Yoga, Mental Health & Body Image
Updated: May 15, 2019
Yoga is the union of the body, breath, mind and ultimately, the soul. Physical and mental well-being both go hand in hand, and yoga indisputably supports this notion.
Not that we need a special day or week to bring attention to this crucial topic, but in light of this year’s mental health awareness week, I thought sharing my own experiences could shed some insight into why I am sure physical and mental health are so interconnected. This year, the theme of the week is body image and how we feel in our bodies and how it affects our mental condition.
From my teenage years to becoming a woman, my body went through many changes, as so happens to us all. Despite being a generally healthy individual, my body would often fluctuate in weight due to a high metabolism and taking part in many physically demanding extracurricular activities. Skinny. Anorexic. Skeleton. Daddy long legs. Clothes hanger. That is to list just a few names people would use to often comment on my physique. Indian aunties would slap me on my back asking why I don’t eat anything and who will marry such a thin girl with nothing to hold on to. I would respectfully smile and wiggle my way out of their sight, wishing I could really become invisible.
I started believing I was not beautiful because I was too thin. I would worry about my weight and what others thought I looked like. I would spend hours crying and standing in front of the mirror, wondering if I was really that ugly. I was made this way and I knew that, but I was sad because I thought I wasn’t good enough. I believed trying to enhance my appearance by wearing nice clothes, exploring different hairstyles and caking on loads of makeup on my face, would all hide my slim body. I was trying to please everyone around me with their idea of what I should look like and my self-esteem plummeted.
On the other hand, I have always been an active person since a young age and learning dance was a huge part of my adolescence. Even though I enjoyed dancing, I didn’t like being told I have the perfect body to be a ballerina when I wore leotards and tights. I used to think to myself “little do you all know” - I am here because my doctor prescribed the practice of ballet to help scoliosis in my spine. At that young age, I was being sent messages that certain physical activities were linked to particular body types. Fast forward to now, I cannot disagree more. Who says we have to look a certain way in order to practice something we enjoy?
In the modern-day yoga world on social media, we see beautiful images of yogis performing advanced postures which could make us think we have to look a certain way to practice yoga or be of a certain physique. Let me assure you, this is not the case and yoga is a science open to anyone who wishes to understand it. Although many people do practice yoga to stay physically fit, yoga is a tradition that goes beyond the physical upkeep of the body into the intricacies of the mind. It is a practice of moving with the body to find stillness in the mind with the help of the breath, which anyone can do.
Having a physical, mental and spiritual practice of yoga over the years, has enabled me to gain self-confidence in myself. Not only the sense of achievement that comes from maintaining a regular routine. But practicing postures has helped me become more comfortable in my physical skin. Sitting in meditation has helped me still the noise in the mind.
I do still get affected by my body image and what people have to say but I now respond to it differently. I tell those aunties that I am actually healthy and in good shape. We all have our flaws but that’s what makes us who we are. Let’s be a little kinder to ourselves, as the more comfortable we are in our own bodies, the greater our overall well-being will be.