We’ve all heard that negative voice inside our head… you know, the one that goes on about our tummy being too big, thighs too wobbly, hair too frizzy etc.
Can you remember when you started listening to that voice? Can you remember when you stopped thinking you were beautiful? Was it in your 20s? 30s? 40s? Later? When the weight wasn’t as easy to shift anymore? When those lines started appearing around your eyes? The truth is, it’s different for each of us.
I didn’t have much body confidence 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 could help me. I wasn’t able to 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, and getting to know my body through yoga.
Reconnect With Yourself
Yoga is a holistic practice that teaches us to reconnect with ourselves on so many different levels – physical, spiritual, emotional and mental. This is why cultivating body confidence through yoga is so effective. Through my yoga practice, 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 or to other people, but deep within – seeing, trusting and honouring our divine light.
Show Up, Every Day
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. Those sweet moments of surrender into a challenging pose, of exploring my body’s movements and capabilities with an open mind and a playful, curious attitude filled me with a joy I’d never known before.
I became much more mindful of how I spoke to myself, how I thought about myself, and how I acted towards myself. Being on the mat and accepting how my body moved and worked was revelatory. Even when ego crept in and I wished I could go further into a particular posture, that sense of surrendering to the truth of the moment allowed me to start accepting my body when standing in front of the mirror too.
A Mirror to the Soul
Yoga can serve as a mirror 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 an excellent thing because actually, the image we have constructed of ourselves is often demoralising, destructive and completely skewed. Body image is usually an illusion based on opinions about how we feel we should look, not how we really 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 we are.
Compassion and Gratitude are Key to Body Confidence
Approaching our yoga practice with a compassionate and open mind and a strong sense of gratitude, we can appreciate how this body that we’ve hated for so long allows us to experience this transformative 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 magnificent 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 bodies allow us to try and try and try again. How wonderful is that?
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 can hear what our body is trying to tell us concerning food, stress, sleep, etc. And we can finally begin to replace all those habitual negative thoughts and criticisms with positive, uplifting ones, to help us cultivate body confidence and a sense of self-appreciation.
So how can you utilise this information constructively and proactively? 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 body confidence through yoga?
These are some of the most helpful 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. Show Up Regularly and Faithfully
By taking 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 own needs and desires you are subconsciously telling yourself that you are worth it. You are reconfirming that you value yourself enough to make a 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 of our own way in all areas of our lives.
2. Be Kinder to Yourself
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 support me?’ And practice gratitude by thanking it for what it has done so far.
Thoughts are simply 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, and the higher vibrations full of gratitude and praise will have a positive impact.
So the more love and gratitude you send yourself during your practice, be it to a specific body part, 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 is reflected when you are relating to your body off the mat too. Cultivating body confidence through yoga is a practice of Metta – loving-kindness.
3. Practice Unconditional Self-Acceptance
As I said before, in class, we are taught to work from where we are today, to be non-judgmental and non-egotistical about our body. By accepting exactly where you’re at right at that particular moment, and letting go of your preconceptions, you become free. By being present, you are showing your body loving-kindness and honouring your capabilities right now. This presence will help you to accept your body in general — it’s limitations and all its beautiful imperfections. There isn’t such a thing as perfect, after all.
Cultivating body confidence through yoga is an expolration of self-love and forgiveness. By encouraging compassion, gratitude, loving-kindness and self-acceptance on the mat, you will experience 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 magnificent divine being you truly are.
You’ll unconditionally accept the parts that you didn’t like. They will no longer bother you. You may even come to love them because they are a part of wonderful fabulous you, part of what makes you unique and gorgeous, just as you are in this present moment, right now. Enjoy your new found body confidence!
P.S. I’ve made a gift for you. It’s a free printable self-care planner and gratitude journal. Download it and start infusing self-love into your life!