Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.
This yoga teacher and PhD in psychology is helping people battle eating disorders.
When Catherine Cook-Cottone, phd, started teaching at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo’s Department of Counseling, School, and Educational Psychology, a student suggested she try yoga because it mirrored, in many ways, some of her research theories on self-regulation and eating disorders. “I was hooked from the first class. Yoga gave me a way to enjoy my body without needing to micromanage it,” says Cook- Cottone. (At the time, she had essentially recovered from her own struggle with anorexia, but says she still didn’t know how to have a fully positive relationship with her body.) “I knew how to control and regulate my body, but not how to be with it.”
As she practiced the mindful movements of yoga, and watched research participants do the same, she noticed that their experience of body appreciation increased, while body dissatisfaction, dieting, and eating-disorder behaviors decreased. This discovery fueled Cook-Cottone’s academic exploration of what she refers to as “embodied self-regulation,” or the ability to mindfully attune to your internal thoughts, emotions, and physiological needs, as opposed to being vulnerable to external cultural ideas of beauty or to seeking fulfillment through consumption and control, as many eating-disorder sufferers do. One of her landmark studies, published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, found that fifth-grade girls who practiced yoga and relaxation were less likely to have body dissatisfaction, a drive for thinness, and a risk for bulemia.
Her research, combined with her experience as a Baptiste Yoga teacher and licensed psychologist, has grown into a yoga-based eating-disorder-prevention protocol for girls called Girls Growing in Wellness and Balance that has become the template for many school-based programs.
Tips on Finding + Teaching Peace With Your Body
Here, a couple of gems from Cook-Cottone’s most recent book, Mindfulness and Yoga for Self-Regulation: A Primer for Mental Health Professionals.
The dose makes the nectar
Self-care takes practice. Repetition, frequency, and duration matter. For example, practicing yoga movements or meditation twice a week for at least 60 minutes per session appears to be the minimum needed to create significant positive change, according to research by Cook-Cottone and her team.
Use body-positive words
Yoga teachers have tremendous power and responsibility to model positive body talk. If you teach, celebrate effort and feeling over form, and avoid body-reducing, body-shaping language or anything that seems to strive for perfection in appearance.