Having an eating disorder can make you feel like you’re a head that’s dragging around a body. It’s very common to feel disconnected from the neck down. Part of recovery is bridging that gap and getting reconnected to your whole body. This tends to be difficult for many reasons:
- Eating disorders often serve a “numbing” function (the opposite of being connected)
- Our society as a whole has become more connected to our devices than we are to our bodies
- Body image issues can make us want to stay disconnected
- We’re so “up in our heads” that we don’t know what it means to be connected to our bodies
Reconnecting with your body
I am passionate about mind + body integration not just for eating disorder recovery, but for everyone. Just as shallow materialism is not a healthy balance (too much focus on physical appearance and possessions), neither is intellectualism (too much focus on cognitive realm and analysis.)
Being “embodied” means living as the whole person that you are, where mind, body, and spirits are a connected, collaborative system.
As you’re learning to reconnect with your body, it will be helpful to use specific practices (exercises) that promote physical grounding. Once you are more practiced, often all it takes is a conscious decision to be more fully present in your body. But you first have to be mindful enough to recognize when you’re NOT present and connected.
With this in mind, I’ve come up with 6 simple grounding techniques that will help you reconnect with your body.
Get your energy flowing
In my training with therapist, yoga teacher, and chakras expert Anodea Judith, I learned how locking your knees basically cuts off your energy flow from the knees up. (Think of it like bad shocks on a car that need to be replaced.) This eye-opening insight has helped me to feel more grounded by being more aware of keeping my knees soft (unlocked).
Moreover, she taught me a simple grounding exercise that many of my clients find very helpful. Stand with your legs a little farther than hip-width, and your toes pointing slightly in (knees unlocked of course). With your hands facing in toward your pelvis, palms up, slowly inhale and bring your hands up to heart-level as you bend your knees (about 45 degrees, or a half-squat). Then, flip your hands over, palms facing down, and exhale slowly (audibly breathing out your mouth) as you push your arms down and push through all four “corners” of each foot to straighten your legs. Repeat this for a minute or two. You may notice your legs starting to quiver just a bit — and this is not from muscle fatigue (since you shouldn’t work too hard with your legs), but rather the energetic charge waking up in your legs.
Do a Body Scan
The Body Scan is a classic meditation practice that you can do either on your own or with a guided meditation recording. There are many variations, but the essence of it is to slowly bring your awareness into each individual part of your body as a way of simultaneously practicing mindfulness and connecting with the physical body. You can do this practice for five minutes, an hour, or anything in between. When you’re just starting out, it may be helpful to try a longer practice that really breaks it down. Good free options to check out: Jon Kabat-Zinn, Elisha Goldstein, or Lara Patriquin.
Feet on the Earth
I once heard the quote “a day without putting your feet in the dirt is a day you haven’t lived”. It’s a reminder of just how important it is to literally connect with the earth. Whether you prefer hiking, gardening, or spending some time in the backyard, it’s a simple but powerful practice. I find that there’s something more special about actually having my feet directly on the earth rather than wearing shoes. There’s a whole movement called “Earthing” that is based on this principle.
Another technique that helps you to get present in the moment and feel connected with your body is Mindful walking (or “walking meditation”). This technique is especially helpful for people whose minds tend to wander during sitting meditation. When it’s nice out, you could go for a walk or hike (barefoot, to get double the bang for your grounding buck). You can also practice mindful walking indoors by moving around the house or up and down a hallway.
As you’re walking slowly, be aware of the movement of your feet in every step. Left heel… ball… toes…. right heel… ball… toes. The only guideline is to keep your focus on the walking itself, and when you drift away into other thoughts (as you almost always will), practice bringing yourself back to your steps without judgment. The only guideline is to keep your focus on the walking itself, and when you drift away into other thoughts (as you almost always will), practice bringing yourself back to your steps without judgment. In other variations of this, you can focus on other sensory experiences besides your steps, like noises, all the places you see the color red, etc. Try going for a walk around your neighborhood as if you were a curious scientist from another time and place who is interested in every detail.
Use a weighted pillow
One of my colleagues figured out how to make quick DIY weighted pillows. Ever since we started keeping them in our group rooms, clients frequently use them. To make one yourself, all you need is a soft pillow cover that zips (a standard square throw pillow size is good; fabric should be fairly thick), a 10-pound bag of rice and some lavender if you prefer a scented pillow. These pillows are so helpful when clients feel overwhelmed and need to feel grounded. Sitting in a chair, you can set it on your lap or on your feet, or lie down and lay it across your stomach or pelvis. This Etsy shop also has some good non-rice options.
Last but certainly not least, I would be remiss to not mention yoga. Yoga is sort of the “ace” when it comes to getting connected to your body. Especially if you’ve felt disconnected for a long time. Certain poses are particularly good for grounding, like child’s pose, tree pose, and warrior. A lot of the more westernized yoga styles and teachers have put more of an emphasis on yoga as a “workout.” So especially in early recovery I’d encourage you to stick with gentler practices (i.e. not Bikram or power yoga) so you’re less focused on the “exercise” component of it and more focused on the mind + body + spirit connection that happens when you slow down with a good yoga practice.