“Your stomach is drooping down around your waistline,” my photographer said hesitantly, pointing out the extra skin that now hangs from my stomach as a result of losing over 100 pounds.
“I don’t know if you care . . . ,” he continued. “I just wanted to point it out in case you want to try a different angle for this yoga pose.”
“Oh” was all I could say in the moment. My stomach immediately did flip flops. Being confronted by someone else about the part of your body that you’ve always hated but have just begun to accept can be difficult and fearful. I wanted to run from the moment, but I couldn’t.
Being confronted by someone else about the part of your body that you’ve always hated but have just begun to accept can be difficult and fearful.
“I know,” I said, pausing for a deep breath. “It’s ok. I don’t want to try and hide my belly. I want these photos to be real – to show real bodies.”
“Cool,” my photographer smiles.
As I found my way back into Table Top Pose, I couldn’t help but think about how far I had come in the last few years. For most of my life, I hated my body. I was an overweight child who grew into an overweight adult and believed that becoming thin was my key to happiness and confidence.
I was wrong though. After my gastric bypass in 2005, I lost over 100 pounds but happiness didn’t follow. In fact, I became even more unhappy.
If you want to hear more about my weight loss journey and finding yoga, I wrote an article about that too! Weight Loss and Yoga: A Journey to Finding Myself
Body Image vs. Body Positivity and the Role Modern Society Plays
It wasn’t until I found yoga in 2012 that I began to develop a healthy relationship with my body and discovered happiness within myself. The connection to the breath, the yoga poses, the self-discovery, and wise ancient philosophies provided me with body affirming experiences and deep personal growth.
Unfortunately, body image is something that everyone struggles with at one point or another no matter body shape or size. Our perception of our appearance gets muddled with unrealistic expectations and ideals created by the media and social media.
For most of my life, I hated my body. I was an overweight child who grew into an overweight adult and believed that becoming thin was my key to happiness and confidence.
It is these expectations and ideals that cause feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment, insecurity, shame, and, sometimes, even an obsession with controlling weight. All of these feelings, combined with unhealthy beliefs about self-worth, can grow and take root within us.
The practice of yoga and its teachings of self-compassion, acceptance, presence, and patience offer a path to transforming negative beliefs about ourselves. This was one of those moments. Table Top Pose in particular was one I couldn’t hide any of my past from.
Body Positivity and How Yoga Can Help Cultivate a Healthy Body Image
Yoga is about yoking, or uniting. The Sanskrit word yoga means to unite. Through the journey of the practice of yoga, we can reunite with our true self and rebuild our relationship with our body.
So, how can yoga help us to feel more comfortable and confident about our bodies? Here are 5 ways yoga can help your body positivity.
1. Yoga helps you develop appreciation for your body through movement
The physical practice of yoga isn’t about winning or proving anything. There is no finish line. Yoga is an opportunity to discover who you truly are and cultivate union between the body and breath.
The time you spend in each yoga pose is a personal experience that can teach you a lot about your physical and emotional capabilities. When you sit through the discomfort of a challenging pose, and do so with grace and perseverance, you learn just how strong and resilient you are.
The connection to the breath, the yoga poses, the self-discovery, and wise ancient philosophies provided me with body affirming experiences and deep personal growth.
While practicing yoga poses, pay attention to all the ways in which your body astonishes you. Notice how you are able to balance, twist, fold forward, bend backwards, or bend side to side. Pay special attention to the things you are able to do that you once thought you couldn’t.
Offer appreciation for what your body is capable of doing. By paying gratitude to your body while on your mat, you will begin to change the way you look at your body.
2. Yoga helps you focus on possibilities rather than limitations
Focusing on the negative can often be much easier than focusing on the positive. This is especially true when it comes to our perceptions of our body. The physical yoga practice helps us shed our ego and perceptions of ourselves and take a deeper look inside.
Yoga is a safe place for us to be true to ourselves without worries and fears. It is a place where we can focus on possibilities rather than limitations.
While on your mat, take note of your inner dialogue. Are there any thoughts that make you doubt your body? Is there a narrative that tells you that you’re lesser than?
When these types of thoughts occur, flip the script. Change that message into something positive. Focus on your body’s abilities. Approach your yoga practice from a playful and curious mindset about what is possible if you approach each pose with appreciation for what you’re able to do – not what you aren’t.
3. Yoga invites you to observe, rather than judge
It can be easy to get caught up in judging your body’s appearance and capabilities. We are bombarded with images of the “ideal” body in the media and on social media. Images of the “perfect” yogi on social media are just as prevalent.
The thing is – there is no “ideal” body. Likewise, there is no “perfect” yogi or yoga pose. The ideal body is the one that you have. The perfect pose for you is the one that pushes you to connect with and learn about yourself.
The thing is – there is no “ideal” body. Likewise, there is no “perfect” yogi or yoga pose.
Practice non-judgement on your mat by focusing on your breath and taking notice of what you sense and feel in each pose. For example, notice the depth of your breath, the muscular sensations that you feel, the parts of your body touching the floor, and the thoughts that come up.
Simply notice these things – do not judge them. Allow your judgments to pass by. This can certainly be challenging, but the more that you practice it, the easier it will become and over time, you will develop a greater capacity to appreciate your body.
4. Yoga helps you see the importance of the present moment
When we are distracted by negative thoughts about our body, we are not present – we are caught up comparing ourselves to how we used to look or how we want to look. It is common for feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and frustration to accompany these thoughts.
By utilizing yoga poses and pranayama (breathing techniques), we can practice being present which helps calm the mind and any negative thoughts of body image.
Your breath is your anchor to the present. You can practice presence both on the mat and in seated meditation. Begin by focusing deeply on your breath while you’re practicing yoga poses. Take note of how each pose affects your inhales and exhales. Draw your breath to a particular body part with your mind.
To try this in meditation, spend a few minutes sitting and observing your breath. Follow your inhales and exhales (counting the breath can help you focus too). Notice what being present with your breath and body feels like. In calling upon your breath to help you be present, you will also learn to trust your body to help calm your mind.
5. Yoga helps you to tap into your physical strength
If you have practiced yoga for a while, you are likely now able to get into yoga poses that were once difficult or seemingly impossible. Think back to your first yoga practice. Perhaps you wobbled in Tree Pose, fell over in Crescent Warrior, or balked at the thought of getting into a Headstand.
Most styles of yoga (Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Hot Yoga, Hatha) help you gain physical strength, balance, and flexibility. Thus, if you practice regularly, you will see improvements in all areas.
Body Positivity, Yoga, and Cultivating a Healthy Body Image
Take some time to consider just how far you’ve come in your physical yoga practice. Next, think about – and celebrate – how amazing your yoga journey has been and all that it has taught you. Pay gratitude to your body for all that is has done and will continue to do for you.
Forget about what your body isn’t and can’t do and truly focus on your strengths. Write down some poses that you once thought you wouldn’t be able to get into. Whenever you are feeling bad about yourself and your body, take a look at all of the poses you can practice now that you once weren’t able to.
Forget about what your body isn’t and can’t do and truly focus on your strengths.
Think about your day-to-day life: Have you seen improvements in your ability to walk longer distances without pain? Can you bend down and pick something up without struggle? Likewise, make some notes about your day-to-day physical improvements that you can look back on in times of self-doubt.
Through your yoga practice, may your connection to the breath, the yoga poses, the self-discovery, and wise ancient philosophies provide you with the same body affirming experiences and deep personal growth that it has for me.
Body positivity is simply, yet so powerfully, the act of accepting, embracing, and loving our bodies exactly as they are.