Yoga philosophy teaches that we have everything we need inside of us to tend to all of life’s moments, from the happiest to the most challenging. When we slow down, get quiet, and pay attention to our personal wisdom, we can gain tremendous clarity about what we need to improve a situation, make a decision, or solve a problem. In other words, all the answers we seek exist inside of us already; we need only trust in our ability to access them.
This philosophy counters our overly stimulating consumer-driven culture. As a society, we are conditioned to look outside of ourselves for answers, seeking external validation for our decisions, feelings, and dreams. We are taught to go faster, push harder, buy more, follow others’ advice, keep up with trends, chase an ideal.
We also turn outward for others’ approval of our bodies. We do this directly with questions like Do I look all right? or How do I look? and indirectly when we compare ourselves to others, including images on social media and in magazines. Comparison is always a moment of looking outside of ourselves for a sign that we are OK. In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” When we define ourselves according to external standards rather than internal ones, we never truly stand in self-confidence.
The Importance of Positive Self-Talk
One of the most profound ways we lose hold of our personal power is through our language, especially when we negate instead of affirm, belittle instead of empower, or chastise instead of validate ourselves. Our language is everything; it shapes our reality, reinforces our body image, and reflects how we feel about ourselves. How we absorb or internalize others’ words and how we speak to ourselves directly impacts our body image and self-esteem.
Our language is not separate from our bodies. In fact, the two are intimately connected. Our bodies translate language through mood, health, perception, and disposition. For example, when we tell ourselves that we don’t measure up, that attitude comes through in subtle ways in our bodies. We might hunch our shoulders or not look others in the eye. This attitude will likely influence how we dress and maybe even how we look at food and nourish our bodies. In contrast, when we feed our minds words of confidence, we are likely to stand a little taller, feel more entitled to share our ideas, and be less distracted by what others are doing. Our dress probably mirrors our confidence, and we’re less likely to compare ourselves to others. The good news is that we can regain our personal power by using language purposefully and mindfully. This is a foundational belief of our body mindful philosophy.
Enter the “Body Mindful” Movement
What does “body mindful” mean? Body mindfulness is to purposely choose words that nurture self-validation and affirm your body in your self-talk and conversations with others. To be body mindful means to intentionally refrain from disparaging body talk and to challenge guilt, shame, and comparison self-talk. When we are body mindful, we trust that we do not need to measure ourselves against others or change our bodies in the name of social or beauty ideals.
Ultimately, body mindful is a pathway to the gifts and answers that already exist inside of us, those virtues like confidence, resilience, courage, hope, appreciation, and grace that empower us from the inside out and allow us to embrace an attitude of possibility. We can strive to change our exteriors over and over again, but unless our insides are aligned with our higher selves (all of those beautiful virtues), we will never know how to affirm our bodies.
Just as any skill we want to hone takes dedication to master, so does this body mindful process. We don’t just wake up one day and love ourselves more through pure willpower. Cultivating new body mindful language is wonderful, but it will make a difference only if we practice using it in our inner dialogue every day for the rest of our lives. We must challenge, rewire, and rewrite ingrained perspectives and beliefs, and that happens most fruitfully through dedication and repetition. We must build our mental endurance for this kind of personal work, and yoga practices are an excellent starting point and container for focusing these efforts.
Try This Body Mindful Yoga Practice
A yoga practice is any activity that guides self-awareness. A body mindful yoga practice adds the dimension of purposefully tuning in to self-talk and intentionally using self-affirming language to change your brain, uplift your mood, and ultimately, improve your sense of self. Body Mindful Yoga includes a variety of mental, physical, auditory, and visual practices designed to help you establish an awareness of your inner dialogue and incorporate body mindful language into your life with the intention of improving self-confidence. Over time and with diligent practice, the kinder words will become more readily accessible, and the less kind words won’t be as quick to show up.
To get started on your body mindful journey, try this next time you are on your mat:
Pause in a pose from time to time and observe your self-talk. Tune in to how your self-talk—positive, negative, and neutral—influences your self-confidence in that exact moment. Also observe how you experience your body. How are you holding your face, eyes, jaw, and shoulders? How does your inner dialogue empower or disempower your physical and mental experience of the pose? Keep a journal of your observations to increase your body mindful awareness and identify patterns that challenge your self-confidence in unhelpful ways.
This body mindful yoga practice is a great first step in cultivating a powerful awareness of how your inner language translates into your mood, posture, and overall wellbeing. It will also give you focused opportunities to practice observing rather than judging yourself, and open you up to exploring new affirming and empowering language to use with yourself and others, both on and off the mat.
Adapted from the book, Body Mindful Yoga, by Jennifer Kreatsoulas and Robert Butera. Reprinted with permission from Llewellyn Worldwide.
About the Authors
Robert Butera, MDiv, PhD, founded YogaLife Institute in Pennsylvania, where he trains yoga teachers and Comprehensive Yoga Therapists. Robert’s PhD at CA Institute of Integral Studies focused on Yoga Therapy. He authored The Pure Heart of Yoga, Meditation for Your Life, Yoga Therapy for Stress & Anxiety, and Body Mindful Yoga. Visit him at www.YogaLifeInstitute.com.
Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT, is a certified yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. She is an inspirational speaker and author of Body Mindful Yoga: Create a Powerful and Affirming Relationship With Your Body (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018). Jennifer provides yoga therapy via online and in person at YogaLife Institute in Wayne, PA, and leads yoga therapy groups at Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia. She teaches workshops, retreats, and specialized trainings for clinicians, professionals, and yoga teachers. Jennifer is a partner with the Yoga & Body Image Coalition and writes for Yoga Journal and other influential blogs. She has appeared on Fox29 news and has been featured in the Huffington Post, Real Woman Magazine, Medill Reports Chicago, Philly.com, and the ED Matters Podcast. Connect with Jennifer: www.Yoga4EatingDisorders.com