The modern world has perks. There's a convenience store around the corner and specialists who can cure things that used to be fatal a century ago. But there's a silent epidemic affecting both genders and all races. People are increasingly falling out of love with their own bodies.
Yoga can help. When this ancient art we call yoga was created, the first practitioners did so with body-respect in mind, understanding that this quality was core to their very own happiness.
"The pose begins when you want to leave it."
Yoga, when performed mindfully and with love is a healing practice that will empower, heal and transform.
Here's how spending time on your yoga mat can help to erase any negative and limiting beliefs in your mind.
The Problem: We Live In A Superficial World Where Outward Appearances Hold Value
We live in a youth culture. Television shows are filled with teenaged pop stars and five-year-old kids playing the piano like Mozart. Advertisements often dis-empower older individuals by bombarding viewers with products promising youthful looks. In other words, the subtext shames the natural and unstoppable process of aging.
People are being punished for growing older. Some job positions only accept applicants below 25. Some guys refuse to date women over 25. Being shelved and discriminated against because of our age is a major factor with a negative self-image. But sadly it doesn't stop here.
Losing respect for our bodies isn't a simple thing. Nobody wakes up one day and hates themselves. Instead, layer upon layer of disappointments, hurtful comments and unrealistic goals chip away at our self-confidence until we hit the cold stone floor of self-loathing. For some, this feeling is so intense, it ends up destroying their happiness. For others, it's a vague tide of sadness every so often. Here's a specific look at the usual suspects.
- The media's worship of “perfect” bodies is enough to make anyone feel frumpy. Most people will never hit the red carpet or become a celebrity. Yet, this tiny fraction of the population is lauded as the ideal look and anything less than youth, designer dresses, straight teeth, and slim bodies are ignored. Too many fans follow this religion and sideline people in their lives who, in their glamour-chasing, are viewed as too ordinary.
- Verbal abusers love body shaming. They'll use words like “ugly, fat, disgusting” to break down their victim's confidence. Abuse is like an octopus with too many legs, reaching into our minds, souls, and convictions, making it very hard to remove the scars of shame.
- Nobody is perfect but that's not what the media's selling. Every person has physical imperfections. A chipped tooth. A mole so misplaced it can never be a beauty spot. Big hands on a woman. A man too short. Our so-called flaws can make us resent the genetic lottery that gave Miley Cyrus everything and left the majority of us humans with unremarkable vocal cords, pear shaped bodies and forehead creases.
- Health issues. Remember the feeling of getting hit by a truck but it's just the flu? Did you enjoy fuzzy BFF feelings towards your body? Nope. Most people want to crawl out of their skin to escape a serious but temporary condition like the flu. It's worse for individuals suffering from a chronic illness or disability. When constantly enduring limitations, it's easy to view the body as a traitor and put some distance between yourself and that meat suit bent on making you miserable.
Self-Respect Is Easy to Lose but Hard to Gain
Why does self-love drain away faster than water through a sieve? Two words. Shallow roots. Don't worry, this is not an accusation of vanity but conditioning. The youth-and-perfection culture grooms kids from a young age to value skin-deep beauty. Additionally, our instant-everything culture adds to the problem. When that extra weight resists exercise and the trendy new handbag doesn't deliver the happiness the promoters promised, the unfortunate thought arises; “There must be something wrong with me.”
There's nothing quick about rising above the pressure to be perfect. The dislike for one's body runs deep and yoga takes you to meet those inner limits, something most of us fearfully refuse to look at. The moment clarity dawns about why we judge ourselves so harshly, the grip of unhappiness starts to weaken. At the very least, you'll learn that the best things in life take time. This fact is powerful, despite sounding like a cliché.
The Power of Yoga
The type of yoga doesn't matter, nor the poses. Should you desire to heal your relationship with your body, then simply start a yoga practice and include a few challenging poses. The idea isn't to pick asanas so advanced that they'll make a yoga teacher cry. The magic element in yoga's potency is to gently push the limits, not smash them by force in an instant. It's about pushing yourself enough so that you can feel the space within you gently expand. When your body expands so does your mind, and on a physical level it feels energising and empowering.
Additionally, yoga has the power to heal when you keep your thoughts on the physical sensations when you hit the limit of a pose - focusing on your breath and feeling the space expand. Be curious about what other these feelings arise, both physical and emotional, that a difficult asana provokes. Use them to familiarise the mind with the body instead of teetering on one leg and thinking about what to cook for dinner. Yoga without the mind's involvement is an empty exercise.
Why Gentle Resistance Heals The Mind-Body Link
When we're out of touch with our bodies, it's mainly because we've experienced related pain, shame, and disappointments. There's an overwhelming fear of all the things that can go wrong. Another laughing line. Disease. Turning eighty. If left unchecked, such thoughts consume the mind and skew the reality of what you're capable of. Yoga returns a balanced view. The practitioner experiences the body's positive side. Ironically, this happens by going deeper and deeper into a pose inch by inch.
A consistent practice boosts health but also reveals something wonderful. The body is a living sculpture. Despite physical limits, pesky extra pounds, or being on the wrong side of fifty, slowly challenging yourself on the mat will always bring improvements. Suddenly the fingertips touch the toes. Down-ward dog starts to feel relaxing and energy is more abundant. You start doing poses you've only dreamed of. Talk about a confidence boost! This mutual improvement of the body and mind heals the distance between them.
The Benefits Are More Permanent
Yoga's benefits won't arrive in an avalanche but they're worth waiting for. When slowly established, a yoga practise digs in with those valuable deep roots and the perks, once they arrive, tend to stick. The energy stays. The mind is no longer over-active and reactive, and instead can weather life's hardships. Even skipping a few days of practice, you'll be able to pick up where you left off with that advanced posture you just mastered.
Slowly and consistently pushing the limits of your body with yoga is a form of maintenance. You're maintaining your health, growth, and success. This is one reason why quick fixes fail miserably. There's no maintenance involved in the long run. Yoga provides a lasting structure for self-improvement, including getting to know your own body intimately and befriending it - respecting its capabilities and limits whilst marvelling at its growth.
What Exactly Are The Benefits?
- Yoga kills the perfection myth
- Practitioners realise that they're not isolated; everybody has physical issues.
- Realising that its ok not to be perfect or in total control. There are certain poses that the body will just never be able to do - these poses differ from person to person. By all means work on these poses but release the negative self-talk that comes when you can't master a certain pose. Yoga is about surrender and acceptance.
- As the reconnection with the body deepens, the shallow culture behind body-shaming becomes more clear and separate from one's identity. This separation allows the yogi to draw on inner strength and beauty to shape their own self-worth
- The understanding that genetics, age, or physical limits aren't barriers for self-improvement
- Improved health, mentally and physically
- Steady confidence and energy
- Learning to trust and appreciate your body, even in times of sickness
- Befriending your body by getting to know its limits, biological rhythms, and strengths.
Every factor tearing down the mind-body link boils down to one feeling. The feeling of not being in control of our thoughts, mind and emotions. Reclaiming our power doesn't need an exotic retreat or paying a fistful of money. No magic pill required. All you need is a little patience and persistence, retreating to the spongy haven that is your yoga mat. Brick by brick, yoga builds strength, resilience, love, self-acceptance and self-empowerment. Owning one's mind and body as a unit is a triumph within anyone's reach, one that opens the door to conquering life's other goals. No red carpet necessary.