This weekend is weekend 3 of the 8 weekends spread out over 5 months for my 200hr yoga teacher training with Empowered Yoga. The more I learn about the practice of yoga, the more I believe it can help anyone with any challenge or struggle in their life. Yoga was instrumental in my own journey with body image and disordered eating, so today I want to share with you, 5 Ways Yoga Can Help You Improve Your Relationship With Your Body.
Yoga Reconnects You With Your Body
I was so disconnected with my body before I began practicing yoga regularly. I spent years ignoring it and pushing it to follow certain ways of eating, whether under eating, not balancing my blood sugar and then binge eating. I also pushed it with hours of intense exercise with a focus on calorie burning and not wellbeing. I pushed through injuries, illness and fatigue. It was like my head was disconnected to the rest of my body. I focused solely on how it looked and totally forgot that my body could experience pleasure…. until one of my first yoga classes. The studio I started practicing at didn’t have mirrors, which I appreciate to this day. Instead of looking at how I looked in each posture, I had to go within and feel how my body felt in the posture. I learned how to connect my breath with movement and experienced that notorious yoga high. I began to notice that I could feel damn good in my body, when I stopped the inner critic from taking over. Yoga connects us to our body in the present moment, which is important in healing that relationship with your body.
Breathing Calms Our Nervous System
Our thoughts have the power to trigger a stress response and keep us in that chronic stress state. Our sympathetic nervous system is our fight or flight nervous system, while our parasympathetic nervous system is our rest and digest nervous system. When we are constantly worried about how we look, berating ourselves because we don’t fit into our jeans or pinching our tummies, we put ourselves in a chronic sympathetic nervous system response. Being in this state all the time, we will struggle to be able to listen to our intuition. This state perpetuates the negative thoughts and also increases cravings and affects our blood sugar, which can contribute to binge or emotional eating. Breath is a big part of yoga and can quickly tap into our parasympathetic nervous system taking us out of that stress response. This is true self-care. When we are in this state, we can be aware and conscious and therefore make better choices for our body.
Yoga Focuses On How Your Body Moves, Not What It Looks Like
Unlike what popular media might portray, yoga isn’t about doing crazy poses. The typical yogi tends to be portrayed in the media one way; thin, flexible and always wears a matching outfit, while doing crazy bendy poses that look like she belongs in the circus. That’s not what yoga is about, so don’t let that image portrayed in the media stop you from attending a class. Yoga is for every body shape and size. It teaches us to work with where our body is right now as our strength, flexibility and balance can change day to day. It helps us keep our ego in check too. I used to let my ego take over when it came to my physical pursuits. Whether that involved running fast and far or lifting heavy and completing a WOD as fast as possible. With yoga it took me a full year of regular practice to be able to do a headstand away from the wall. You cannot rush the process.
Yoga isn’t even about constantly improving the physical practice of asana either. Asana is actually meant to prepare us for meditation. One thing yoga teaches us with movement is proper alignment and engagement, which makes it a sustainable way to move. If you want to be able to move your body well and continue to do the things you love as you age, then you need to learn now and start breaking bad compensatory habits. Focusing on quality movement, instead of exercise to burn calories completely changes the way you view your body and helps you come from that place of love when you do choose to move it.
Yoga Teaches Us Mindfulness
When we are focused on our breath and engaging the right muscles and ensuring our alignment is good, it takes us into the present moment. Often when we struggle with low body image, we are either focused on how we used to look in the past or how we want to look in the future. We disassociate with our body in the present moment because we don’t like the way it looks. When we can bring ourselves into the present moment and build mindfulness, we can start to listen to our bodies signals now. Often we override them with excessive exercise, not enough rest and restriction, which always lead to binge eating. With mindfulness we can start to become present to our inner guidance system, known as our intuition, and give our bodies what they truly need. Self-care and self-love at it’s finest.
Yoga Teaches Us To Let Go Of Control
Whether we’re talking about being able to do a specific pose or transcending enlightenment, yoga teaches us we have no control of when this will happen. The same goes with learning to accept and then love your body. We need to release that perceived control over our body and just honour it’s needs in the moment. This is showing your body love. When we let go of control we can move towards becoming more engaged and connected with our inner truth. You may also hear the term non-attachment come up in a yoga class and this is teaching us not to attach to our thoughts. We have so many thoughts enter our minds each day and we can choose not to attach and therefore not react to them either. Those thoughts that tell you, you don’t look thin enough can be observed with non-attachment instead of immediately thinking you need to go on a diet or start up an intense exercise regime to change your physical appearance. Often, underneath those distorted thoughts is a faulty belief system that we don’t have to believe and can work on changing.
There are so many other ways that yoga can help us build a healthy relationship with our body and I’m sure I’ll share more as my journey progresses. I hope you find these 5 reasons helpful and maybe they’ll inspire you to start your own yoga practice.