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"Working with Sarah Maria has helped me to see that I am inherently loveable, beautiful, and valuable, no matter what. She has given me tools and techniques to break free from self-hatred and put love in its place. I am incredibly grateful for her and her incredible program. I recommend this book for anyone who wants to love her body and lover her life."

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-Leigh Ann Jones, age fifty-four

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Articles: Yoga and Body Image

Yoga and Body Image

Do you love your body? Honestly, do you?

If you are a woman in this country, chances are that you don't. 80-90% of adult women dislike their bodies. 15% of women say they would sacrifice more than five years of their lives to be thinner, while 24% say they would sacrifice up to three years of their life.

We have passed this pathological dissatisfaction onto our daughters: 81% of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat, 78% of 18-year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies, and the number one wish of girls 11-17 years old is to lose weight. 51% of 9 and 10 year-old girls feel better about themselves when dieting, and 9% of 9-year-olds have vomited to lose weight. [i]

Men have also become increasingly dissatisfied with their appearance, with many spending countless hours at the gym trying to develop six-pack abs.

Is your yoga practice improving your body image, leading you to greater acceptance and appreciation of your physical body? Or is it just one more attempt to develop that "perfect body", eventually leading to suffering and angst?

Yoga historically was about spiritual union: it was the process whereby one could still his or her mind and experience the divine. The focus was on being able to sit comfortably so that the practitioner could engage in pranayama and meditation.

For many, however, yoga has become a health and fitness routine. This is not necessarily a bad evolution: certainly yoga asanas have profound benefits, and many people have been exposed to a spiritual path after exploring yoga to improve their health.

With every positive advance, however, there is often a negative component. As yoga has become center-stage in the American health and fitness world, it can easily become just another way to try and achieve a picture-perfect body.

The problem with this is that it locates the source of happiness outside of ourselves. "I will be happy when I look like the cover of Yoga Journal"; "I will be happy when my body is more flexible"; "I will be happy when I lose this extra weight"; "I will be happy when I can do this advanced asana".

These beliefs are very subtle, and because they are cloaked in yoga-language, they are easy to miss. But they are destructive and can lead you into more suffering instead of greater peace. The popular culture teaches us that we can only have lasting peace and satisfaction when we achieve certain things, such as money, fame, and beauty. Yoga teaches us, however, that peace and satisfaction is to be found in this moment, right here, right now.

How do you make sure that your yoga practice is leading you down a path of acceptance instead of judgment? How do you make sure that your yoga practice is helping you befriend your body instead of sculpting it into the latest fashion? Here are some useful tips:

  • Let go of images of what your body and your yoga practice should look like

    Yoga images can be just as harmful as other media images, depending on how we view them. It is easy to find thin, svelte, beautiful images of women plastered on yoga magazines and calendars. It is also easy to feel deficient if you don't feel good about your own body.

    Remind yourself that yoga is not about developing the perfect body. Use your yoga practice to love and appreciate your body as it is, right now, and you will gradually become infatuated with the miracle that is you.

  • Focus on the present moment

    Our yoga practice can help us to see all the ways that we flee the present moment, or it can itself serve as an escape. Don't let yoga become an escape for you, instead, notice where you feel uncomfortable. Use your practice to uncover and address pain as well as pleasure through present moment awareness.

  • Be mindful of your inner dialogue

    Yoga can help us to become increasingly aware of our own inner dialogue. Do you attack yourself for not being good enough or not doing enough? Do you critique your body and your asana practice? Or do you offer words of compassion, encouragement, and love to yourself? Do you offer nurturance and affection to yourself? Become aware of how you talk to yourself and transform your dialogue to offer love and understanding.

  • Take time to meditate

    It is easy to focus on asana practice, but don't neglect meditation. Yoga historically has always been about meditation. Through meditation we can begin to access the silence and stillness that is our true nature. With regular meditation practice this stillness will infiltrate your yoga practice as well as the rest of your life.

Ultimately, when you approach your yoga as a constant-and-forever-changing-process, instead of as an accomplishment that needs to be achieved, you can experience the amazing health benefits that yoga offers, as well as the peace and tranquility that comes from cultivating self-acceptance and self-love.

Sarah Maria's is a body-image expert and personal empowerment coach who helps people love and accept their bodies and themselves. She is a long-time yoga practitioner, Certified Meditation Instructor, and Ayurvedic Lifestyle Counselor. Please visit her website at www.breakfreebeauty.com.

[i] Body Wars: Making Peace with Women's Bodies, Margo Maine, PhD, Gurze Books, 2000

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