Jana is a yoga enthusiast who investigates every aspect of this ancient art with both Zen and zeal.
Acceptance Isn't Defeat
Mental and physical health is an endless journey of small corrections and habits. If an elite athlete accepted his or her body as it is and did nothing further based on the fact that acceptance happened, their fitness and performance will plummet. Similarly, there are people who don't have flawless bodies, and they are still happy – because they work at bettering what bothers them and more importantly; understand that flawless bodies are a myth. They've come to terms with the following:
- Acceptance isn't defeat, it's the starting point of self-care that involves a lifelong journey of maintenance
- Though it tends to be a silent epidemic, nobody's the only one going through body issues. Look around, whole industries exist because of how worthless people feel – cosmetics, plastic surgery, self-help salesmen, the quick fix hook within the fitness world, diet products, the list is almost endless
- Finally, they understand that overcoming unhappiness with their bodies can be as hard as breaking any addiction and that it's not a sign that there's something wrong with you, even when one falls off the positivity wagon a couple of times
Why We Hate Ourselves
List all the reasons people dislike themselves physically and you'll need enough paper to kill a small rain forest. Here are just a few.
- Media and celebrities perpetuate a fake world as reality and sell impossible dreams that are possible (if you spend enough money). For example, take a good look at the next Barbie doll you see; the woman's got no rib case. Little girls want to look that slim, but they'll have to lose their ribs in reality (hardly an option)
- Struggling with chronic illness or disability
- Being overweight
- A nameless urge to look or feel different
- Comparison with others' appearance and highlight reels
- An abusive situation where a bully, partner or parent used negative body comments as a weapon
Life is Lonely Sometimes
But Bodies are a Curse!
The good news is that most are illusions or mental scars that can heal. Yoga facilitates the process. For instances that cannot be erased, such as physical conditions or aging, yoga not only brings ease and ability but also turns self-disappointment into an empowering acceptance. When persistently practiced, several great realizations dawn that prove the body is not a drag.
- One can always change or improve physically
- Genetics don't have to have the last say when it comes to attitude and appearance
- The best is that other people don't judge us by our looks as much as we believe.
When self-image is low, it believes others cannot see past our perceived physical flaws. As the mind starts to heal through yoga, it grasps that this is hardly the case with most individuals we interact with on a daily basis. In addition, the mind learns to soberly separate those who accept us and those who unfairly judge. When the latter appears, the yoga practitioner is also more comfortable in their skin not to be so taken in by this kind of shallow behaviour.
The Secret is Trust
At the core of every self-image worry is trust. We don't trust other people's acceptance of us. One feels betrayed with a bad diagnosis or the scale showing an extra dollop of fat. Sometimes, it feels like our physical shell has its own life or even out to destroy us. Why else would it age and die? Develop cancer? It's not often spoken about but most people fear their bodies and all the ways it can go wrong. This disconnects the physical, mental and spiritual sides.
Yoga is not a miracle cure. This ancient art is not the key to immortality, either. Yoga brings comfort and understanding about the human condition. It's a way to feel better in one's own body by not fighting it as a separate entity — something it never was. The longer it's battled as the enemy “out there” the longer unhappiness might last. Yoga makes the two hold hands, the body and the mind, strengthened by the understanding that there's no enemy. Only a lack of body awareness.
Why Body Awareness is Important
This concept isn't as simple as being conscious of one's body. As a very important part of yoga, body awareness involves:
- Learning how the anatomical side of things work
- What's good for a body in general and on an individual basis
- Your limits, aptitudes and biological rhythms.
The better you get at understanding what makes your body tick, then better steps can be taken to improve its state. That's right, yoga's not just about hating the lotus pose. As practice and knowledge grows, yoga reacquaints you with your physical side in enjoyable ways – getting fitter, more flexible and cultivating acceptance instead of fear.
Find Your Limits
The road to acceptance starts with limits. It takes one yoga session to find them! After a few postures, you'll have an idea of how far you can stretch and what kind of exercises you have a knack for. Soon enough, you'll also become more in touch with what the feelings you have towards your body; the good and the bad, even those that are suppressed. Once they are out in the open, limits and aptitudes can be worked with in a positive manner.
After a few sessions, it might even become clear when your energy cycles are high and low, allowing you to sync your practice for optimal energy peaks and thus the benefits yoga has to offer. Yoga also brings balance to a person who tends to have drastic energy peaks and dips, introducing a more steady flow that prevents exhaustion and anger towards the body.
Yoga Breaks Limits
When Limits Expand
There comes a moment in every yogi's practice that's pure triumph. After weeks of working a difficult posture, the body suddenly eases past a limit. You can suddenly touch your toes with your fingertips. You hold your balance for the first time during a hairy balancing pose. You no longer hate the lotus because your legs fold into position without pain. That's the joy of yoga — a seemingly small improvement is a huge deal to somebody who smashes a particular barrier. Rightly, so. At last, the body is starting to respond the way you ask it to and benefits arise that flows into other areas of life — better sleep, more endurance and like a true yogi; the drive to challenge other limits one attempt at a time.
At the end of the day, persistence brings results and a feeling of control returns. This is a big thing. Powerless feelings regarding the body disconnect us in the first place. Nobody in their right mind is happy with powerlessness but progress on the yoga mat breeds confidence and control.
Stop the Punishment
Stop punishing yourself for not being physically flawless. If you were perfect, you'd be the first one in human history. Look past the promised perfection of others' social media photos, glossy magazines and the red carpet. Those are moments, not lives. Often, quite fake. Strive to get to know your body and characteristics responsible for its uniqueness. Yoga is the perfect tool to start liking your physical side, warts and all. The exercises bring the buzz of fitness while meditation effectively deals with the mental side of a negative body image.
© 2018 Jana Louise Smit