Yoga has countless physical benefits, from stretching and strengthening the muscles, to mobilizing the joints and the spine — but the benefits of yoga can transcend the physical body. A great teacher will delve beyond the postures to help students access the mental and emotional benefits yoga can offer.
One of my favorite aspects of teaching yoga is the opportunity to inspire my students to live their absolute best life! I want to awaken people to their full potential and empower them to love themselves.
The only thing holding us back from embracing everything about ourselves is our own limited thinking. We must move through life (as we move on the mat) with purpose, intention, and boldness. This begins by being confident in our own skin.
Yoga helps us live in the moment and be content with exactly who we are.
As you grow and evolve, even if you haven’t quite reached your physical goals, you can — and must — love your body for what it is: a strong, flexible and powerful vehicle to house your dynamic and omnipotent spirit.
Here are 8 ways you can help boost your body image through yoga
1. Honor yourself during practice with these two poses
Begin your practice on your back drawing your knees into your chest. Take a moment to thank your body for all the incredible things it does for you. This pose also stretches the low back and hips and massages your sacrum, so enjoy it!
Eagle Pose is another effective pose for self-love because it’s introspective. Your arms are crossed and lifted in front of your face, so your view is literally blocked and it encourages you to look inward.
To move into Eagle, lower your hips into a semi-squat, lift your bent right leg and wrap it around the left leg. Lift your arms out into a “T,” then stack the left elbow on top of the elbow crease of the right arm. Wrap the forearms to bring your right fingertips into your left palm. On your next exhale, draw the belly in and sink the hips a bit deeper.
Practice releasing any self-deprecating thoughts about your body with each exhale and on each corresponding inhale, replace those thoughts with something you love about your body.
Humble Warrior is another pose that highlights self-reverence is Humble Warrior. From Downward Dog, bring your right foot between your hands and spiral the back heel down so that you are in heel-to-heel alignment. Bend the front knee to a 90-degree angle and lift up your chest and arms to come into Warrior I.
To proceed into Humble Warrior, clasp your hands behind you on the inhale and fold forward on the exhale. Move your right temple toward the inside of your right knee and slowly lift your clasped hands toward the ceiling, stretching the shoulders. Bow the head in gratitude for your body, which offers you a strong foundation, as well as the flexibility to move through life gracefully.
2. Keep Your Heart Open
To exude confidence, open up your chest and front shoulders and keep your head high. Roll out your mat and practice poses like Cobra, Upward Dog, and Cow Tilt, which can help you exude confidence and move through life with an open and fearless posture. As your courage builds, move toward more advanced heart-opening poses like Bridge and Wheel.
3. Release Thoughts of Self-Doubt
Try some easy inversions to drop the head upside down and “empty” the mind of self-judgment. Self-critical thoughts are destructive habits that are learned and they can be unlearned. A few poses I like that release the head upside down are Downward Dog, Standing Forward Fold, and Wide-Legged Forward Fold.
As you explore these postures, shake the head gently from side to side and visualize negative thoughts emptying out from the top of your head. Allow each exhale to release any thoughts that don’t serve you.
4. Move in a Way That Suits Your Body
When you take my classes in the 3 Week Yoga Retreat video series, follow my cues for correct alignment (to prevent injury), but feel free to modify the posture so that it feels good in your body. If your body doesn’t look just like the cover of Yoga Magazine, don’t worry about it!
5. Strengthen The Core
Connecting to your core physically can help you feel centered mentally. With core-strengthening poses, you feel more confident overall and when we exude confidence, we become more attractive to ourselves and also to others. To strengthen your core, try poses like Boat Pose, Half Boat Pose, and forearm plank to connect to your powerhouse and shine!
6. Go With The Flow
If you dislike your body, you are in a mental state of resistance rather than acceptance. You cannot progress toward a healthy body image unless you are willing to first accept your body exactly as it is right now.
In yoga, the goal is not to be skinny, instead it’s about being fit and flexible. Loving your body and how it moves on the mat cultivates positive body image that transcends into the real world.
Just like accomplishing an advanced yoga pose, improving your perspective of your body takes practice, determination, and patience. You must be committed to changing the way you think about yourself, “catch” yourself whenever you have a self-deprecating thought, and replace it with a loving thought that nourishes you.
To release resistance and develop a more “go with the flow” attitude, try a flowing sequence of Sun Salutations A and B. Remember to breathe deeply with each movement and get into a rhythm or “flow.” As you move, feel the strength of your muscles to experience an appreciation for your body.
7. Find a Mantra
“Mantra” is just a fancy Sanskrit term for “a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation.” The idea is that when we repeat something often enough, we come to believe it.
Try to find a mantra that works to improve your body image. It can be a word, such as “beautiful” or a phrase such as “I nourish my healthy body, heart, and mind.” Spend two to four minutes repeating your mantra while visualizing your healthiest body. Try it when you first wake up to set the tone for your day and then again right before you fall asleep.
8. Breathe with Intention
Practice connecting an intention to your breath. During your yoga practice, think of a word you want to cultivate on the inhale and another word you want to release on the exhale. For example, during your practice you can say in your mind, “inhale confidence, exhale comparison” or “inhale joy, exhale judgement.”
When we stop criticizing ourselves and begin to feel more happiness within we cannot help but fully love and accept ourselves. No matter where you are on your fitness journey, your body is your temple and your powerhouse, your sanctuary and your fortress. Nourish and strengthen it with respect and reverence!
If you are new to yoga, check out Beachbody’s yoga program, 3 Week Yoga Retreat, where I, along with three other yoga experts, will guide you through the foundations of yoga.