risk all of this.” And then, you know, day treatment didn’t cut it. I was actually getting sicker, because I was still immersed in all of the stress and overwhelm at home. And so, push came to shove, and I had to say, “All right, I need to immerse myself in recovery right now. I have to immerse myself, my babies are young, they’re not going to remember this, I’m going to just have to trust that. And if they do, then we will find together, my husband and I, will find the way to speak with them and to comfort them and make sure they feel safe, and we will handle it.” But I mean it just, you know, it can very quickly get to that you know do or die moment. And I just would say, you know, if you know you’ve reached that point that I call, you know, The Point of No Return. Where it’s like you just know you’re so deeply in it, you can’t pull yourself out of it even if you want, even if you have the desire, but you know, you just can’t, I would say please listen to that. And if you can get help before you reach that point, great. But, you know, your children will be better because you have chosen to get better.

Ashley: I couldn’t agree with that more. And because you choose to get better, anyone out there, what that message is, is that message is sending to your family that it is important to take care of yourself. That your mental health matters, and that we, as a family unit, are going to do whatever we can to take care of each other and ourselves, you know?

Jennifer: Yes, yes. And that’s where that word “AND” is just so important. You know, it’s like, “I love you; my family AND I need to go do this by myself,” right? Or whatever those words are. But if you’re, I guess, if you’re in a place where you’re like, “I can’t” or “There’s like blah blah blah BUT, there’s blah blah blah OR,” try “AND.” What is possible if there’s an “AND”? Because you have to be part of the equation, as you know, us moms, we have to be part of the equation.

Ashley: Absolutely.

Sam: Jennifer, there was a passage in your book that really stood out to me, and I’d like to read it if that’s okay.

Jennifer: Sure!

Sam: You write,

  • “How do we stay committed to healing? I believe it begins by being willing to reframe our pain from the thing that breaks us into the thing that teaches us defining ourselves by our pain creates more pain. Our identity becomes the diagnosis. I have an eating disorder. I have an anxiety disorder. I am clinically depressed.”

Sam: So, when I read this, I really thought this was powerful because I think—I’ve worked with so many clients where the theme is that they don’t really know who they are without their eating disorder. And it can really take on an identity. And one of the hard things about recovery is answering the question, “Who am I without this thing, and can I live without it?” And I was just wondering if you could say more about that passage, about identity and eating disorder recovery?

Jennifer: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it does become an identity, it’s a whole belief system, right? It’s a whole belief system grounded in rules, and narrative, and it becomes the world, right? And I very, very, I can very much remember, you know, in therapy, being asked, you know, like, “Who are you without this eating disorder?” And sitting there being like: “I have no effing clue! Why are you asking me this? I want this eating disorder. This is this is who I am, you know, don’t challenge it.” And, you know, I remember going through periods where, you know, if you were to ask me to define myself, where those first two, three things were related to an eating disorder. “I am anorexic. I am blah, I am blah,” right?  So, for me, it was the work of moving those descriptors down the list.

Sam: Mhm.

Jennifer: Moving them down the list. So, having to do that combination of grieving for that eating disorder identity and taking chances on figuring out who else I am, right? So, coming to be able to say, well, “I’m also a graduate student,” because I was a graduate student at one time, or “I am a person who likes to sit outside in the park, I am a mother, I am a, you know, a friend, I am a writer,” right? Like, you know, just finding some new ways to describe ourselves and getting in the practice of letting those descriptors come before we identify as an eating disorder or whatever diagnosis we have, and that takes work and it takes support, and sometimes it takes the repetition of saying these things before we actually believe them, and that’s okay because we need to rewire our brains, right?

Ashley: Yes, yes.

Jennifer: Um, but it’s important, the grief is important and it’s real. I just want to really say that, that grieving that identity—I remember being a patient at Renfrew and doing a whole psychodrama on shunning the identity of the eating disorder. And something that really also helped me, in terms of thinking about how I describe myself, is to kind of move away from saying “my” eating disorder, to “the” eating disorder. You know, “my” depression to “the” depression, right? As a way to still recognize that it’s there and it’s something that I’m working on, but it’s not the whole of me, right?

Ashley: Right, right.

Jennifer: It’s not it’s not it’s not going to be the definer of me. It’s a part of my story, it’s not the whole story. So, it’s that kind of work that really helped me.

Ashley: Jennifer, I love that you talk a little bit about—to kind of dovetail on that—you talk a little bit about finding your authentic identity. And one of the things you mentioned was, “When we’re becoming—” I love this, so I’m going to, I’m going to quote, it’s so beautiful:

  • “When we are becoming someone, we haven’t been yet, waiting through the thick swamp of discrepancies between who we were and who we are becoming turns out to be half of the work.”

Ashley: So, I’m just curious, who do you think you were in your eating disorder? Who are you now? And who are you still becoming, thinking about that authentic identity?

Sam: Whoa.

Ashley: Big question, big question!

EVERYONE LAUGHS

Jennifer: Alright, let’s see. Well, if I take myself back to college a long time ago when I was initially going through this thing called an eating disorder… I was 20. I was caught up in people pleasing, and rule following, and perfectionism, and being the best at every single thing all the time forever and ever.

Ashley: Yeah, yeah.

Sam: So many listeners can relate to this!

Ashley: I was gonna say I feel this so much!

EVERYONE LAUGHS

Jennifer: Right? So, I had all of those qualities that served as a strength, I thought, going through grade school and high school. And then somehow, I got to college, and they weren’t strength anymore. They became extreme and tipped it, right? But I was also someone at the time who was discovering that, you know, going through a divorce at five years old—it was a trauma that I didn’t know was a trauma. That losing my grandfather, who was my most favorite person in the world, it was something that I had swallowed and pushed down and never dealt with. That, you know, going through certain breakups and different things that felt like rejection, right? So, I was kind of in that, that place. And then, going through it later in life in my 30s as a mom, I think I was very, very different because I had done a lot of work around those other issues, and it wasn’t really anymore about being perfect or following rules, per se, or approval. It was more the overwhelm of having a family and trying to be a professional, and a wife, and keep a household going, and you know, the things that we just assume are normal, everyday things that don’t really affect any of us, but actually—

Ashley: They do!

Jennifer: We’re all walking around pretty exhausted and miserable, with no outlets or no one to validate that because we need to be putting on the front that we’re fine, and we’re happy, and family life is bliss all the time, but it’s not. There are blissful moments, but it is not a blissful existence—at least not in my experience. Maybe others, but not mine! So, and I have a great life, I’m not complaining, I cannot complain. I have a great life. So, I think in that time it was that just emotional upheaval and trying to understand who I am as a mother, who I want to be as a mother, and how to be all that and still retain who I am at my core. And who I’m becoming? Um, it’s a really complicated question for me to answer right now because I am someone who’s been suffering with Long Covid for about 16 months now and counting.

Ashley: Wow, okay.

Jennifer: So, for people who don’t know, Long Covid is, you know, you’ve had covid, the infection ends, but then you’re left with an array of really disabling symptoms. At least for me, it’s a very disabling illness, and that leaves me really unsure of who I’m becoming. Because who I am right now in my current health state is someone who, you know, I can’t go on a hike. You know, like I share in the book that I love to do with my family. Um, I can’t even drive my car. I am just sick all the time. And so, I don’t know who I’m becoming. I know I’m—I know I’m working through a lot of grief. I know I have had many moments where I say, “Wow, you know, the eating disorder recovery has been a huge gift in preparing me for this time.” Because going through that recovery process gave me the skills to learn how to listen to my body, how to set boundaries, how to understand my emotions, how to ask for help, how to be okay with crying, right? Um, all of it. So, you know, for people who are listening, like I just want to support you in recognizing how your experience with eating disorder recovery, no matter how difficult and challenging, because I know that it is, maybe that’s prepared you for something in your life that you’re going through now or is yet to come. And to just kind of hold that insight because you are maybe more capable of dealing with something because of it.

Ashley: And I want to say to that, Jennifer, maybe we reframe that question of “Who are you becoming?” into simply “Who are you today right now?” If we think about our mindfulness practices and we want to be in the present moment and have that non-judgmental awareness, like, “Who am I right now, and how can I support myself right now?” And it sounds like with this Covid, the long term Covid, it is important for you to maybe support yourself in the here and now, one day at a time.

Jennifer: Absolutely, yeah. I’ve had to pull in a whole team, you know, once again, you know, back in therapy, doing all kinds of other holistic treatments that align with me and what works for me. And, you know, keeping myself as grounded and present as I can.

Ashley: Thank you for sharing that with all of us. I can imagine that many or some of our listeners out there might be having a similar experience. I know Covid is so, there’s so much unknown with this. And sometimes long term Covid, we don’t see a physical representation of that. And so acknowledging that there’s way more to it than what people can see, I thank you for that. And sending you all of the well wishes in this.

Jennifer: Yeah, Thank you.

Sam: Jennifer, it’s just such a gift to us and to the audience, sharing Long Covid and really what it’s like to navigate eating disorder recovery with an illness. There’s just so many folks out there with chronic pain, chronic illnesses. And again, we don’t talk about this enough. The intersection of eating disorder recovery and illness and how it can be a trigger to relapse. It can just make recovery so much harder, and we don’t talk about it enough.

Jennifer: Absolutely.

Sam: People are surprised when, you know, I do a lot of training and education around different eating disorder triggers. It’s even unintentional weight loss can trigger on a relapse, and just not feeling good in your body, feeling ill, can trigger on those eating disorder thoughts. And we don’t talk about it enough.

Jennifer: We don’t, and this is really a new intersection for me. And one I’m, like, really paying attention to within myself, you know. And I can say honestly, with the two of you and the listeners because I know everyone here gets it and I feel safe saying it, it’s, you know, I do have, I have had moments where I feel so, so—the grief is so heavy, you know. I never thought I’d be grieving my life at 46. And so, I do have moments where I might hear something I haven’t heard in a very long time come in. And I have to say to myself, “That’s not going to help anything. It’s not going to help me get better. It’s not going to allow me to do my work,” because I have a very strict code with myself. Like, if I am not taking care of myself appropriately, I really don’t have any business helping my clients. And so that’s a huge motivator to stay on the track. My kids. I mean, they’re the whole reason I got better in the first place. And, you know, when I went into treatment that second time, one of the things that was very heavy on my heart was: “I refuse to be a chronically ill mother. I do not want to be a chronically ill mother.” And that’s what I used to tell myself, right? And now I’m a chronically ill mother. And I had a say in eating disorder recovery and I think it’s really important, like I really want to impress this upon people are listening, like you have a say. And yes, it’s hard and yes, it takes years and yes, you want to just throw your hands up and give up many times. I get it. But you have a say in how it’s going to go. Might take a while, but you have a say. And wow, like, I don’t have a say now. And it’s so hard to accept that. So, all the yoga philosophies that I talk about in the book, all the practices I talk about in the book, man, like, I’m having to dig so deep right now and practice them in this illness, you know? It’s, yeah, I think this intersection is real and I, you know, love the opportunity to talk again about it because I think it is so invisible, like you said, Ashley. You know, you’re looking at me right now, I look completely fine. But I actually could just close my eyes. The fatigue is so crushing.

Ashley: Yeah, yeah.

Jennifer: And so, I think, I think it’s really important conversation.

Ashley: I think, well, it’s just reminding me of, we know, you say this in the book, and we know this in the eating disorder field, that eating disorders or disorders of disconnection, right? And so, one of the things that you also mention with your yoga practice is connecting back to your body. And I’m thinking—in various, in various ways, right? And I’m thinking how, when you say, you do have a say in eating disorder recovery, right? How that connection back to your body, you did have a say in it. And right now, I’m curious if you’re trying to connect back to your body and also feeling completely like you don’t recognize your body? Like, you don’t recognize yourself, because of this long Covid? Um, and again, like you mentioned, Sam, this could be the case with many chronic illnesses. So utilizing those skills are so imperative because we, we have the tools, we have the skills, and then coming across the chronic illness where we don’t even recognize ourselves, we don’t have a say in this. Um, how much more might we need those skills now?

Jennifer: Yeah, it’s a good point. And it I do feel like I should say, you know, I’m very privileged in my recovery experience that I was able to go to treatment, that I had great providers helping me build these skills, you know, I just, I know that’s not everybody’s situation. So, I do feel very privileged, and I think it’s important to just own that and know that not—I’m sitting here saying, you know, “You have a say.” I don’t want to come across, you know, to a listener who maybe didn’t have the same experience, um, in a way that’s not helpful. Um, but yeah, you’re right, I don’t recognize myself. Um, and um I don’t, you know, I can’t move in the ways that I used to move, you know. But I have my breath, and I have the yoga concepts that guide me, and I have people willing to help me. So, I do feel very blessed in in that way.

Sam: Yeah, that brings me to my next question about yoga and eating disorder recovery. I think there are many folks, at least that I’ve worked with, where I might suggest yoga and they come in with a set of expectations about, you know, what yoga is going to do for them in recovery. Or there’s this hope that it will be a coping tool that will help them immediately feel better emotionally, or it will improve their body image. And you talk specifically about yoga in your recovery and even the words, the concepts in yoga, how useful they were to you and how transformative—you have really transformative experiences in yoga. Aha moments! These insights. And I was wondering if you could say more about yoga, how specifically it equipped you with the tools in your recovery and also in Long Covid, you know, how—what role has it played?

Jennifer:  Absolutely. So, initially when I started practicing yoga, and by that, I mean, like, the physical practice, um, it was a few years after college, and this is when yoga was kind of first becoming popular here in the States. And because I, you know, I had been an athlete all my life, always loved playing sports. But in college, exercise became a part of the eating disorder for me. So, it took several, it took a few years to be able to return to exercise or movement in a way that would be safe and protective of my recovery. So, that’s where yoga came in for me, initially. I was like, “Well, yoga’s never been a part of my life before. It’s popular now, it’s supposed to be good for you, you know, what’s going on?” right?

EVERYONE LAUGHS

Jennifer: And so, you know, I started doing DVDs in my apartment and then, you know, somehow met someone in a coffee shop and said, “Hey, come to yoga class with me!” And that’s where I started going to a studio and practicing, you know, in a community. And it really met me, at that time, it meant me where I was. This was a more physical form of yoga, but it was not, like, it wasn’t detrimental to me. Like, I was really able to embrace it as a practice that helped me learn how to pay attention to my body, and try new things with my body, and it also gave me a community. And it was an environment that, you know, for the most part, the narrative was around kindness, and compassion, and letting go of expectations, and not needing to be perfect, right? It’s like these messages that I clearly needed to hear and was ready to absorb. So initially it was the physical practice that brought me in. And then, you know, I taught for many, many years leading up to completing grad school, getting married, and then when life got fuller, that all fell away. And so, when all that chaos and overwhelm was going on in my early motherhood years, I didn’t have that space for self-connection that I had had when I was practicing and teaching yoga. I didn’t have that me-time, I didn’t have that, that place that belonged to me. And so I really, when I look back and reflect, I think, “Wow, like without that foundation in place, there was a lot of room for that eating disorder stuff to kick up,” right?

Ashley: Yeah.

Sam: Yeah.

Jennifer: And after my relapse, and getting stronger and healthier, I decided I wanted to pursue yoga therapy and signed up for a three-year training. It was classical yoga, and this was very different than the more physical form that I had been trained in. This was much more contemplative, much more introspective, much more focused on personal inquiry, learning concepts and philosophies, and really understanding that Yoga with a capital Y is about self-discovery. It’s a practice to help us suffer less. And everything changed, everything changed. And that’s when I started to realize that these concepts, like Ahimsa, which is for non-harming, can also call it kindness. Concepts like contentment, which isn’t about how happy we are, it’s about, “Can we be with what is?” You know, other key concepts really started to just open my eyes to, you know, yoga is not about what we do on a mat. You know, that’s just one aspect. That’s just one part, one piece. And so, when I talk about yoga with my clients or in my virtual school, we’re not really focusing on, you know, how we do tree pose or any particular pose. We’re thinking about yoga as a tool, as a tool to help us through challenging moments, to help us create new language and perspectives in approaching recovery. So, like, I have a Facebook group, the Yoga for Eating Disorders Community Facebook group, where we take a concept every month and we think about, “How do we apply this to recovery?”, right? So, for example, this month we’re exploring Satya, truthfulness. What does it mean to be truthful with ourselves, with others, in our recoveries? And how do we practice that? And how do we explore that on the mat? How do we explore that in guided meditations? How do we explore that through journaling? How do we explore that through affirmations? How do we, you know, I invite people to share their stories and tell me how they’re using truthfulness and their recoveries. So, we’re really looking at this beyond just what we’re doing in a yoga studio. And I think to that point, you know, for people listening, including professionals, it’s really important to recognize that not all yoga that is offered in public settings aligns with recovery values, right?

Ashley: Yeah.

Jennifer: So, this isn’t to judge styles of yoga that maybe are more competitive or focused on fitness. They have their place in our culture, but for recovery purposes, especially early recovery, I really support people in finding gentle classes led by teachers who have a trauma informed background. That isn’t a competitive, fitness-focused style. We’re not talking about cleanses and diets and all that crap that we see all around us in diet culture. That we’re really finding the spaces and the teachers that align with our recovery values. So, like through our, through my school, we offer a lot of, like, six-week series.

Ashley: Oh, great!

Jennifer: You know, and they’re with teachers that have trained with me. They’re all virtual, so people from all over the world can do them.

Ashley: Great!

Jennifer: You can do them live or with the recordings. You know, we have, we do themes that are related to recovery. And so, I think, you know, we can take these practices and create tools. We can take these practices and create new perspectives, and find new ways to approach recovery. And we’re not doing it with trying to change our bodies. That’s not what we’re focused on here.

Ashley: Jennifer. I just want to say, thank you so much. This is, I really feel like this time has been just so beautiful. I’ve so enjoyed our time connecting and I just want to say, as you’re talking about the yoga practice and just kind of everything that you’ve learned with this. One of the things I read in your book was to give ourselves “kind eyes” again. And it just, even as I read that a few days ago and I’ve been just thinking about that, at multiple times in my life, you know? Well, I guess over the last couple of days, where I felt maybe anxious or I’ve looked in the mirror, anything. I remembered that like, “kind eyes,” be gentle with yourself, you know. It’s so lovely. I just truly want everybody to, like, go out and get your book and read it.

Jennifer: Aww, thank you!

Ashley: And you have these sweet um exercises that you do at the end of every chapter, and it’s just so beautiful. So, I just want to thank you so much for sharing this space with us today.

Jennifer: Aww, that means so much. Thank you so much.

Sam: I agree, Ashely. And I’m so glad you brought this up, Ashley, because actually there’s an exercise that I’ve taken with me in my life too, which is the “hold it lightly,” okay? Which I love, because it’s anything really that you’re just holding onto so tightly like a rule or belief. And when I catch myself doing that, I think “Just hold it lightly,” you know. And you know, envisioning it in your hands and just lightly holding it instead of clenching onto it. And I’ve even shared it with some of my clients, “hold it lightly,” and really, so many powerful exercises and sections in your book. Thank you. Your book’s a gift to everyone.

Jennifer: Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you so much. My, my “vulnerability hangover” is—

EVERYONE LAUGHS

Ashley: Thank you for being willing to just be so open with us today and our listeners, I know that they’re gonna appreciate that. Um, I can’t wait for more people to read your book.

Jennifer: Thank you both so, so very, very much.

Ashley: Thank you for listening with us today on All Bodies. All Foods. presented by The Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders.

Sam: We’re looking forward to you joining us next time as we continue these conversations.

[Bouncy theme music plays.]

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