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3 Ways Yoga Transformed My Body Image

By Annie Stewart--“Think of your body like an instrument, not an ornament.”

“Honor your body and be present in it; practice thankfulness for what it can do.”

“Practice patience with your body, and do not push it beyond its confines.”

I have heard the aforementioned statements in yoga classes from several different instructors. Yoga has given me a greater appreciation and love for my body and what it is capable of. Since practicing yoga, I have become more attuned to my body’s strengths and limitations. I have become more centered and self-aware. Most of all, yoga has made me realize why I even exercise in the first place.

In our culture, exercise has become a means to an end. We are told we exercise so we burn calories, lose weight and get the so called “beach body” (whatever that even means). Exercise is something we are supposed to dread; an activity we partake in in order to shed the guilt from whatever we ate the day before.

Can I just set the record straight about exercise?  We do not exercise to burn calories and lose weight. We exercise out of sheer enjoyment; we exercise for our mental heath and well-being. As for me, I am a naturally anxious person. I am quite an analytical person and I am also a visionary, a dreamer. I always seem to have a million things on my mind; I am constantly thinking about my future. Therefore, exercise—particularly yoga—centers me and keeps me sane when my thoughts are racing.

Here are three specific ways that yoga has helped me love my body in a whole new way:

1. Practice patience, love and compassion toward your body.

If you have taken a yoga class, you probably know that each yoga pose has modifications, depending on where an individual may be in his/her yoga journey. What is the deeper message here? This communicates that every person’s body is different and therefore has different limitations. You probably won’t be able to do a headstand during your first class and that is perfectly okay. In the practice of yoga there is an emphasis on flexibility and acceptance of one’s body. There is no judgment, no rules; your body is your guide and it is imperative that you listen to it.

2. Breathe in, breathe out.

Every time I take a yoga class I am reminded of the power of my breathing. Being an eating disorder survivor, the ability to breathe in and out is especially powerful, as I was once fighting a disease that tried to take my breath away from me. Therefore, the practice of yoga celebrates recovery and everything that recovery brings. If you have ever taken a yoga class, I am sure you are familiar with the fact of breathing be an important part of yoga (particularly if it’s a hot yoga class). Being aware of my own breath and the breath of those around me makes me feel more connected to my body and aware of what it has the capacity to accomplish.

3. Balance, moderation and variety are key.

As a recovering perfectionist, I have had the tendency to think in black and white terms and to not try something new out of fear of failure. If I couldn’t do something perfectly, then I thought I was a failure and it wasn’t even worth it to try. For the first couple of years after leaving inpatient treatment, I was still stuck in some unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors.

I would eat the same foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. I would do the exact same workout every time I went to the gym. Although these thoughts and behaviors weren’t self-destructive, they still were not healthy. Every time I go to a yoga class I am challenged to try something new and different, and to go to the next level. I no longer fear failure, in yoga classes or in my everyday life, because I have learned to practice love and compassion towards my body and myself as a whole person. Yoga has made me more balanced in many ways, whether that is literally having more balance and overall physical strength  or balance in terms of my thought patterns—how I think about myself, my relationships and my day-to-day life.

Your body is mighty and powerful. Within it, you carry strength and perseverance, love and compassion. Your body can climb mountains, swim in the ocean, run marathons. Your hands can hold a loved one, your eyes can see goodness and beauty and wonder, your nose can smell every flower imaginable and your mouth can taste the finest cuisines. Your body tells you when it is hungry and when it is satisfied. Isn’t it incredible that the act of eating a nutritious meal gives you life and energy? Can we learn to listen to the needs of our bodies? Can we not pull and push our bodies to fit into the narrow boxes dictated by our culture and society?  Can we exercise for sheer euphoria? Can we love not only our bodies, but also the variety of bodies that exist in the world?

I hope the answers to all these questions are a resounding yes. I hope we will shout this truth from the rooftops; I hope we will speak these truths to both our daughters and sons. If you are not content in your own body, if you do not love yourself exactly the way you are, how can you love another? I am thankful for all the activities that enable me to love my body well—especially yoga. Loving your body is not selfish; actually, I think it is an act of selflessness. It is saying, “I love my friends and my family and the greatest gift I can give them is taking care of my health, because when I am strong and healthy and content I can be the best version of myself.”

About the blogger: Annie Stewart graduated from university with a degree in sociology and gender studies. She is especially passionate about seeing individuals develop a healthy relationship with food, exercise and the body. Beyond that, she is also passionate about social justice, good strong coffee (usually accompanied by a book), traveling and telling her own story of recovery in the hopes that it can be a beacon of light on someone else's road to healing, health and wholeness. She hopes to eventually go on to graduate school and pursue a degree in clinical social work.

Also by Annie:

Twirlgate: Women Athletes Deserve Better

Colleges Need More Eating Disorder Resources

Recovering from an Eating Disorder in College: A Survival Guide

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Proud2Bme is an online community created by and for teens. We cover everything from fashion and beauty to news, culture, and entertainment—all with the goal of promoting positive body image and encouraging healthy attitudes about food and weight.

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