In today's world of social media, perfection and criticism, it is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking you do not and cannot fit into the very small category that society has created as being "the way to be!"
It has been very much drummed into us that if we do not look a certain way, act a certain way or have certain things then we are in someway failing.
How do we break free from the feeling of "not fitting in?"
I believe the society we live in is becoming much more acceptable and appreciative to the fact that people are different, but I find there is still an awful lot of stigma over body image.
So, lets talk bodies......
Being a yoga teacher I see both men and women looking to actively change their bodies to look a certain way.
Men often strive for strength, muscle and power and women want the flat stomach, toned bottom and perfectly formed thighs.
It's absolutely fine to put in hours at the gym if that makes you feel good. And for some of us it really does. But being in a gym environment can also bring on feelings of comparability and anxiety. I have watched myself in a gym environment and for me all I see around me are people who are stronger, fitter, thinner, more toned and it does nothing for my inner happiness.
I'm talking about the mental struggle that comes with accepting and loving ourselves.
The need to be perfectly sculptured is usually driven by what we read and see. Whether this is as we scroll through endless social media posts, adverts, in the newspaper, on TV or even out and about in public. It has a way to make us feel inadequate in who we are and how we are.
Before I found yoga I loathed my body. I spent years being overweight and I hated every crease, every wrinkle, every curve, every blemish. Some parts were definitely too big, others definitely too small, some super wobbly, and some of the "hangy" bits I didn't want at all. After carrying two beautiful children and having two c-sections, everything looked and felt repulsive.
But why did I feel this way?
There are currently around 7.8 billion people in the world - how completely boring would it be if we were all the same?
We are all made to have different levels of intelligence, personality and character traits, morals, experience, aspirations and our ever changing emotions. So, whats the difference when it comes to our bodies?
When we have issues with our body image it can become a never ending problem in our daily lives. Some people can start to experience unhealthy eating behaviours (either overeating or under eating), depression, anxiety, self harming, social anxieties and in the worst cases suicide.
Statistics show that just over one in five adults (21%) said images used in advertising had caused them to worry about their body image.
Just over one in five adults (22%) and 40% of teenagers said images on social media caused them to worry about their body image.
With worrying statistics like this, surely its important for us to educate our younger generations that positive body image is of paramount importance.
When I started to practice yoga I very quickly noticed that I became aware of my body. Not just how it moved but more importantly how it felt. It was a feeling I hadn't experienced before and at first it felt somewhat uncomfortable. For the first time in my life I was actually connected to my body. As time passed and I became more at ease with this connection it became a normality to simply "notice" how my physical body felt.
The more I noticed the more appreciative I became of my body. Over the years it made me realise that I needed to make changes in my life to make sure this feeling did not get disturbed by outside sources.
I began to make small changes in my everyday life to help me limit the feeling of not being good enough. These are the little changes I have made, and I continue to work on each day:
Unfollow people / pages on social media that have made me feel worthless and replaced this to following people / pages that made me feel positive about myself
Started to read books that empowered me and helped me to feel happy
Stopped talking negatively about my body - to myself in my head and also around my children - this is very important if we want to help change the way the next generation think and feel about themselves
Appreciated the feeling when my body has felt good
Observed and watched when my body has felt less than good
When I look in the mirror, I consciously make myself look at my body as a whole and not just at the parts that capture my attention in a negative way
How can yoga help with positive body image?
Yoga creates an appreciative relationship with your body through movement
With its tenets of peace, self-compassion, and acceptance, it's a path to softening and even transforming the way we look at ourselves. Through yoga, we practice harmony within and strengthen our relationship with our body.
Yoga helps us see that we can celebrate possibilities rather than limitations
As we have said, it is so easy to focus on what’s “wrong” with our bodies. So often we fixate on what our bodies "can’t" do. This negativity hardens our once playful and curious selves. Yoga poses can help us shed that hardened layer we carry; it’s a safe space where we can explore. No external factors hinge on whether we can balance on one leg or not. The only limiting factor is when we focus on limitations instead of possibilities.
The next time you’re on your mat, tune into your inner dialogue. Notice self-talk that makes you doubt your body. How can you shift to language that embraces a curious spirit? How can you approach yoga poses from a playful mindset versus one of perfection or ideals? Get curious about what’s possible if you approach a pose with appreciation for your body. Doing this is a gateway to a kinder relationship with your body.
Yoga shows us how to observe - not judge
When we’re on our yoga mats, we notice instead of criticise, we watch with compassion. Observing is a practice of being neutral towards all that arises. And learning this skill is key to creating a positive relationship with our bodies. If we don't break the cycle of self-judgement, it will be difficult to improve the way we think about our body image.
Yoga is the best way I know how to practice presence
When we are caught in negative thinking about our bodies, we are not present. Instead, we are trapped in the past or future, comparing ourselves to how we looked last year or how we want to look next month. Feelings of guilt and shame often show up, causing us to lose connection with the present moment and making it even harder to feel confident in our bodies. Through breathing practices and yoga poses, we learn to practice presence, which is an essential tool in helping us to feel calm.
Your breath is a pure anchor in the present moment. So, take some time to sit quietly and observe your breath for a few minutes. When you’re practising, notice how your breathing affects your balance or your twists. Calm breath = calm mind = calm body!
Yoga helps us tap into our inner wisdom
Over time, yoga helps us clear out mental clutter that may have been suppressing wisdom and insights about why we struggle with body image or what factors influence how we experience our physical bodies. Such wisdom can get buried under the weight of shame and guilt and other feelings or self-sabotaging behaviours. The more we can incorporate the virtues of presence, curiosity, and appreciation into our yoga practice and life, the more space there is for wisdom to make itself known.
So, in a nutshell, don't punish yourself for eating or drinking something you love, take time to realise how beautiful you are, enjoy your body as it is and be comfortable in the body that has carried you through different experiences this far in life.
We are all simply made to be different!
"Exercise because you LOVE your body, not because you hate it"
Breathe and just be - accept and embrace the greatness that is You-niquely YOU!
Love Zara x
Fearne Cotton's Happy Place - Bodyposipanda (Megan Jane Crabbe)
Fearne Cotton's Happy Place - Aimi Maunders
Bodycons - Episode 1: Why we need to talk about body image with Nadia Craddock
Bodycons - Episode 4: Instagram vs reality, body image in a social media age with Emily Fisher
Fearne Cotton - Happy, the journal
Fearne Cotton - Quiet
If you need extra support and would like to talk to someone about your feelings towards body image, take a look at this website: