As much as I don’t like to admit it, we live in a very aesthetically driven society, where the image we portray through our looks, actions and accessories can drive us to have unrealistic expectations about how we should look, and whether we “measure up.”
As recovered anorexic, having struggled with body image and self-esteem from a really young age, I know as well as the next person how difficult it can be to feel confident in our own skin, when we are constantly subjected to images of perfect women, generally heavily made-up, lighting assisted and photo-shopped! I have tried many things to help improve the way that I view my body and the way that I talk to myself, and although its always a work in progress, I have healed many of these wounds through yoga, and are now, principles I teach (and re-learn) in yoga every day.
Comparison is the root of all of our fears – and on the yoga mat (as in life!) we are often comparing the start of our journey to someone else’s middle; we may look at someone else who is far more “advanced” and feel less capable or accomplished; in truth they have perhaps spent many years refining their practice, and so how can we compare our weeks/ months on the mat to a seasoned professional? We do the same off the mat – comparing our bodies to models, TV presenters etc.- when they have likely spent years working on or sacrificing for what they have, many times sacrificing health, relationships and more for their image or status. They are also privy to many artificial forms of image enhancement, which in a way just drives us further away from self love- the notion that we need to change, fix, or measure up to an ideal to be “beautiful.” Is this something that is really desirable? Doesn’t seem to be to me! Yoga teaches us to go within, and not to compare our practice against any measure, even with ourselves, as we may feel different in our bodies on any given day, and even comparing our practice to yesterday will leave us feeling less than uplifted.. My favourite quote on yoga is By Deepak Chopra, he said:
“Yoga is not a way to add, change or improve who we are, it is a practice to realize we are already whole, perfect just as we are.” So start with not comparing!
Zone in, rather than “zone out”
We often think of our yoga practice as a way to “zone out” from the stressors, pressures and busy-ness of our daily lives. But in fact the way to get the space and clarity we seek is to “zone in” – to our bodies and breath. When we are so consumed with the breath, and the physical sensation of the asana, we have no space to be comparing or stressing about how we look, we are deeply focused on the feeling body. My singing teacher talks about this as the crux of finding our confidence – when we are really with ourselves, in our bodies, and not in our over- analytical minds, we are rooted in our true nature, without stress or fear of judgement – wherein lies our true, confident, Self
My whole life I have had an unhealthy drive for “perfection” – to be the best at everything, to somehow appear to be perfectly intelligent, striving for the perfect body, and to be “perfectly successful.” How exhausting! I realized that this is actually not really living, as we are always going to fall short of our own definition of perfect; and even crazier still- is that perfection is subjective – my idea of perfection is totally different to the next persons…and so, by this definition, doesn’t actually exist! The moment I grasped this, was a game changer for how I live my life! I no longer aim to be “perfect,’ but to be the perfect version of ME.
Builds physical strength.
Yoga helps to build physical strength and stamina – especially the more yang styles of practice such as Power, Hot, and Ashtanga for example. When we increase our strength and physical capabilities, we tend to feel more confident, able and strong in other areas of our lives
Builds mental and emotional resilience.
Yoga certainly does this! There are many times when I am too tired, stressed or busy to get onto my mat – but I do it anyway. Building a strong force of habit and resisting the temptation of our ego to discourage us, is a surefire way to build more emotional and mental resilience. As is holding in a really uncomfortable pose for an extended period of time- the internal conversations that we have about not being strong enough, or being too tired, are forced to take a back seat as we breathe through and come out the other side unscathed. And so we learn that we can apply this same resilience – when we feel not good enough, attractive enough, capable enough, we can use the same tools we learn on our yoga mat, to breathe through, and come through unscathed.
Yoga to me is possibility; when we see a posture that appears unattainable, but through dedication and work becomes possible, then I realize there are so many things I have deemed impossible, that are in fact possible. Like the possibility of loving ourselves truly in the form that we are in, wholly and completely. Yep!
Builds unity and connection.
The literal translation of Yoga is “to Yoke” – to unite. On so many levels – not only uniting our body and mind, but also the collective –the greater environment and ourselves. Yoga challenges the idea that we are separate, and teaches that we are one “Body Mind”; and we are all part of a collective consciousness. When we can see this, we can see that in order to truly be happy, loved and free, and to allow others to experience these things, it starts with us. It becomes less about us, and more about the collective consciousness.
The principles of yoga are a way to live, rather than a set of postures, and like anything worthwhile, take time, patience and diligence to incorporate into our lives. My hope is that through yoga, we can learn to love who we are, exactly as we are, and teach our children to do the same.
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Article by Rosie McCaughey
Rosie McCaughey is the Director of Rise Yoga in Richmond, whose mission and vision it is to promote positive body image and self worth through yoga. She donates $1 from every students visit, every time to the Butterfly Foundation, Australia’s national eating disorder foundation, She is a qualified sports Physiotherapist, Yoga teacher, Clinical pilates teacher and massage therapist.