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Using Sound in Yoga for Disordered Eating

I was recently asked to recommend yoga music to a friend living with bulimia. I say living with bulimia because even when you reach the point where you no longer feel compelled to engage in the symptoms of bulimia, the disease will still lurk in your life. Recovery means rearranging your life so that you give yourself the tools you need to recognize when it's starting to show up again, and are able to use your skills to take care of yourself. Yoga is one of those skills, and sometimes even mimicking the environment of a yoga studio can help inspire connection with the body and ease of mind. Obviously, mimicking a yoga studio in your house is most easily done with music. But choosing music for those living with an eating disorder or disordered eating (or related disorders) should be informed by a few key topics.

First, consider Nada Yoga, the yoga of sound.  It is called the science of divine vibration.  In essence, by listening to music with a repetitive quality, you prepare for meditation. Nada Yogis work both with external sounds as well as internal – heartbeat, breathing, etc. The goal of Nada Yoga, like all yoga, is the merger of self and higher Self, and to reach a place of ultimate quiet. This is why some yoga classes including chanting before meditation. In chanting god’s name with “love and devotion,” you bring yourself closer to that place of ultimate quiet. Commentators on the Vedas also note that Nada Yoga is effective for those with a musical sensibility.

Practioners suggest listening to the quality of sounds – in terms of coarse or fine and learning to distinguish those fine sounds. The body, they say, operates in fine sounds. Of course, to be able to listen to any sound, you need some music that shuts out the noise of the world. By that I don’t mean turning the volume up to 11 as in Spinal Tap, but music that allows for all other distractions to fall away. These practioners suggest music that allows your mind to be one pointed, focused entirely.

So, in choosing music, consider that which would allow you to come to a calm state, where you could listen, literally, to your body, your breath, your heartbeat, your pulse. But remember, it's where you could listen to these sounds, not where you have to. And consider music that seduces you to listen to it, that has a somewhat irresistible characteristic to it.

Consider however, that you will not be practicing Nada Yoga. That is to say, you will not be sitting still using music as your means of transportation to a higher union. Instead you will be combining that music with movement, to allow yourself to ease the mind so that you can experience the body, you can tolerate physical sensations. Dissociation of the body so often tags along with disordered eating. Learning to tolerate bodily sensations (such as the stomach being full or simply where your hips are) can often be an integral part of healing from disordered eating.

Second, temper that choice by considering the disorders related to disordered eating. This is the key, I think, in choosing the right music. Anxiety disorders have a high comorbidity with eating disorders. Specifically, traumatic stress related disorders, such as PTSD, are very common. Those with PTSD have a heightened awareness, a hyperawareness. So avoid any music with sharp stops and starts. Also, obsessive related disorders, such as OCD, are common among people with eating disorders, so avoid music that has a highly repetitive quality. This is key because much of music intended for Nada Yoga involves the sitar and playing a repetitive, harmonious sound. So I hate to say it, but avoid the sitar music. Also avoid anything with repetitive chanting. This means things with melodies are good.

At the end of the day, it's whatever moves you. I’ve taught an entire class to Stevie Nick’s Shangri-La. Why? If you listen to that CD, it's nearly entirely devoted to addiction recovery. It's moving, it’s inspiring, it has that seduction like quality that brings you in. I’ve taught to the Grateful Dead. Why? A simple, happy melody can feel grounding and relaxing. I most often teach to Krishna Das and Deva Premal, but for more up-tempo music, I enjoy anything from Buddha Lounge. You can listen to all of those artists for free on


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