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Yoga for a Healthy Body Image

Posted by Jessica Adams on 2/3/2014

When I stopped eating, a lifelong struggle with the relationship I have to my body began. Every waking moment of my life for next three years was preoccupied with obsessions over food, calories, exercise … I had to quiet my negative self-talk, but could not find a means to do so. That is, until I attended my first yoga class.

During class, my mind was occupied, not with the tiresome obsessive thoughts but with a sharp and keen focus on my movements, posture, and breath. But for those sacred 90 minutes, I found that I could give myself a break, so I kept going back to the studio. I quickly learned that I could take those soothing meditative methods with me off the mat as well, when I need to relax or quiet that loud voice that was a sickness speaking to me in my own voice. No longer did I resent this chatter; I learned to accept it: I allow it to happen, I listen, and then I move on to the next topic.

Acceptance and Self-Love in Yogic Scriptures

Yogic philosophy promotes the kind of positive thinking we need to harness and utilize when we find ourselves becoming too critical of ourselves, others, and the outside world. Self-acceptance is loving yourself for who you are. The principles below were adapted from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

  • Yama (the first limb of yoga) promotes ahimsa: nonviolence in action and thought. This extends not only to others but to ourselves as well. Acting upon impure acts can harm the body and mind.
  • Reality Check! Truthfulness in action and thought means we have to be realistic. If your pants say a size 6 and you think you are large, it might be time to concentrate on how you are going to reverse that body dysmorphia.
  • Brahmacharya is a belief that promotes abstinence. We must learn how to practice moderation and non-excess. This limb has helped those with binge-eating disorder control their compulsive behavior. I know from experience that my OCD kicks into overdrive after my second piece of cake. I have learned that when I avoid unhealthy foods altogether, my mind is much more balanced and stable and my body thanks me later.
  • Satisfaction, or santosha: how can I be happy with what I have in the present moment? I had to teach myself how to identify actual hunger with perceived hunger from boredom, stress, and thirst. This is where meditation has really helped me. When I close my eyes and bring my thoughts inward, I can focus on the sensory experiences of the body. Any thoughts are not cursed or dismissed, and I sit with them momentarily. When I concentrate on my senses and not act or react compulsively, I feel more in control of my thoughts and emotions.
  • The Sutras state: purity comes from “withdrawal from enchantment over one’s own body.” Separation of the mind from the body leads to happiness! We are not defined by our physical selves. You are not your body.

I still stare in the mirror and can see self-identified "problem areas". However, through regular yoga practice and integration of the yoga sutras, the amount of time I spent on worrying over nothing has decreased significantly over the years. I finally became able to begin loving myself again. The happier I am with my state of mind, the happier I am with my body and optimal total body health is achieved.

By: Jessica Adams (G+)

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