In 2018 a group of researchers carried out a study into the effect of a 4-week yoga intervention on pre-adolescent girls’ and boys’ body image – factors studied included body appreciation, body esteem, body surveillance and mood. The results – described as ‘unexpected’ by the research teams – showed both girl’s and boy’s groups reporting increased body appreciation, body esteem, and positive mood, and decreased body surveillance.
Though the researchers may have been surprised at the results, I think anyone who regularly practices yoga would agree that it positively affects how we relate to ourselves. We already know Yoga is an embodying activity that promotes body awareness, body connection, body responsiveness, and appreciation of body functionality. Going deeper, the teachings of yoga philosophy encourage us to cultivate attitudes of compassion and gratitude towards ourselves and each other, to recognize the good in each of us, including in ourselves.
Unlike so many other activities, yoga isn’t asking us to improve ourselves, to work to be better people, or to deny the discomforts of life. Yoga invites us to tune in and experience ourselves in our full humanness, welcoming all that we are. One of the reasons I’m so grateful I found yoga is that being a yoga teacher I don’t have to try to be perfect, or pretend I have all the answers, or even pretend I know what all the questions are. It’s enough to hold space for my students to have their own experience, to share with them the tools and techniques of yoga so they can develop their own skills, their autonomy, and their trust in themselves.
Yoga teaches us connection, connection to ourselves, to each other, and to our environment. We can practice yoga in a way that aligns to nature and to the seasons and to the natural phases of life, perhaps leading to a sense of being part of something larger. This sense of connection to a larger cycle can I think, help us to not get so caught up in the neurosis that we of course all have.
I know that sadly not every yoga class feels like a warm and welcoming place for everybody and I continue to work hard to cultivate classes where everyone truly feels welcome. Coming to one of my classes means surrounding yourself with friendly people, in a non-competitive environment. This can help us to be brave enough to let go of the need to be perfect and to make friends with ourselves as we make friends with each other.
At the end of the 2018 study, the report tells us that the majority of the children in the group asked for more yoga. We are not told whether they got their wish. As adults, we are lucky enough to be able to choose for ourselves and I very much hope if you haven’t already you choose to try a yoga class and see how it works for you.
Take care of yourself, Clair.