If your hip flexors are tight (your knees keep lifting and your pubic bone keeps dropping)
Try elevating your sitting bones with a folded blanket (or bolster or cushion) so that the bottom of your hip is slightly higher than your knee and your femur bones are sloping downward ever so slightly. This will help open up the flow of sensation through your psoas (a major hip flexor) as you breathe. Sitting on a blanket is also recommended if you plan to stay in the posture for a while.
One of the central practices of hatha yoga is to balance prana (upward energy) and apana (downward energy) through the expansive and contractive forces of the breath. When these forces are in balance, so is expansion and contraction in the mind. This balance is crucial to yoga practice. It is the psychological foundation of dharana (concentration), which is a complete and unbroken attention to whatever immediately arises in the field of sensory experience. We can cultivate this foundation through asana practice by balancing the expansive and contractive patterns within each form—and by threading these patterns together with continuous movements of breath.
About Our ProTeacher and model Ty Landrum is director of the Yoga Workshop in Boulder, Colorado. He teaches Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga in the contemplative style of his mentors, Mary Taylor and Richard Freeman. With a PhD in philosophy, Ty has a special touch for explaining the theory of yoga with color and creativity. As a teacher, he’s passionate about sharing the brilliance of yoga with anyone willing to learn (for more information, go to tylandrum.com).
Out of the blue, my 6-year-old daughter recently asked me what I like most about my body. Knowing my answer held tremendous power to influence her relationship with her own body in the future, I purposefully paused before answering.
“My arms,” I told her, “because they allow me to hug and hold you and your little sister.”
I admired her playful spirit and innocence on the topic of appreciating one’s body—a refreshingly stark contrast to the seemingly steady stream of social messages that reinforce all the ways our bodies are not good enough. What a gift to witness my child’s curiosity, and how empowering for me to share a body-affirming sentiment after many years of hard work healing an eating disorder and poor body image. Yoga was the key to transforming my relationship with my body. The poses, connection to breath, and ancient philosophies have fostered personal empowerment and lasting body-affirming experiences.
Sadly, the torment I once felt about my body is all too common. According to the 2017 Dove Global Girls Beauty and Confidence Report, which interviewed 5,165 girls aged 10 to 17 across 14 countries, low body esteem is associated with isolation from social activities and pressure to strive to meet beauty and appearance ideals. This is just one study out of many now being conducted on the effects of negative body image on physical, mental, and emotional health in both boys and girls, men and women.
Based on what I see and hear daily in the yoga classes I teach and as a yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image, all of us struggle to some degree with feeling at ease in our skin. The perceptions of our external appearance often get tangled up with unrealistic social expectations and ideals, causing a range of “heavy” feelings, such as discontent, embarrassment, insecurity, worry, shame, and an obsession with controlling weight, food, and exercise. Over time, as these feelings pick up steam, unhealthy beliefs about self-worth can take root.
Yoga, with its tenets of peace, self-compassion, and acceptance, is a path to softening and even transforming such harsh beliefs. Through the path of yoga, we practice harmony within and strengthen our relationship with our body.
So how can we call on our yoga practice to help us feel more confident in and about our bodies? Based on my own experience and work with my students and clients, here are 5 specific ways yoga can help improve your body image:
1. Yoga creates an appreciative relationship with your body through movement.
Unlike other forms of activity, yoga does not ask us to perform, win, strive, or prove ourselves. Rather, the poses are personal experiences to cultivate harmony. Each time we meet the challenge of new poses, persevere through discomfort, or respect muscular and emotional sensations, we express appreciation toward our bodies. We also show ourselves we have it in us to be with our bodies.
As you inhabit different shapes and forms in your practice, pay close attention to all the ways your body surprises you—meaning how it helps you balance, twist, sideband, backbend, and forward fold. Notice the parts of your body that make these magnificent movements happen and offer appreciation to these parts of yourself. By purposefully taking a few minutes on your mat to practice appreciation, you can build new awareness of the power of your body—and as a result, watch your body image improve.
Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, C-IAYT, E-RYT-500, is a yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. She is coauthor of the forthcoming book, Body Mindful Yoga: Create a Powerful and Affirming Relationship With Your Body (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018). In addition to her private yoga therapy practice, Jennifer leads yoga therapy groups at the Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia and yoga workshops and retreats on eating disorder recovery and body image. Jennifer also trains yoga professionals how to nurture positive body image in students and private clients at the YogaLife Institute. She is the cofounder of 11 Elements: A Body Compassion Project, and a partner with the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. Jennifer writes and speaks about her personal and professional experiences on the topics of yoga, body image, motherhood, and eating disorder recovery. Connect with Jennifer: www.ChimeYogaTherapy.com.