Practicing yoga can have a strong impact on how you feel about your body – but whether that impact is positive or negative depends a great deal on you, and what you bring to the practice.
If you struggle with negative body image or food issues, ask yourself whether your primary goal for your yoga posture practice is to get a ‘“yoga body.” See if your dedication is masking compulsive exercise, or if you’re using hard, fast and intense asanas to distract yourself from deep or uncomfortable feelings. Check in with your inner dialogue, too. Often, even when we can contort ourselves into the most advanced postures, our thoughts are still repeating, “body not good enough.”
After all, how we show up on our mats is a reflection of how we show up in life.
However, yoga also gives us many opportunities to change those patterns. If you undertake a yoga practice as an exercise in somatic self-enquiry, as a time to tune into your body and notice what is happening within, to feel everything that you can, without judging, then perhaps over time, a happier, more compassionate relationship to your body image can develop. That internal dialogue can then become, “I love my body unconditionally.”
Sensitivity to Sensations
Your body has a language of its own, which is different from the language of the mind. Your body talks to you through sensations. If you’re caught up in a story in your mind about your negative body image, you may not hear what your body is actually telling you. Messages like, “This feels great!” or “I’m powerful and flexible!” can be drowned out by a stream of self criticism.
By bringing the principle of Sensitivity (Ahimsa in Sanskrit) into your practice, you can start to understand what your body is really saying movement by movement, breath by breath. By paying close attention and learning to distinguish between obvious and subtle sensations, pain and pleasure, comfort and discomfort, you can get to know yourself.
You can start to notice if you push yourself or hold yourself back in a posture. You can notice if you are kind or compassionate to your body. You can practice staying with sensations, even the ones that aren’t comfortable, and allow yourself to become deeply intimate with what we can feel.
Body image is what we imagine about our bodies. If we get too caught up in our imagination, we can become disconnected from what’s really happening from the neck down. When we stop being “in our body” we put more importance on the story of how we think our body is, rather than how or what it actually is.
As you start to pay attention to the sensations being generated by your body, through movement, breath, and stillness, you allow yourself to become embodied. You become aware of your body’s various parts, where they are and how they move. Even just standing in Mountain Pose (Tadasana) can create a sense of grounding as you feel the contact that your feet have with the floor. Feeling the physical strength of this posture can help you to tap into an enhanced sense of well being, confidence and self esteem.
Letting Go of Judgements and Comparisons
It’s all too easy to compare ourselves to others, or to judge ourselves, especially if we have our own body image issues, and some aspects of modern yoga culture can trigger the inner critic. This challenge, however, is also an opportunity. On the mat, we can commit to to recognizing our inner judge.
Awareness is the key to any genuine, lasting change, and yoga practice supports the development of awareness. As you become mindful of your body’s true needs, you can practice responding in a lovingly way. So when the judge arises, you can say, “My body is okay as it is, it does not need to be perfect,” or “It’s okay to be different to others, my body is great in its own way.”
If you use sensitivity to sensation as your compass, you can move the focus away from what you can do to what you can feel. So then it doesn’t matter how flexible you are, or if you can stand on your head, but what you’re learning about yourself through your deep engagement with your practice. And if you can learn to be ok with what your body can do on the mat, the same thing just might happen with your relationship to your body when you’re off the mat.
Follow the Delight
Moving the body in accordance with the breath feels good. In yoga, you move your body in ways you don’t usually do in ordinary life, giving the body back its capability to move freely and easily through a wider range of expressions. Yoga invites play and exploration, putting you in touch with vitality and enthusiasm for life. Pleasure also invites embodiment, so we can begin to follow sensations of delight to move in an enjoyable way, allowing us to feel good about ourselves and our bodies.
The pleasure principle isn’t just a dream – there’s lots of scientific research to back it up. As the field of Mind Body Nutrition teaches, your body’s “feel good” signals are giving you important information about what you need more (or less) of!
You are perfect just as you are
Body image issues often show up as a painful disconnect between what we think we should be, and who we actually are. By inviting us onto the mat without an agenda and giving us the permission to just be, yoga helps us to look at the present moment and the real, physical body, with honesty and acceptance.
If we allow ourselves to see clearly the difference between what we imagine or remember happening and what is actually happening, we can learn to accept that the present is just as it is. If the present is just as it is, and could not be any other way, then you too could not be anything other than where, how and what you are, which means you are always absolutely perfect just the way you are!
If you’d like to learn more ways to develop a happier, healthier body image – or if you’re inspired to help others learn to love themselves exactly as they are – check out our Eating Psychology Coach Certification Training. This one of a kind professional certification is a perfect complement to the yoga teacher’s toolkit, and it’s also a great choice for anyone who wants to take a deep dive into the psychology behind our self image. Click HERE to find out more!
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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