Healing negative body image

A round belly is a happy belly

At the end of each yoga class, I guide students through a self-massage. These last five minutes are always quite special for me. Massage not only distributes the chi, or life energy evenly throughout the body, it also helps students to experience metta, or loving-kindness toward themselves and their bodies. For many of us, an accepting, loving attitude towards our bodies doesn’t come easily.

When it comes to the body, from early on we are bombarded with different, often quite confusing messages. Our bodies are an intersection of diverse cultural, sociological, religious, sexual and gender trajectories. It is a huge challenge for teenagers to grow up with a healthy body image. Girls are told they should have flat bellies and big boobs, boys are told they should be tall and muscular, and so on. All these messages grow deep roots (or samskaras) in our psyche and, most of the time, we are totally unaware of their impact on us.

Suchness of the Body

The practice of yoga asanas (physical postures) from an interior perspective brings our minds back into our body.  Instead of perceiving our bodies as separate entities that need to look, feel and perform a certain way based on externally derived standards, we feel and accept them for what they are. When we give full attention to the breath, movement and subtle inner sensations, the body becomes mindful and mind becomes embodied. We gain insights into our limiting, painful self-narratives and begin to dissolve them.

Healing negative body image starts with the recognition of our own negative self-narratives. This recognition causes them to lose their grip on us, allowing us to return to our original wholeness. The moment when students place their palms on their bellies in massage at the end of the class is a turning point for many people. It is a moment of recognition, acceptance and letting go. That’s why it’s special for me.

healing negative body image
Right now, try out these simple steps toward healing negative body image:

  • Place the palms on your belly and just feel the touch on the belly for a while. Relax.
  • Is it hard for you to let the belly be soft and round?
  • What kind of narratives are arising?
  • How does it feel once the belly softens and receives the breath?
  • How does it feel to simply be kind and loving to your belly?
  • Mindfully place your palms on other areas of your body, as well – especially those you dislike, or you’re judgmental about.
  • Stay kind to yourself and mindfully listen through the sense of touch. See what happens!

Belly, or the hara, is where our life energy is stored. That is a message of the big round belly of Budai, the Laughing Buddha. Love that roundness of your belly and appreciate the life force that it contains. Laugh from your belly and appreciate being alive. Be the Laughing Buddha.