Yoga and Body Image

Indian danceHow many times have you looked in the mirror and said “You have a beautiful radiant smile, a wonderful healthy body and a charming personality.”?

If this question leaves you with a doubtful expression on your face as you are not able to recall when you last gave yourself a compliment, welcome to the 21st Century of Being Perfect!

Particularly women, but more often now also men, are constantly being confronted with images from the media that tell us how to look, what to eat, how often to exercise, how long to sleep and which diet to follow.  We bought into the Beauty Myth that success, power, getting the perfect guy (or girl) is directly and unfailingly linked to how we look – and that the main culprit is our weight.  The degree of happiness (or unhappiness) is then linked to the mirror (i.e. the ‘image’ or ‘object’) rather than on how we (the subject) feel – or are we really connected with how we feel?  At what point does it become a projection from the outside world onto our own internal world?  And at what point did we lose the context of who we are: Instead of being ‘whole’ or ‘one’ (or the ‘Self’ in yogic terms), we jeopardise our happiness by creating a false reality (“the body image”) that is out of sync with our true essence.

Let me share a personal story with you: At 16 I went on a one-year trip to the US as an exchange student.  This one year had a strong impact on my life and it made me acutely aware that there are self-destructive demons within us that we didn’t even know existed: Within a year, I changed from an athletic, happy teenager to a skinny, body-image concerned, semi-anorexic young woman, who would silently count the calories every time we sat down for a meal.  In fact, every meal would become a drama about my food portions and unwillingness to eat.

I did not know then what damage I was doing to my body, and it became only apparent much later when I was diagnosed with osteoporosis in my spine and hip in my mid-30s.

Nourishing myself was something that never crossed my mind; in fact, it was all about training harder, beating myself up if I failed or didn’t do as good as expected and generally being my own worst critic.

When Andrew introduced me to yoga, he commented on the transformative effects that yoga has on our bodies, almost magically bringing out an inner and outer beauty and over time changing the body to the ideal shape that was right for that particular woman/man.  Having struggled for years with trying to be ‘perfect’ with regard to how I looked, it seemed almost too good to be true.

But over time, I understood what he meant: the beautiful healthiness that comes with practicing yoga regularly is intricately linked to a higher degree of self-acceptance – and a joy of feeling the body and mind connect and move through space and time.  You forget your worries and fears when you step on the mat and can experience the amazing feeling of complete focus on the Here and Now.
What then develops is what the Sanskrit word ‘shri’ stands for: a radiance that emerges from within and what the yogic sages referred to as the embodied female divine energy (or ‘shakti’). When we connect to that divine energy (male or female), we regard the world around us as beautiful, kind and compassionate and this in turn is reflected on our inner beauty.  The more you give off a certain energy (e.g. love, happiness, compassion), the more you attract this same energy back into your life.

Yoga will not take your problems away but it will empower you to stand up to your inner demons and shatter the repeating drone of “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”.  Yoga is not a quick-fix solution and cannot be acquired through a cookie-cutter method; those of you who have been coming for a while know that it is hard sometimes, that it takes discipline but that all of this is rewarded with a deep feeling of a connectedness and ever-increasing glimpses of self-awareness.

By maintaining our practice and building heat with our breath and body, we can melt away those self-limiting beliefs and can start to see beyond those impossibilities towards more and more possibilities.

Keep practicing 🙂



Epilogue: While osteoporosis is often thought of as a ‘condition of no return’, with the help of my doctor, traditional and non-traditional medicine, I was able to reverse the condition and have now the bone strength normal for my age 🙂

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