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Body positivity is something many women struggle with throughout their lives. If this is something you struggle with, know that you are not alone! A negative attitude towards our body can be caused by societal values, media, or family members or friends.
Body Image in Youth
Body image issues are something we learn as we grow, not something we are born with. Babies don’t come out of the womb, thinking, “My thighs are too fat,” “My cheeks are too chubby,” or “My butt is too flat.” Whatever your hangups, you learned it, you weren’t born with this mindset. The good thing about this is is that you can unlearn it.
I realize this is easier said than done. I have struggled with body image issues since I was a pre-teen. In saying this, I didn’t think of myself as chubby before the age of 12, I just was what I was and looking back on photos, while I was never the skinniest girl, I definitely wasn’t as big as I was in my mind.
Recently, a friend of mine was telling me how her seven-year-old thinks she is too fat. This broke my heart. This is too young, and this beautiful little girl is a skinny, healthy little thing. What do we do? How do we teach our children they are beautiful and make them see it themselves?
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Surely she has learned this from her surroundings. Maybe from overhearing us tell stories about how we want to exercise more? The tricky thing here is that her mother is thin and talks about how she wants to gain weight and have a curvier body. How do we fix this?
Body Image and Aging
Unfortunately, our mindset around our bodies doesn’t fade as we age. We don’t wake up one day suddenly happy with how we look. It is something we have to unlearn and then re-learn the body-positive language. We have to learn to love ourselves and shed all the negativity we learned in the past.
I can’t claim to have all the answers here. Some days I am happy with my body and think it is beautiful. Then the next day, I can wake up, look at the same body, and see all the flaws. Body image issues and mindset is bizarre. I’m not going to sit here writing to you about the exact path on how to find self-realization and enlightenment. Simply because I am not there yet myself, and that wouldn’t be true. However, I am working on this myself, and I can share with you tools I find that help me on this path, and will hopefully help you. So what are these tools?
Body Positivity in Yoga
Yoga is more than a set of poses (Asanas) to gain flexibility and strength. Yoga is a path to control the mind. The Eight Limbs of Yoga in the Yoga Sutras were written by Maharishi Patañjali between 500 BCE and 200 CE. These teachings were verbally passed down from teachers with students writing out their recollections of the lessons to create a seamless thread of messages for how to live life to reach self-realization.
Regular Yoga practice connects the mind with the body through Asanas (poses), Pranayama (breath), Meditation, and philosophical inquiry. Practiced with compassion and without judgment, Yoga helps you become more in tune with your body, and it’s needs. Yoga enables you to gain an appreciation for what you have and understanding that without your physical body, there would be no you. And you are beautiful.
An Introduction to The Yoga Sutras
Think of The Eight Limbs of the Yoga Sutras like the limbs of a tree. The Yamas and Niyamas are the first two limbs. The five Yamas can be thought of as ethical guidelines on how to live life. The five Niyamas are inner-observances for us to contemplate. By learning and exploring the Yamas and Niyamas, we can begin to untangle our current mindsets and start to learn new ones.
The Five Yamas:
- Ahimsa (Non-harming)
- Satya (Truthfulness)
- Asteya (Non-stealing)
- Brahmacharya (Walking with Brahman)
- Aparigraha (Non-hoarding)
The Five Niyamas:
- Saucha (Purity)
- Santosha (Contentment)
- Tapas (Self-discipline)
- Svadhyaya (Self-Study)
- Ishvara Pranidhana (Surrender to Brahman)
The illiterate of the twenty-first century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and re-learn.
Alvin Toffler, Writer, and Futurist
Learning to Practice Body Positivity Using Yoga
Yoga can help enhance body positivity in many ways. One of these ways is through studying the Yoga Sutras. Today I will focus on how you can use some of the Yamas and Niyamas to deepen your love and understanding for yourself and your body. Under each section, you will find journal prompts to help you better understand each of the Yamas and Niyamas concerning creating a body-positive mindset.
The first step in any mindset shift is to be open to curiosity and shedding your old thought patterns through self-reflection. Journaling is a powerful self-reflection practice because it helps you to clear your mind of thoughts by writing them down on paper. Self-reflective journaling gives us context, facilitates transformation, and deepens our understanding.
Each of the Yama’s and Niyama’s is described below to give you an introduction to the concept. Then take action by getting out your journal or download the workbook from The Free Happiness Resource Library to write out your answers to the following questions and prompts.
The Yamas and Body Positivity
Ahimsa (Non-Harming) and Body Positivity
Ahimsa is the first of the Yamas; it means non-harming. Ahimsa relates to all aspects of life and how we treat others. In regards to body positivity, you can reflect on how your words, thoughts, motives, intentions, and actions harm others.
Ahimsa Body Positivity Journal Prompts:
- How does having a negative body image harm me?
- How does the way I think of, treat, and talk about my body harm those around me?
- Am I guilty of making others feel bad about their body?
Satya (Truthfulness) and Body Positivity
Satya is the second Yama and means truthfulness. By staying on a path of truthfulness, we get closer to our True Self as we let delusions and dishonesty pass. Without truthfulness, you cannot be honest with others or yourself.
Satya Body Positivity Journal Prompts:
- Describe yourself, scars, stretch marks, dress-size, pains, pleasures, and all. What is the truth?
- What do my scars represent? What lessons did I learn by gaining them?
- What do I honestly love about my body, both appearance and what it enables me to do?
Asteya (Non-Stealing) and Body Positivity
The third Yama, Asteya, means non-stealing. Non-stealing refers to both the obvious and not so obvious, energetic, mental, and social ways we can steal from ourselves and other people. When we steal, we seek to fill a void, but in the process, we create a level of dissatisfaction within ourselves.
Asteya Body Positivity Journal Prompts:
- Do my body image issues stop me from doing things I love or socializing with people? How?
- How does the energy I put into thinking negative thoughts about my body steal from the energy I have for tasks and people that are important to me?
- If I wasn’t concerned with my body image, what else would I be thinking about?
Brahmacharya (Walking with Brahman) and Body Positivity
The fourth Yama is Brahmacharya. The interpretation, walking with Brahman, is not quite as intuitive as the others without some context. In ancient teachings, Brahman is considered pure consciousness. Achieving Brahman is the ultimate goal in Yoga. Practicing Brahmacharya helps us move closer to Brahman.
Brahmacharya is the Yama connected to finding balance in sexual and creative energy. Many people interpret this Yama in different ways. Here we are going to understand it as finding balance, neither over or under-indulging in our desires.
Brahmacharya Body Positivity Journal Prompts:
- How does having body image issues impact my sex life?
- Do I feel I can express my body’s sexual and creative desires, healthily?
- What is one thing I can do to help myself explore my sexuality in a healthy way that makes me feel beautiful?
Aparigraha (Non-Hoarding) and Body Positivity
The final Yama is Aparigraha, meaning non-hoarding. When we practice this Yama, we reel in all our possessive urges, both objects and people. It is OK to have possessions, but possessiveness leads to insecurities.
Aparigraha Body Positivity Journal Prompts:
- What objects do I collect to help make myself feel better or worse about my body?
- What people do I keep around me that make me feel better or worse about my body?
- Reflecting on the above answers, how long do these things or people make me feel better or worse about my body?
- Does this type of hoarding help?
- How do I feel when these objects are lost or people not around?
The Niyamas and Body Positivity
The five Niyamas are the guidances we use in The Eight Limbs of the Yoga Sutras for inner-observances.
Saucha (Purity) and Body Positivity
Saucha, purity, is the first Niyama. Saucha can also be thought of as inner-clarity and outer-cleanliness. We care for our physical body and mind using the principle of Saucha.
Saucha Body Positivity Journal Prompts:
- A List of all the self-care rituals I do daily, weekly, or monthly to love my body.
- A List of all the self-care rituals I do daily, weekly, or monthly to cleanse my mind.
- Review these lists and find what is missing. Create a list of the rituals you want to add to your routine, daily, weekly, and monthly.
Santosha (Contentment) and Body Positivity
The second Niyama is Santosha and refers to contentment in life. When you are content, you do not want for more or less. You are satisfied with what you have now.
Santosha Body Positivity Journal Prompts:
- List of the things I am content with about my body and why.
- List of the things I am not content with regarding my body and why
- Brainstorm some things you can do to help you feel more content with your body.
- Pick one of these things and create a plan to start incorporating this into your routine.
- If this is a physical thing, take a moment to consider why this would make you feel more content. Is it true?
- Will it really make me feel more content?
- Would telling myself an affirmation such as “I am beautiful the way I am” every day be more effective at making myself feel content?
Tapas (Self-Discipline) and Body Positivity
The forth of the Niyamas, Tapas, refer to self-discipline. I know this is something I lack and am working on in many areas of my life. Practicing self-discipline may not feel good at first, but ultimately if you keep on track, you will reach your goals.
Tapas Body Positivity Journal Prompts:
- What body-image goals do I continuously strive for? Is this healthy? (Remember Santosha)
- Thinking of my biggest body-image issue. How can I work on this every day to feel more content with myself?
- Refer back to your Saucha goals above then answer the following question. How can I practice more self-discipline in my self-care routines?
Svadhyaya (Self-Study) and Body Positivity
When you practice Svadhyaya, you look inward for answers. You recognize that some of what you understand about yourself may not be true. You reflect and aim to re-learn the truth by questioning everything you have learned and not taking anything for granted.
By understanding Svadhyaya, you begin to learn what a conditioned or learned response is and what unconditioned awareness is. You begin to understand what is perceived reality and reality itself. When using Svadhyaya in body positivity practices, you should ask yourself the following sorts of questions.
Svadhyaya Body Positivity Journal Prompts:
- What do I think about my body?
- Why do I think this way? Where have I learned this?
- How do I feel about my body? Why do I feel this way?
- Is there any truth in how I think and feel about my body? Or is this what I have learned from the outside world?
- Have I always thought and felt this way about my body? Think back to your earliest memories? What was true, then?
Ishvara Pranidhara (Surrender to Brahman) and Body Positivity
The fifth and final Niyama, Ishvara Pranidhara, comes back to Brahman, pure consciousness. Except this time, instead of walking with Brahman in Brahmacharya, we surrender. Under Ishvara Pranidhara, we humbly surrender to our True Self. We understand that the world is larger than us. We see that we have everything we need right now and move into a state of service and giving back. We do not put our own needs above others.
Ishvara Pranidhara Body Positivity Journal Prompts:
- In the grand scheme of things, do my negative body image issues really matter? Do they serve me in any way?
- How will developing a positive body image help those around me?
- How can I help others to improve their body image with me?
Incorporating Body Positivity When On Your Yoga Mat
You can practice a body positive mindset into your daily or weekly Yoga practice by using these journal prompts for contemplation to help change your mindset around your body. Every time you step on your mat, bring compassion with you. Understand that this is your journey, and you should make an effort not to compare your progress with others in your class or your teacher.
Do not force your body further than what is comfortable. By all means, if it serves you, push yourself, but don’t force yourself. Be open to modifications. Use props if you need them. Sometimes use props even if you don’t need them. Props and modifications help to make the Asanas (poses) safer and more comfortable for you to release your mind and body into the pose.
And always remember to thank yourself for taking the time to care for your body and your mind. We often find ourselves grateful for those around us but forget to be thankful for the most important one, ourselves.
How Do We Help Others Be More Body Positive?
The body-positive movement starts with you. By reading this article, reflecting on your body image through journaling, unlearning negative ideas, and re-learning positive ones, taking compassion onto your Yoga mat, you provide an example to others. Your confidence in yourself and sharing your struggles helps others build the confidence to make changes in themselves.
You can’t heal the whole world; you can only heal yourself. Healing yourself has rippling effects throughout society. A study by James H. Fowler and Nicholas A. Christakis on the networks of happiness spanning 20 years found that by one person becoming happier increases the chances of friends, family, and neighbors becoming happier by up to 34%.
Happiness is fundamental to human existence and health. By working to build your own happiness by developing a positive body image, you help create a happier, healthier future for the next generation. Emotions are contagious. What emotions do you want your family, friends, and neighbors to feel?
I recommend The Yoga Mind: 52 Essential Principles of Yoga Philosophy to Deepen Your Practice by Rina Jakubowicz. Rina explains all the concepts at a beginner’s level in an easy to understand way. I’ve found it a great introduction, and I have learned much of my basic Yoga Sutra understanding from this book.
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