Yoga: A Healing Force for Negative Body Image

In a world that often emphasizes the importance of physical appearance, it’s no wonder that many people struggle with negative body image. The constant barrage of unrealistic beauty standards and societal pressures can take a toll on our self-esteem and overall well-being. But what if there was a way to combat these negative thoughts and emotions? Enter yoga, a powerful practice that goes beyond the physical and has the potential to heal our relationship with our bodies. In this blog post, we’ll explore how yoga can be a healing force for negative body image, providing tools and techniques to help you embrace your body and cultivate self-love. So grab your mat, take a deep breath, and let’s dive into the transformative world of yoga.

There are many amazing things we can do to start the healing process if our body image and relationship with food is not as positive as it could be.  And let’s face it.  That’s a great many people.  I was delighted to recently learn that what looks like an amazing new Yoga class for people with negative body image and/or disordered eating is beginning in Melbourne.  I invited the teacher Joy Robbins to share more with us, including her personal story of why Yoga is so important to her.  

Joy is a Counsellor and Yoga Teacher who specialises in the treatment of  disordered eating, and negative body image.  Drawing upon her research and clinical experience in the field of expressive therapies, she utilises bodywork, creativity, and mindfulness to help people develop the inner strength and courage needed to let go of the inner critic and reclaim a sense of self-worth.

Yoga: A Healing Force for Negative Body Image

With all the hype about Yoga these days – flashy magazines with bendy, lycra-wearing models, celebrity press, Yoga bootcamps, and even a recent debate about whether or not Yoga can wreck your body, it’s all too easy to assume Yoga is just another trend to feed our obsession with constructing rock-hard bodies.  With Yoga being taught at gyms alongside kickboxing aerobics, it’s no wonder many people assume it’s nothing more than a physical practice to shed kilos and attain the perfect butt.

While it’s true that Yoga can help develop strength and flexibility, it’s a shame to limit the ancient practice to such a narrow field, when historically, Yoga (much more about training the mind than touching the toes) was developed to help people understand the causes of suffering, and offered various tools and techniques to free oneself from physical, mental, and emotional dis-ease.

In most modern Western societies, health is depicted as skin deep – a slim physique, youthfully radiant skin, toned muscles, pearly white teeth, manicured features, and adherence to the latest fashion trends.  Unfortunately, this narrow view completely neglects mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, which arguably leads many people to neglect these aspects of self-development.  As a counsellor who has sat with women from all walks of life, I can attest to the fact that body dissatisfaction is an epidemic which does not discriminate based on age, size, or ethnic background.  Women who fit the classic beauty standard are often just as insecure and dissatisfied with their appearance as anyone else.

I, too, was seduced by the desire for physical perfection, and waged war against my body for many years.  Through fluctuating periods of extreme dieting and overexercise, to binge eating and neglect, I existed in a state of constant dissatisfaction.  During one of my gym-junkie phases, I tried a Yoga class, hopeful for the endorphin rush of a good workout. Although a bit disappointed by the lack of the sweat-induced pain I was used to, I kept going back, and slowly, over a period of many years in which I dipped my toes in various styles, I started to see the value of slowing down and letting go.  As a long-time practitioner, and now as a Yoga teacher, I have always told people that one of the most beautiful gifts Yoga offered me was freedom from the relentless pursuit of physical perfection.

Yoga, classically, offers us tools to begin to accept ourselves as we are.  It teaches us that we’re all born completely whole and all have unconditional value.  As these principles begin to sink in, we can let go of incessant body dissatisfaction because we come to see ourselves as much more than the shape of our thighs.  Yoga teaches us to connect with our bodies rather than punish ourselves or numb our emotions through vigorous exercise or neglect.  We learn to become aware our breath and use it in coordination with gentle movement, which develops our capacity for concentration, playfulness and creativity.  As we begin to observe ourselves with compassion, we can’t help but develop gratitude for our bodies.  Slowly, we let go of the tendency to evaluate ourselves solely on our appearance, and begin to appreciate the magnificence of the complex processes which keep us alive (our beating heart, our digestive system, our lungs, etc).

While Yoga isn’t a quick-fix cure for poor body image, self-esteem, or food issues, it’s certainly a tool to aid in the healing process.

Thank you Joy for sharing your story with us and indeed being such a bright light for people struggling with negative body image and eating disorders.  If you’re interested in exploring Yoga in an non-intimidating environment that isn’t focused on how flexible, thin, or toned you are, but which celebrates and welcomes diverse body types, inviting you to get to know your body, mind, emotions, and spirit from a place of compassion and playfulness, then you might be interested in Joys upcoming course:

Yoga From the Inside Out

 Open to anyone over 18 who struggles with disordered eating or a negative body image

Classes focus on gentle, mindful movements coordinated with the breath, relaxation, and guided visualization to facilitate the process of letting go of the inner critic and appreciating your body regardless of weight/shape. Appropriate and welcoming to any body type. No previous yoga experience necessary. Mats provided.

Yoga has proven to be a powerful tool in healing negative body image. By combining physical movement, mental focus, and self-acceptance, yoga helps individuals develop a more positive relationship with their bodies. Through regular practice, yoga can improve body awareness, promote self-care, and cultivate self-love. It encourages individuals to embrace their unique strengths and capabilities, rather than focusing on perceived flaws or societal beauty standards. If you have experienced the transformative effects of yoga on your body image, we would love to hear your story in the comments below. Together, we can inspire and support each other on our journey towards body positivity and self-acceptance.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is most affected by negative body image?

While both boys and girls struggle with body image issues, evidence indicates that girls are more prone than boys to feel unsatisfied with their weight and looks (24,25). In our poll, 46% of girls and 25% of boys said that they worry “often” or “always” about how they look.

What gender is most affected by body image?

In general, women reported more body dissatisfaction than men did in these studies (e.g. 29, 30, 46-49). Men appear to value their bodies more than women do (42, 50, 51), and they also report slightly greater levels of body admiration (e.g., 45, 52–54).

Is negative body image a mental illness?

Having body image concerns is a relatively common experience and is not a mental health problem in and of itself; however, it can be a risk factor for mental health problems.

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