Improve Body Image with Yoga
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“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.” – Jennifer Kreatsoulis
The self is a concept and is created by thought. In other words, there’s a process involving thinking that creates the concept of a self. This is a verb. We are not a self, we are producing a self, we are selfing! This suggests that the self can change and grow with circumstances. One important aspect of the self-concept is one’s body image.
The media is constantly presenting idealized images of what we should look like. These are unrealistic and unattainable for the vast majority of people. But it results in most everyone being unhappy with their body. This can lead to problematic consequences. In a number of eating disorders there’s a distorted body image. This can and does drive unhealthy behaviors.
In the media, yoga is portrayed as practiced by lithe beautiful people. This is, of course, unrealistic and potentially harmful. But yoga is also an exercise that tends to improve the body and is also a mindfulness practice and mindfulness practices appear to have profound effects on the idea of self. Hence, it is unclear whether yoga practice promotes a healthy body image or contributes to harmful distortions of body image.
In today’s Research News article “Yoga and body image: Findings from a large population-based study of young adults.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5869146/), Neumark-Sztainer and colleagues performed a large, population-based study on eating and weight-related outcomes. They recruited male and female adolescents from Middle and High Schools and followed them from adolescence to young adulthood. They administered questionnaires and followed-up at 5-year intervals. The young adults were measured for yoga practice, body size, and body satisfaction 10 and 15 years after the initial recruitment at an average age of 31 years.
They found that over 16% of the young adults practiced yoga and that these practitioners had significantly higher levels of body satisfaction than non-practitioners. Even when adjusting for body satisfaction 5-years prior, the yoga practitioners still had significantly higher levels of body satisfaction. This was especially true for those who had low body satisfaction 5-years earlier, showing greater gains in body satisfaction than yoga practitioners who previously had high body satisfaction.
These results suggest that yoga practice improves body satisfaction particularly in young adults who were low in body satisfaction to start with. This is important and suggests that yoga practice promotes a healthy body image rather than harmful distortions. This further suggests that yoga practice should be recommended for adolescents and young adults with poor body images. This could well produce healthier body images reducing the likelihood of eating disorders, increasing self-acceptance, improving self-concepts, and leading to happier better adjusted young adults.
So, improve body image with yoga.
“One of the first tenants of yoga is ahimsa (nonviolence)—do no harm to yourself or others. The media creating unrealistic images of beauty is harmful to you, and it’s up to you to set those images aside, love yourself and be kind to yourself. You are beautiful as you are.” – Dianne Bondy
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Neumark-Sztainer, D., MacLehose, R. F., Watts, A. W., Pacanowski, C. R., & Eisenberg, M. E. (2018). Yoga and body image: Findings from a large population-based study of young adults. Body image, 24, 69–75. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2017.12.003
This study explored the potential for yoga to promote body satisfaction in a general population of young adults. The sample included 1,664 participants (M age: 31.1, SD = 1.6 years) in Project EAT, a 15-year longitudinal study. Data from the third and fourth waves (EAT-III and EAT-IV), collected five years apart, were utilized. Practicing yoga (≥ 30 minutes/week) was reported by 16.2% of young adults. After adjusting for EAT-III body satisfaction and body mass index, yoga practitioners had higher concurrent body satisfaction at EAT-IV than those not practicing yoga (difference: 1.5 units (95% CI: 0.1 – 2.8), p = .03). Among participants within the lowest quartile of prior (EAT-III) body satisfaction, there was preliminary evidence that body satisfaction at EAT-IV was higher among yoga practitioners than in other young adults. Findings suggest that yoga may be associated with body satisfaction, particularly among young adults with low prior body satisfaction.