Yoga & Body Image

A growing problem in todays society is how our view of what our bodies should look like affects our young children. Today children are constantly barraged with an onslaught of ads, television commercials, movies, and music that teach them to view their bodies as imperfect and to compare with those around them. They are given impossible standards to achieve and no means by which to accomplish them other than to learn to hurt themselves through fad diets, extreme weight loss, and sometimes even plastic surgery.

In some ways it is normal for a growing child to be a bit uncomfortable with their body especially around the time of puberty but not to the extent that has become the norm in our culture today. Instead our children should be taught to value their bodies and to take care of them through healthy diet and exercise.

One of the best ways to instill this kind of mindset in young children is to help them develop a yoga practice. Now, don’t begin to think that yoga is the cure all of cure all’s - it isn’t and it’s not meant to be. Yoga is simply another piece to the puzzle. Yoga wont cure any body issues magically - it wont make you drop fifty pounds in a week or lead you to the fountain of youth. Instead, what yoga does is much more basic, but all the more valuable because of it’s simplicity.

Yoga allows a person, of any age or body type, to get back into touch with how their body works, how unique and beautiful it is, and what it needs. This kind of mindful practice is what encourages us to remember how important it is that we take care of our bodies in the way they need and to be aware of cultural stereotypes and how they affect us.

Yoga also allows us to be mindful of the views and expectations we place on ourselves when it comes to body image. These may show up in ways we weren’t even aware of like the activities we participate in, the people we socialize with, and the work that we do. It often comes as a huge realization to people how their body image truly affects their day to day life. I personally know women who subconsciously go to the gym at certain times because it’s less busy - not to avoid crowds but so no one will see them working out - assuming that they should naturally have the perfect body. Other women will make a point of avoiding eating in front people, particularly men, lest the seem like a “pig”. It’s these kinds of self-destructive habits that we usually aren’t even aware of that can really be helped by a yoga practice.

One of the key fundamentals of yoga is to truly honor your body as perfect the way it naturally is. Now that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make an effort to exercise or be healthy - just the opposite in fact. Just as the car enthusiast who labors to keep his car working perfectly, not because he doesn’t already view it as perfect but because of his respect for it, we would do well to labor in order to keep our bodies in their top condition.

Again the way to go about staying in top condition isn’t by having regular botox injections or by starving ourselves. Instead it’s by respecting your body and it’s unique way of serving us by keeping us alive the way it does. A yoga practice is a great way to do this because it keeps you tuned in to your body’s unique needs and requirements. Not everyone has the same issues or challenges and yoga’s unique and flexible nature allows each person to adapt the practice to their own needs.

On top of all the benefits of yoga it can also truly help you create a better body image if you open yourself up to the idea that not everyone is meant to look the same or to conform to a certain ideal image. Because in the middle of a yoga class when you’re focusing on holding a new pose or on stretching just a little bit farther than you did last class you aren’t worried about how skinny you look, if your hair is in place, or what other people might be thinking of you - you’re just focused on your pose. You’re focused on being the very best you can be in that moment.

And that’s really the key to the whole thing. It’s not about comparing how you look to anyone else or about trying to look like a model in some magazine. It’s about being comfortable in your own skin. It’s about caring enough about your body to take care of it and not place any ridiculous standards on it.