Health At Every Size and Yoga

The Health At Every Size (HAES) philosophy “is based on the simple premise that the best way to improve health is to honor your body. It supports people in adopting health habits for the sake of health and well-being (rather than weight control).”[1] HAES also encourages acceptance of the diversity of body shapes and sizes, finding joy in body movement, and normalized eating.

We can begin to embody this no-diet philosophy through the practice of yoga. 
When we come to our mat to practice yoga, we are not only moving our body into poses (asana) we are turning our attention inward to connect with our breath and mind. By turning our attention inward, we will discover that we already have a toolbox located inside ourselves; we only need to quiet our mind to connect to our intuitive skills.
While yoga provides us with a work out, it is meant to be more of a work-in. Our work out and work-in require us to start right where we are in each new moment on our mat with acceptance and awareness. To begin tuning into and feeling our mind and body in yoga, we bring our attention to the movement of our body and our breath. When we feel into our body, we can observe thoughts, as well as bodily, emotional, and spiritual sensations. When we observe these thoughts and feelings, they can become our greatest teacher. Over time we learn that patience and compassion for our body will transform not only our yoga practice, but also our way of eating.
On our yoga mat, we learn that healing and transformation come not from striking the perfect pose, but from accepting ourselves in the pose that’s possible in that moment. Some days our bodies are tight or tired, so our practice will reflect the body’s status.

We are honoring our body’s needs when we listen to our body as it tells us to work deeper or back off. As we become aware of finding our edge – the place between not doing too much or too little – we can take this practice from our mat to the table. Discovering what amount of intensity feels right for our body in our yoga practice, we are supported to tune into and to trust our body’s sensations that tell us how much food it needs meal by meal. 
Sometimes we strive to be perfect on our mat and then we lose our balance and fall down. When this happens, we can lighten up by not worrying, and simply get up to start over. When we have overeaten, we can sit with these feelings at the table, and rather than judge ourselves, we can tune in with curiosity to discover what, if not food, we may have needed more of. And, instead of trying to fix the overeating episode by planning to eat less at our next meal or by burning off calories with exercise, we can simply wait for our uncomfortable fullness feeling to shift over time and for our hunger sensations to reliably arise when it’s time to feed ourselves again. No striving or forcing or punishing. Just being aware of our sensations and wisdom and working with instead of against our body. This is the practice of intuitive eating, mindful eating, or attuned eating.

Recently I attended a yoga class at a studio in Birmingham, Michigan. At the end of class, the teacher suggested to us, “Check in to see if your body is asking for anything else we did not do in class today. Maybe you need another posture, or maybe you don’t.”  As I turned my gaze inward, I took child’s pose because I was aware my body needed rest. The HAES philosophy also teaches us to move our body in a manner that bests suits our physical and emotional needs. If you dislike public gyms, maybe a walk in the woods would best serve you. The idea is to take an inventory of where you are in this moment, and make a decision based upon your present moment needs.
The practice of HAES also allows us to accept our current state of health, and decide what lifestyle changes we want to make based upon our physical, emotional and spiritual needs. When we work-in, we find the tools for transformation by making small, attainable goals.

HAES and yoga is about taking care of yourself on and off your mat.
Shirley Kessel has worked in healthcare for 25 years and has learned that health and wellness stems from tuning in to and trusting your inner wisdom rather than relying on the plethora of mandates from diet experts. As a practitioner of yoga for over 15 years, she is completing her training as a Reconnect with Food® yoga therapist who teaches mid-life women about the no-diet/self-care lifestyle. On the web at

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