This is an excerpt taken from my book, 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder written with my co-author, Gwen Grabb.
Over identification with, and emphasis on, the body is one of the most basic forms of an unchecked ego. Healing negative body image is an important aspect of eating disorder recovery. We do not use traditional body image assignments, such as body tracings or the majority of exercises we have found in use at treatment programs. Our experience has shown that focusing directly on your body image is not helpful and in fact can make things worse. Traditional body image exercises keep the focus on your body. Think of this analogy. If we said, Don’t think about a white horse, we are pretty sure you would immediately picture a white horse. This is our experience of using traditional body image exercises. Instead, we have found that it is wiser to turn your focus to what is more important, or what truly matters.
One of the criteria for having an eating disorder is that your self-evaluation is unduly influenced by body weight and shape. Rather than working by directly focusing on your body image, we prefer to help transfer your self-evaluation to matters of the heart and soul. Therefore our philosophy of healing is, Instead of cursing the darkness, bring in the light. (This quote has been attributed to so many people we cannot say for sure who the original source is.)
Bringing in the light means bringing in care of the soul. Care of the soul does not mean not caring about your body or detaching from your body, it means attaching a soulful meaning to it. By caring for your soul, you are healing your body image. When your life is filled with soul moments, mindfulness, and seeing the ordinary as sacred, you focus less on yourself and your body image and more on your relationships and the world around you. Through this, you can learn to see your body as your precious earth suit that allows you to experience life. Care of the soul leads to loving and respecting your body and accepting what you can and can’t change about it without compromising your health or betraying your soul.
BODY AND SOUL EXERCISES
In addition to encouraging yoga and meditation to clients and weaving the concept of ego vs. soul throughout the treatment process, we also include practices we call body and soul exercises. Over the years we have accumulated quite a few body and soul exercises for use in groups or with individual clients. We invite you to explore some of these body and soul exercises on your own or with a friend, or take them to therapy.
ASSIGNMENTS: BODY AND SOUL
1. Write a general description of how you define body and how you define soul. You can periodically revisit and revise your definition. We suggest you look at the resources like our 8 Keys to Recovery From an Eating Disorder book to help
2. Get a box of Angel Cards. (Tip: you can order them online.) Each day or each week, draw an angel card from the deck and use the information on the card as a guide to help you pay attention to whatever attribute the card is describing.
3. Write a meal blessing that you can read to yourself before meals, reminding yourself how the food becomes your body.
4. Write about a few ways in which your ego has led you astray recently, and then write how your soul self sees the situation.
5. Listen to the song The Healing Room. Take some time and listen to it a few times, and then write what it means to you. (We would love to hear if anyone ever wants to share their responses.)
6. Find a poet you like. If you don’t know any, we suggest Mary Oliver, Pablo Neruda, or Maya Angelou. Get opinions from others; there are countless poets out there, but chances are a good friend will turn you on to one who you really like. Read a poem at night to put the day to rest with beauty, or read one every morning to start your day.
7. What does religion vs. spirituality mean to you? This is also a good question to visit and revisit.
8. Listen to the song “Me”by Paula Cole and write about how you might relate to it, or if you don’t then why not. (And let Carolyn know if you don’t relate to it because she cannot imagine that happening.)
9. How do you know when your soul self is in charge?
10. Name two things that your ego is attached to in relationship to your body.
11. Write a letter from your soul self to you when you were a young child.
12. List five ways your ego mind reacts to things and five alternative ways to respond from your soul self.
13. Come up with a quote that is a reminder of soul or re-enchantment for you and make a sign to put up somewhere you will see daily, or put the saying in your wallet or purse. Send the saying to a few close friends.
14. Grow some flowers, vegetables, or herbs. Growing a life form is a lost art, taken for granted. It brings reconnection with the miracle of life.
15. Bring soul to a dining experience by using linens, putting flowers on the table, lighting candles, or reading a blessing.
16. Listen to a Deva Premal and Miten CD. Much of their music is mantras turned into songs. It might be a stretch for some readers, but many are touched by their music.