As someone new coming to join the fight against eating disorders, it has been incredible to recognize how much more aware I have become to hearing people’s comments regarding weight and appearance, as well as those seen, read or heard in the media and advertising. Prior to coming on board at Walden, I had experienced weight shaming and I am sure I have overheard others being ridiculed or judged based on weight. It never truly bothered me like it does now.

I recently picked up yoga which I enjoy very much. Coming from the dance world it has been an enjoyable experience to go from checking alignment in mirrors every class to freely feeling the way your body moves and listening to it internally. It would seem that yoga would be a safe place to go, right? Well a few weeks ago I was in class with a tall, well-built young man. We were practicing forearm balances when he fell, something that anyone who practices yoga does occasionally. Yes, there was a loud crash, he was fine and continued on practicing. (Side note: my first month of yoga classes I fell out of a position and literally gave myself a black eye, that was fun explaining!) Within a few minutes, an older man who was with the theatre group practicing downstairs walked into the yoga studio (without knocking) and asked us if we had heard a boom that “sounded like an explosion.” The yoga teacher replied and said, “Yes, we heard that, we are practicing balances and fell over.” He then apologized to this gentleman if we had disturbed the group downstairs. About 20 minutes later the same man opened the door again and suggested that “people of size should leave the class or perhaps not practice on Mondays anymore.”

After he left everyone in the yoga studio looked around cautiously until I exclaimed what I had been feeling that whole time, “Well that was very rude.” Everyone agreed, but for the rest of the class I could not imagine how that young man who fell over must have felt. Even if he did not have self-esteem issues entering the yoga class, I could not fathom how it felt to experience someone criticize his body in front of others. Now imagine if that young man had been someone with an eating disorder, had low self-esteem or maybe was just extremely shy. A comment like that could negatively impact someone who is already hypersensitive about their body.

Yoga is a powerful practice to connect with one’s own body. It is not about competition or pushing oneself beyond limits. I know in the eating disorder treatment world, it can be a very powerful recovery tool. Walden’s “whole health” approach integrates yoga into its higher levels of care with experts who can assist our patients in using it as a tool in recovery. Take this as a lesson to watch what we say and remember you never know who you are talking to or what that person is struggling with.

(P.S. The young man has come back to yoga class and continues to work on his forearm balance.)