Yoga, it’s sweeping the world! Traditionally yoga was only practiced by men, as women were not allowed to practice and were considered obstacles to enlightenment. But, if you scan a yoga studio now you could probably count the number of males on one hand with 85 per cent of US yoga classes being occupied by women. While images of toned bodies wearing brand name yoga gear (gear which I must admit I love) makes it easy to perceive yoga to be only for a certain target audience, the truth is yoga is for everyone and many of us could benefit from practicing this discipline.
I first introduced to yoga as a way of managing my stress. It became my lunch time addiction every working day. I would race to the gym for my 60 minute yoga session which was mainly about physical postures (also called asanas). There was little talk about listening to your own body or selecting a suitable posture for what you as an individual were capable of doing at that present moment. Much like the constant comparison in society, these yoga sessions came with ego attached and subsequently the true meaning of yoga was lost.
When you look at the definition of Yoga, you’ll find it means “union” and through practicing we create a connectedness between mind and body. Through its postures, breathing and meditation, yoga is a powerful tool for promoting mental and physical well-being – things many of us in the Western world need. It may also be the perfect way to improve body image among women.
Boosting self-acceptance with yoga
In today’s society where thinness is equated to success and beauty, it’s easy to see why so many women struggle to accept their body. In fact, 90 per cent of women are dissatisfied with their bodies, thanks to health being depicted as skin deep. Unfortunately this narrow view of acceptance completely neglects mental, emotional and spiritual well-being, which arguably leads many people to neglect these aspects of self-development. The good news is, by practicing yoga we may be able to help women become happy in their own skin.
In yoga, the body is viewed as the outer manifestation of the mind and the mind can be influenced by altering body posture. When you think about it, the way we carry ourselves influences the way we feel. Think of the person who walks around with their chest collapsed, head down and eyes half closed. It is very unlikely that this person is feeling the best about themselves. Change their posture and their perception of their body and thoughts are likely to change also. Jump into an inversion such as a shoulder stand and you’ll notice increased blood flow to the brain, which increases the availability of oxygen and elevates the production of certain neurotransmitters that in turn boosts mood and well-being.
The way we breathe can also impact how we feel. Shallow breathing creates a state of arousal in the sympathetic nervous system, which can lead to panic, fear and anxiety, while deep breathing helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, calming and regenerating the body. Practicing breathing regulation – known as pranayama – works to decrease arousal, which in turn calms and focuses the mind, relaxes the body, oxygenates the blood, soothes anxiety and stress, and promotes clear thinking. The intense concentration and body control involved in breathing exercises helps free the mind from mental distractions, worries and fatigue. This practice can help women develop inner strength and encourage them to let go of the inner critic and reclaim a sense of self-worth. After all, this is what yoga is all about – much more about training the mind than touching the toes.
Has yoga helped you develop self-acceptance?