Learning to Love Your Body: Lessons From a Body Image/Yoga Workshop

“Dear Body…”

This is the simple but powerful journal prompt that yoga instructor and young women’s mentor Ally Maz posed to us in her body-image yoga workshop; Girlvana which was run through the online yoga subscription platform Open. Writing a letter to your body is empowering, scary, evocative, painful, beautiful, and different for everyone, and it began to help me be honest with myself about how I feel about my body and how much kinder I can be to it. Throughout the Girlvana workshop, Ally gave us questions, thoughts, and exercises that helped me think about my body in entirely new ways and helped me start to develop a better relationship with the skin I am in. I want to share some of the tokens I gained from this workshop that will help anyone on their journey to self-love and body acceptance. 

  1. 1. Practicing Consent and Trusting Your Body 

    The concept of consent and listening to your body has become very important in recent years. But poor body image, constant advertising, sexual harassment or assault, eating disorders, and other painful life experiences can make it difficult to listen to and trust our own bodies and when they are saying “no.” As we went through a simple yoga flow, Ally paused in each pose asking “does this feel like yes in your body or no in your body?” She explained that this practice of self-consent can help us to trust the intuition of our own bodies, a trust that is often lost when we have experiences in which our bodies are disrespected or violated. The concept of listening to the “yes and no” of your body can be applied in exercise, food, and physical/sexual relationships. 

    As children, we trust when our bodies tell us we are hungry, uncomfortable, angry and all the things we are eventually told to suppress. When the world communicates to us that our bodies need to be suppressed and fixed and that they exist for the pleasure of others, instead of doubting the people telling us that, we doubt our own individual, divine bodies. By practicing self-consent on this smaller level like in the yoga practice, we can begin to trust our bodies and love them for the messages they send us to keep us safe. You can do this by pausing throughout your day and asking the question, “does this feel like yes in my body or no in my body?” and honoring whatever the answer may be. 

  2. 2. Your Body is an Instrument, Not an Ornament

    When Ally quoted Lindsay Kite saying, “your body is an instrument, not an ornament,” it hit me hard. She asked us to reflect upon the times in life in which our bodies felt like ornaments for the world versus the times they felt like instruments for something greater. People shared times of feeling like an ornament due to comments about their body from friends and family, social media, being stigmatized or idolized solely on appearance, diet culture, and so much more. The world tells us we need to be ornaments that need to fit into tiny, acceptable boxes that are palatable to the masses. But we aren’t meant to be in boxes, we aren’t meant to be palatable, we are meant to be our full, unique, loud, honest selves and to TAKE UP SPACE in this world. We must reclaim the unshakable truth that our bodies are instruments for whatever we choose. I am not an ornament, and I refuse to continue fitting myself into boxes so that I’ll be nice to look at or easy to digest. That in itself is an act of rebellion; I’ll take free and wild before nice and easy any day.

    Reflecting on the ways in which my body feels like an instrument for something greater was so inspiring and empowering. It brought to light the places in my life I have allowed myself to fully express and fully be myself. It inspired me to sink into those places more, and to find more places in my lift to treat my body as an instrument. Understanding the parts of your life that you allow yourself to exist in your fullness can help you lean into them and unleash you in all your divine glory. Understanding how our bodies are instruments can also give us a sense of gratitude and appreciation for all our bodies do. Our bodies give us energy, move us through the world, communicate sensations to us, connect to other people, keep us alive, allow us to create and so much more beyond our comprehension. When we treat our bodies as ornaments, appearance becomes the most important thing. But when we recognize our bodies for the complex, beautiful, magical instruments they are, obsession with appearance can finally take a seat and we can claim our higher purposes with our full bodies and minds. 

  3. 3. How Do You Punish Your Body, How Do You Honor Your Body?

    Ally had us make two columns in our journals, one labeled punish and one labeled honor. She asked us to write all the ways in which we tend to punish our bodies and all the ways in which we honor it. This exercise was honestly quite painful for me. I admitted to myself the many things that I tell myself are for the best, but in actuality are deeply punishing. I and many others shared body-punishing behaviors such as feeling guilty/punishing after eating certain foods, ignoring hunger for long stretches of time or not eating, constant body checking in the mirror, over-exercising and exercising past pain, constant weighing, feeling guilty for relaxing/napping, and not setting physical boundaries in relationships. It'a easy to do these things and convince ourselves that these kinds of behaviors are “good in the moment” or “not that bad,” but something Ally asked us is “would you do that to a loved one?” When we look at these things through that lens, it'a not difficult to see that we are frequently harming ourselves. 

    Writing in the column of how I honor my body was such a great feeling and it helped me recognize the things I should continue to embrace as well as brainstorm new ways to honor my beautiful body. Some things on my list included eating when I am hungry, giving myself water and nutritious food, moving my body but listening to it/not pushing past pain, listening to my body when it is tired, indulging in treats and favorite foods, and starting to verbally establish physical boundaries in my relationships. I still struggle every day to choose whether I am going to choose to punish or honor my body, but recognizing these categories has made it feel as though I actually do have the power to choose to honor myself again and again. And that’s the truth of the matter, it's an ongoing process. In order to reach self-love and acceptance, we have to choose to honor ourselves again and again

Living in this world is really hard. We are constantly being told that we need to be fixed, but you are not broken, you do not need to be fixed. The world tells us to fit in boxes, but we are far too vast to fit inside of anything. One of the main ideas that is central to Girlvana is, “The world needs you to be you.” And it's true, the world needs you to be all of you. The world needs you to honor yourself, to take up space, and to be you. It is a fight every day, but we are in this together. I hope that as I and others commit to fighting for ourselves, the first words that come after “Dear Body..” can be thank you

Click on the following links if you'd like to know more about Open, Girlvana, and Ally Maz!

Woman meditates with her eyes closed Photo by Mikhail Nilov from Pexels