We’ve all heard that negative voice inside our head – you know, the one that goes on about our tummy being too fat, thighs too wobbly hair too frizzy, etc. Can you remember when that voice started taking over your opinions about yourself? Can you remember when you started listening to that voice? Can you remember when you stopped thinking you were beautiful? Was it in your 20′s? 30′s? 40′s? When you couldn’t shift those extra ten pounds as quickly as before? When those lines started appearing around your eyes? The truth is that it’s different for each of us.
My personal experience was that I didn’t have much confidence growing up as a teenager. I’d been overweight as a child and as a result of that plus other factors; I became anorexic in my early teens. Anorexia is a terrible mental illness that has similar symptoms to body dysmorphia. The sufferer cannot see the truth and can only see fat. I saw specialist after specialist, and none of them was able to help me. I could not relate to them at all. As far as I was concerned nobody understood me and I felt very alone.
To cut a long story very short, my path to recovery came through the support of my family, in particular of my amazing mother, and through getting back in touch with my body through yoga and dance. The practice of yoga was such a catalyst for my recovery and transformation into the confident, strong and self-assured person I am today.
A holistic practice
Yoga is a holistic practice that teaches us to reconnect with ourselves on so many different levels, physical, spiritual, emotional and mental. Through yoga, I was able to begin accepting my body for what it is, instead of wishing it was something else.
Yoga enabled me to start practising compassion for others and importantly for myself; it helped me to cultivate a sense of loving kindness towards my body and gratitude for all the amazing things my body allows me to do. Yoga connects our life-giving breath to our life-sustaining body and in doing so promotes peace and union within.
Yoga helps us realise that the light inside us is beautiful and sacred and this is where we should look for validation of beauty and worth, not outside us into the world but deep within, seeing, trusting and honouring our divine feminine light.
Self-acceptance and commitment
As I continued my practice, continued to show up for myself on my mat day after day, I began to start showing up for myself in everyday life too. I found that those sweet moments of surrender into a challenging pose, of exploring my body’s movements and capabilities with an open mind and playful, curious attitude, began to infuse into other aspects of my life. I became much more mindful of how I spoke to myself, how I thought of myself and how I acted towards myself.
Being on the mat and accepting how my body moved and worked, even when ego creeps in and I wished I could go further into a particular posture, allowed me to start accepting my body when standing in front of the mirror too.
A window to our soul
Yoga can serve as a window to our soul and deepest workings of our mind; it reveals the ego and the limitations we put upon ourselves. It shows us as we truly are, which is a great thing because the image we have constructed of ourselves is often so demoralising, destructive and completely skewed. Body image is usually an illusion based on opinions about how we feel we should look, not how we actually look. By revealing our true nature and becoming connected with our body in a non-judgmental, open and loving way, we can see just how amazing and beautiful our body truly is.
Compassion and gratitude are key
Approaching our yoga practice with a compassionate and open mind and a profound sense of gratitude we can understand how this body that we’ve hated for so long is allowing us to be and experience this beautiful practice.
As we stand in majestic and balancing tree pose, we can feel immense gratitude that our legs are supporting us, our tummy is providing strength and stability via our core muscles, and our arms can extend gracefully overhead to mimic the branches of some wise and great tree. Our breath serves as a bridge between our body and our mind, calming, and allowing that fractured relationship to begin to heal. And so what if we wobble a bit? If like the mighty tree our roots are strong, we are grounded and connected to the Earth, then like the tree, we can sway and bend in the breeze of life. And if we fall out? Just like anything in life we can smile and try again. Our beautiful, amazing body allows us to try and try and try again. How wonderful is that?
A ripple effect
Yoga is a practice, and the more we practice with loving kindness, compassion and gratitude, the more we will experience a shift in the way we view ourselves and the world. Over time we will see that sense of compassion and attitude of gratitude percolating outwards from our practice and into our everyday thoughts and actions.
During class, we are taught to listen to our body and to let go of judgments and criticisms about ourselves. We learn to silence the ego and cease comparing ourselves to others. And in time we can experience this off the mat too. We are able to stop judging ourselves, stop comparing how we look to others, to hear what our body is trying to tell us concerning food, stress, sleep, etc., and to replace negative thoughts and criticisms with positive, supportive ones.
So how can you utilise this information in a constructive and proactive way? How can you approach your yoga practice in a way that will be supportive and nourishing instead of yet another reason to be critical of your body and its perceived limitations? How can you cultivate a positive body image through yoga? These are some of the most effective changes I made for myself as my journey progressed, and I hope they’ll be of help to you as you walk your own path to freedom from negative body image issues.
1. Commit to showing up to class or on your mat at home regularly and faithfully.
By making the time to practice, by overcoming the monkey minds excuses for skipping practice today, you demonstrate dedication to your personal and spiritual development. When you commit to honouring your needs and desires, you are subconsciously telling yourself that you are worth it, that you value yourself enough to make that commitment, even when life seems to want to get in your way. By constant and diligent practice we learn that actually, it was always just us getting in our own way, not others, not work, not life in general. This realisation is so powerful because when it happens, it allows us to step out if our own way time and time again in all areas of our lives.
2. Change the way you speak to yourself on the mat.
Instead of becoming frustrated with your body when it can’t do a pose as well as you think it should, instead of criticising the body part in question, change the way you perceive the body part by silently communicating with it in your mind. Ask it: ‘what do you need today to help you in this pose? How can I support you while you are trying to stretch for me or help me?’ And practice gratitude by thanking it for what it has done so far. If you had somebody working for you and you put them down and criticised them every time they tried to do something you demanded, the chances are that they’ll end up losing confidence and not working as hard as the could. But if you praised them, thanked them and told them they were doing a great job and let them know how grateful you were for all their hard work, then it’s highly likely that would increase their confidence, and they would work harder for you. It’s the same with your body.
All thoughts are energy; you transmit these frequencies through your tissues. The lower, self-critical vibrations are going to have a negative effect on your body, and your confidence. The higher vibrations full of gratitude and praise will have a positive impact on your body and confidence. So the more love and appreciation you send yourself during your practice, be it to a particular body part that may not be doing exactly what you want it to, or to yourself as a whole, the more confidence you’ll build and the faster your progression will be. Think ‘I can’ instead of ‘I can’t’. You will then find this positive love and gratitude spreads to other times you are relating to your body off the mat too.
3. Practise unconditional self-acceptance.
When in class we are taught to work from where we are today, to be non-judgmental and non-egotistical about our body. So by practicing this and accepting exactly where you’re at right at that particular moment, by being present and not stuck in the past thinking ‘I could do this pose better yesterday’ or fantasizing about the future when you believe you’ll be able to make the pose look how you think it should, you are showing your body loving kindness and honouring your capabilities right now. This will serve to help you accept your body in general; it’s limitations and all its beautiful imperfections. There isn’t such a thing as perfect after all. Did you know that?
By cultivating compassion, gratitude, loving kindness and self-acceptance on the mat, you will automatically create these positive attitudes off the mat in your everyday life too. Your perception of self will start to shift. The negative body image illusion will begin to fade as your true inner light shines out and you see yourself as the gorgeous, divine Goddess you truly are.
You’ll unconditionally accept the parts of you that you didn’t like, they will no longer bother you, in fact, you may even come to love them, because they are a part of beautiful fabulous you, and what makes you unique and amazing, just as you are in this present moment, right now.
Has yoga affected you in a similar way? Have you enjoyed any other positive benefits from your practice? Do you have any tips for cultivating a positive body image?
Please share this article with anyone you feel may benefit from this information, it might just be the catalyst they need to make a positive change in their thinking and their practice.