As a yoga and mindfulness teacher, as well as a nutrition advisor, people expect me to have a healthy relationship with my body.
And I do. But my self-confidence has been hard-won.
For years, I struggled with body hatred. I blamed my body for anything bad that happened in my life. Then I punished my body for those hurts by drinking too much and mindlessly eating junk food, then dieting or over-exercising. Each calorie gained or lost was a mental mark up or down on my self-worth score card.
But no longer. About 10 years ago I started a daily mindfulness practice and soon had the aha moment that changed it all.
The battle was never with my body. It was always with my mind.
If we hate any part of ourselves, nothing will be good enough. Unless we have a healthy, loving relationship with our mind and body, we will never be thin enough, toned enough, or pretty enough to find peace and happiness. It’s a rabbit hole we can’t climb out of.
The ancient yogic texts urge us to practice ahimsa, the practice of having compassion for self and others. But the texts don’t lay out exactly how to do ahimsa, leaving it to each one of us to define it in our own way. So how can we make self-love our default setting?
Here are some ways to practice loving the body you’re in:
Make eating a sacred experience.
It’s common practice to say a prayer before eating. But what if eating is the prayer—a holy moment where we can connect to the Divine? Rather than thinking about food as an enemy, think of it as a way to connect to Source energy. We can then absorb the sun’s energy from the tomatoes and a friend’s love from the cookies they baked. Enjoy the process of preparation, savor the smells, and be present with your food and the people you are eating with.
When we see food as a vehicle for self-actualization, we’re less likely to choose garbage (would you serve Buddha or Jesus a Big Mac? Um, no.) and more likely to know when we’re full. What we allow in our mind is just as important as what we allow in our bellies. I’ve seen it over and over working with clients: when we stop giving food the power and instead place the power in being present, we settle into a happy weight.
Practice daily self-care.
Treat your body with love and the habits needed for physical transformation develop naturally. My husband works with the elderly, which often entails simply sitting and listening to them. One thing he hears over and over is how many people, looking back on their life, wished they had taken better care of themselves.
Don’t live a life that will reveal regret when it’s too late to do anything about it. Choose to be present in the life you have right now. Adopt a daily stillness practice by praying, meditating, or practicing mindfulness. Eat real food with ingredients you can pronounce. Move your body every day, not as punishment for what you ate, but to remember your bad-assery. Play hard, finding those activities that fill your spiritual cup, and then rest deeply.
Take time to recalibrate.
Every time you wash your hands, close your eyes and take three long, deep, centering breaths. Then bring your awareness to your feet. Notice how your feet keep you strongly rooted on the earth, but the deep breathing makes you feel simultaneously light and spacious. This interplay of energy helps us integrate our bodies and minds.
Remember that “change is gonna come.”
In Buddhism, the first rule of existence is annica, or impermanence. This is the fact that everything is going to change. As humans, our impulse is to try and control things, but annica reminds us that we’re going to be a lot happier if we loosen the reigns and go with the flow a bit more. Our bodies are continuously becoming something else. On a molecular level, you’re different right now than when you started reading this. Physically, we will atrophy and die. On your death bed, you will not wish you had had thinner thighs. You’ll wish you used them more often to run, climb trees, dance, and make love.
What endures after we’re gone will be the memories our loved ones hold of us. They will remember our laugh, our terrible singing voice, or our ability to bust a move. They will probably not remember, or care, how much we weighed. Because our truest essence has nothing to do with the size or shape of our body.
Say thank you.
Honor your body for the blessing it is. Your shape is unique in the world and it’s no accident that it looks the way it looks. Stop focusing on all the ways you think your body has let you down and start celebrating all that it has accomplished. Being happy arises from a willingness to see what’s already amazing about ourselves. An attitude of gratitude will start to illuminate negative thoughts, so that when they arise we’ll see them for the falsehoods they are. Each time this happens, it becomes easier to come back to a place of appreciation.
Author: Erin Smith
Image: Kevin Dooley/Flickr
Editor: Nicole Cameron