Certified yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT shares an excerpt from her book, Body Mindful Yoga, which seeks to guide readers to learn how to affirm their bodies in this week’s blog post. The book 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 body image and self-confidence.
Eating disorder recovery is an earnest process of letting go of dependence on external sources to validate our worth. From scales to mirrors, clothing sizes to calorie counts, these external objects can feel like a lifeline when we are in the thick of it. Months and years of hyper reliance on objects outside of ourselves to prove we are “safe” or that our bodies are “ok” eventually accumulates into unrelenting self-doubt, so much so that we lose touch with our inner wisdom and ability to validate ourselves. As a result, we might doubt our confidence, feel insecure about our body image, question our self-worth, and distrust our right to nourish ourselves.
On a subconscious level, the repetition of giving and receiving compliments only focused on externals reinforces the need for validation outside of ourselves. Couple this with the social norms that highly value external appearances and gripping eating disorder beliefs about body image and self-worth, and we can find ourselves disconnected from the “stuff” of who we truly are—all those beautiful qualities, passions, and talents that make us unique and empowered.
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. The well-known expression, “no pain, no gain” perfectly captures the social belief that it is necessary to suffer or work hard to be successful. As such, many of us find ourselves in a constant state reaching outside of ourselves to prove our worth. All the striving weakens our connection to our inner wisdom, especially if we do not carve out time daily to pause, get quiet, and all our inner wisdom to reveal itself.
I remember this place of self-doubt very well, as I’ve been traveling my personal healing path from an eating disorder for over 20 years. I say with complete sincerity that freedom begins to show in small and big ways in our recovery when we take leaps of faith and shed the need for inanimate objects and numbers to dictate happiness and define worth. This long, hard, but enlightening process in my own recovery and life inspired my new book, Body Mindful Yoga, which seeks to guide readers to learn how to affirm their bodies. The book 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 body image and self-confidence. This is hard work, I know. But it’s not impossible, I promise.
The Body Mindful Yoga philosophy invites us to expand our vision and shift from focusing on external factors to internal qualities in our relationship with ourselves and others. Body mindful means to speak mindfully about your body. 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. This is the world that body mindful people can create for one another simply by committing to raising each other up through language that is not dependent on how well our bodies and lives match external values and ideals.
To begin practicing body mindfulness in your recovery, I invite you to take a purposeful pause in complimenting others on external factors for a few days and try in your conversations to affirm inner qualities you appreciate about others such as courage, patience, honesty, diligence, compassion, kindness, dedication, creativity, humor, and lightheartedness. There are many more possibilities, of course, and as you tune in to others’ talents and gifts, you will find all kinds of unique words with which to affirm them.
To help you make this mindful shift in your dialogue with others, try this body mindful yoga practice to connect with the expanse of benevolent inner qualities humans possess, including your own.
- Identify inner qualities, values, or virtues that you wish to affirm in yourself and others. Write a short list of these words down. Spend a few minutes repeating these words during meditation or in a yoga pose or in a less formal way like upon waking up and going to sleep, before and after getting dressed, before and after meals, or in between tasks. An example is “unique” or “I am unique.” Repeat this out loud or quietly to yourself for the duration of the exercise. This mantra exercise will help get you tuned into these types of qualities about yourself and others and give you space to go inward and let go of externals for a bit.
Practicing affirming other people’s inner qualities is an opportunity to practice this in your own life. By using language in this very mindful way with family members, friends, colleagues, and peers, you will help others feel more comfortable in their own skin simply by working on this effort within yourself. When we show genuine interest in another human being, we heal ourselves while healing them. Not only do we practice affirming others based on their internal qualities, but we also practice listening to ourselves being kind. We show ourselves that kindness comes from within, and with time and practice we can find kindness in our thoughts toward our bodies and self. Purposefully choosing language focused on internal validation is the ultimate practice of living “body mindfully” and builds a sturdy foundation for lasting healing from an eating disorder.
I get that this practice of not focusing on externals will feel counterintuitive and probably very unnatural initially. A great starting place is with the body mindful yoga practice I shared above. Just begin by mindfully refraining from focusing on external qualities in others. There’s no perfect way to do this, and it might take a few times of catching yourself focused on externals to remind yourself to slowly begin to eliminate that talk from your conversations. You will notice subtle shifts in your awareness that eventually will translate into your relationship with yourself.
As we travel our healing path and little by little, with support, take risks to shift away from external validation to internal validation, a real magic happens – we feel more deserving to claim our space in the world. As our energy obsessing about numbers, body checking in mirrors, and lost in worry about food decreases, our energy for appreciating our talents, gifts, passions, skills, joys, and unique qualities increases. Connecting with these aspects of ourselves brings us back to life, wakes us up to the moment, and helps us cultivate the courage to keep going in our recovery journey.
Adapted from the book, Body Mindful Yoga, by Jennifer Kreatsoulas and Robert Butera. Reprinted with permission from Llewellyn Worldwide.
About the Author:
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). 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