know thyself, love thyself
Awareness is the first step.
My Yoga teacher training was a wake up call. I knew how to move my body, but I didn't really know how it worked. Thankfully, I had a bad ass anatomy and physiology teacher who inspired me to really get to know the science and mechanics of the human body.
Thanks to my wonderful teachers, I realized how little I really knew and understood about the way my body actually works, and decided that needed to change. Little did I know this desire would lead me to uncovering deeply hidden shame and disgust about my natural bodily functions.
First, use the right fuel
What we put into our bodies has a huge impact on how we feel about ourselves. As a Yoga teacher and practitioner I think about what I am taking in constantly. This includes breathing enough air (prana), drinking enough water, and eating food that is nourishing.
A recent NPR article suggests that, "deep breathing is not only relaxing, it's been scientifically proven to affect the heart, the brain, digestion, the immune system — and maybe even the expression of genes." Just spending a little more time taking deep slow breaths has been show to significantly reduce effects of stress, which we know leads to unnecessary suffering.
As a committed Yogi, I explore myself deeply on a daily basis. It is part of the practice to dive into the inner world, but in order to do this effectively I must also be in good overall health. Yogis consider the body the vehicle of the soul. If the vehicle is in constant need of repair we can't get very far, very quickly.
If regular "breakdowns" are an issue, repairs are in order. Yoga postures and breathing exercises work to release tension in the muscles and increase joint mobility. When done properly these practices also impact the nervous and glandular systems, helping the body produce the right medley of neurotransmitters to promote well being.
The nice thing about Yoga is that after a while you are doing maintenance work rather than repair work. In my case, I have noticed a significant reduction in the number of panic attacks I experience over the course of a year. I have learned to feel the attack coming far enough in advance to stop it before it becomes debilitating. As a sufferer of anxiety, this is a gift beyond what I can explain in words.
Self Awareness and Body Shame
Becoming more aware of my body led to becoming more aware of my thoughts about my body. As a woman I have had to deal with my body shame. From body hair, to makeup, to clothing each issue concerning how I look and how I perceive and feel about my body seems to be more complicated than it really ought to be.
Take for example menstruation. For a very long time I felt disgusted at my body's natural tendency to bleed for multiple days once a month. The mainstream message I have received about this natural function is yuck and whatever you do don't talk about it, especially around men, but not even around other women (unless you absolutely have to).
I am sure at least a few of my fellow women can relate to what I am talking about. We have been taught to think it is gross, and when you think something is gross you don't feel excited about learning more about it. In fact, sometimes you just avoid it altogether.
In my case, this is true and for years I have avoided becoming more intimately familiar with my menstrual cycle. This is beginning to change and I recently decided to observe my body more closely during those days.
I mean, ladies, have you ever just really LOOKED at your vagina during your period? If the answer is no, why not? Curiosity and the desire to learn more about yourself is OK. You don't have to feel disgusted by your body, not even when you're on your period.
Loving all of yourself
Women who don't love their bodies are doing themselves and the world a great disservice. Our amazing bodies deserve to be respected and cherished, not judged and defiled.
If you aren't happy with your body, try appreciating the little things. I mean little...like your cells. Talk to them, thank them for performing their functions perfectly. You can even sing to them. I sing "every little cell in my body is happy, every little cell in my body is well..." to the tune of Shortnin Bread.
You are a walking miracle, and it's about time you started appreciating it! Spend time each day loving a different part of you. If you don't love it, learn about it until you discover something so amazing that you can't help, but be awestruck. I promise you it is possible. Just put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.