A recent study found that practicing yoga had a positive impact on young people’s body image. Over 80% of them said yoga helped them feel better about their bodies.
This doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Regular practice improves our strength, flexibility and balance. In addition to the physical benefits, we become more mindful and patient, we learn to be grateful for what our bodies can accomplish.
The body image benefits of yoga are not automatic though. In the same study nearly 30% of the participants said that practicing could also have a negative impact (even though for some it was still positive overall).
What made the difference?
The harmful effects came from comparison to other students and negative self-talk.
In other words, the exact same class that helped some people feel more confident made other students feel worse — because they focused on their perceived shortcomings.
As a teacher, I try to emphasise this message in every class: yoga is not a competition sport. It does not matter how fantastic (or average) the person beside you is. Your practice is about you. The benefits you gain cannot be measured by comparing yourself to someone else.
The other critical thing to remember is to have a positive attitude towards yourself. Negative self-talk and self-criticism are damaging and pointless. You should practice with self-compassion and mindfulness. Yoga is a process, and you have to be patient with yourself and encourage yourself to embrace the process.
When you step into the studio with mindfulness and a desire to benefit yourself through the practice, you will benefit.
If you come with a competitive attitude or judgmental attitude (toward yourself or anyone else) you are not going to receive those same benefits.
How do you cultivate a positive practice? Share in the comments.