Body Compassion

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Summer often creates a mental equation for many of us: Hot climate = less clothing + my body – compassion = < body image

Even those who have a healthy body image can find themselves struggling when it comes to swimsuits. But, if we add, instead of subtract, compassion to the equation, we could have a neutral body image result.

Growing up as a tomboy with two older brothers, I couldn’t think of anything worse when my mother mentioned I was “developing.” My machismo, later paired with competitive gymnastics, exacerbated the problem. Can you imagine participating in a sport that strives for perfection from a body that must not develop beyond the age of 12 to stay competitive—and wearing tight leotards daily?

Soon I was obsessed with my body, which led to low self-esteem. Over the years I knew this hyper- awareness of my body would have to cease. I couldn’t foresee happiness in my life if my main goal was not having my body.

I had been practicing yoga and I initially experimented with it as another way to change my body, but I realized that my perspective was changing. My outlook began to turn into an “inlook.”

Instead of focusing on my external body, I felt my breath: the inner workings of diaphragm movement extending my abdomen, then the resulting movement in my spine from lung expansion, to the muscles between the ribs. My waistline turned into my abdomen.

The process wasn’t overnight, but with persistence, I retained the peaceful feelings about myself and my body. Through yoga we can release negative thoughts about the body, rather than nourish them.

Changing deep-seated thought patterns is not easy—you have to be motivated. If you aren’t motivated to make a change, and you use a group class to compare yourself to others, then yoga can actually be counterproductive. With patience, the will to change, and proper instruction, yoga can work wonders.

Studies have shown that the perceived body image of women taking biweekly yoga classes changed in a significant and positive manner. Severe body image distortion leads to eating disorders, another condition in which yoga has been proven to help remedy. According to the National Eating Disorders Collaboration website, yoga can help a person with self-care and personal nourishment. It can reduce stress levels, which can lead to improved  health and clearer thinking. Practicing yoga regularly can help people reconnect with, and become more in tune with, their bodies.

Although body image issues differ, a common factor feeding insecurities is media advertising. Most advertising images are Photoshopped; images of women are often unreal.

Recently, Complex magazine accidentally published an unretouched photo of Kim Kardashian on its website. The photo was immediately removed and replaced with the perfected image. Kardashian, known for her exquisite physique, isn’t good enough. If we continue to chase after society’s unattainable computer-enhanced bodies, then of course we will believe recurring negative thoughts about our bodies. Thankfully, the American Medical Association recently announced a stand against image manipulation in advertising, stating that alterations made through processes like Photoshop can contribute to unrealistic body image expectations, eating disorders and other emotional problems.

Many factors contribute to body image misconceptions, but with patience, will, and the help of proper yoga instruction, you can change your perspective.

According to the Psychology of Women Quarterly, “Yoga practitioners report less self-objectification, greater satisfaction with physical appearance, and fewer disordered eating attitudes compared to non-yoga practitioners.”

Close your eyes and turn inward. Choose to love yourself and your body.

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