It’s time to stop disapproving of our stretch marks, moaning about our shape, or annoying our poor eyesight – and instead remembering how wonderful our bodies really are …
Our bodies are amazing – they help us explore the world around us and allow us to live our best possible lives, yet we so often complain about them and treat them with disdain. But what if we tried to change our mindset and celebrate our bodies instead of annoying them?
“We’ve all got used to the idea that there is a ‘perfect’ body,” says Lana Walker, a holistic massage therapist and EFT practitioner. “But that’s not the reality. The truth is that the human body comes in a myriad of sizes, shapes, and differences, and that needs to be celebrated. Our bodies do a great job and we have to applaud that.”
With so much pressure on us to go down a certain path, it’s perhaps no wonder that our self-esteem can sometimes take a hit. And of course, given the added stress of lockdown – and the increased focus on what we eat and how we exercise – many of us have not been able to escape our individual physical problems in recent months.
What is worrying is that a number of eating disorders charities have reported a sharp surge in demand for their services since the lockdown began. According to BEAT, calls to the hotline have increased by 50%. And that’s the problem: if we don’t like our bodies, it can have serious effects on our physical and emotional wellbeing. Research suggests that poor body image can be linked to poor quality of life, anxiety, psychological distress and a higher risk of unhealthy eating behavior.
What’s the answer? “Certainly not looking in the mirror and feeding ourselves with more self-loathing,” says Carly Chamberlain, a holistic health expert. “We need to break this cycle by promoting positive internal dialogue and other acts of self-love and self-esteem.
“Having space and time is the real key to connecting with ourselves and adjusting to our body’s needs,” she adds. “We have to reset, stop punishing ourselves, and stop sabotaging our greatness.”
Would you like to put this into practice? Our experts share their advice …
Repeat positive affirmations
According to Lana and Carly, changing your internal dialogue and the way you talk to yourself is the first step in changing your perception. “Positive body affirmations are very important in changing the way you think and, therefore, your feelings,” explains Lana. “Your mind has learned its negative beliefs through years of repetition, but if you add positive affirmations into your life every day, you will soon feel the benefits.”
TRY THIS: Lana recommends focusing on three parts of your body that you (think) don’t like and thinking about how to appreciate them. Write these confirmations on some post-it notes and display them where you will see them regularly. “Those statements could be things like,“ I love my freckles – they’re unique to me, ”she says.“ Another strong affirmation is simply, “I’m enough.” This works for all aspects of your entire life and reinforces the fact that you are enough at the moment. “
Listen to your body
How often do you stop to check in, how are you really feeling? The truth is likely very rare, but as Carly explains, we can help them function better and improve our relationship with them by taking note of what our bodies are doing and what they may need. “When we’re too busy and chaotic, we can’t hear (or ignore) the messages our bodies are trying to give us,” she says. “Whether it’s a painful ache in our shoulders, monthly headaches, or persistent knee pain, these are all red flags telling us that our system needs food, support and a possible change in our habits.”
TRY THIS: Many experts recommend a five minute body scan meditation so you can hear what is going on inside. Just sit or lie in a comfortable place, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Turn your attention to your feet and watch for certain sensations. Gradually move your focus up through your legs and upper body as you check how you are feeling and tune into the different parts of your body. Mentally continue scanning your shape until you reach your head and finish the meditation with a few deep breaths.
We need to reset, stop punishing ourselves, and stop sabotaging our greatness
Use a calming touch
Enjoying the feeling of having your own hands on your body can feel like indulgence that you don’t have time for. However, if you spend a few minutes massaging your limbs and gently stroking your face, you can encourage a sense of self-love and allow you to appreciate all aspects of your form.
TRY THIS: Lana recommends using self-massage techniques to connect with your body and show it some kindness. First, pour some oil into your hands (this can be olive, coconut, or vegetable oil if you don’t have massage oil) and slowly move it around in your palms and fingertips. “Let yourself slow down,” she advises. “Carefully place your oiled hands on your chest, under your neck. Then gently move your hands around your shoulders using gentle, slow movements. After massaging your shoulders, move towards the neck, always avoiding the spine. You can then move your hands around your face, starting under your jaw and moving up around your eyes and eyebrows. Your hands will naturally be drawn to a place that feels good. Enjoy this feeling and know that you can show your self-love at any time. “
Simple stretching has seen some resurgence in recent years after being seriously undervalued for too long. Not only can stretching improve blood circulation and improve posture, it can also enable your body to work more effectively.
Because of this, Carly is a huge fan of yoga-inspired stretches. “Practicing holistic movement is the key to systemic balance in the body,” she says. “Stretching movements, based on the ancient science of yoga, take into account both the strengthening and stretching of the agonist (main motor muscles) and antagonist muscles throughout the body.”
TRY THIS: Carly recommends a number of yoga stretches: “Standing forward bend is a great grounding technique that encourages us to reach for the earth and extend the spine from the top of the neck to the bottom of the tailbone. First, squeeze your abs, bend your knees, and roll your body forward into a folded, hanging rag doll. Drop your head and arms on the floor and gently move your back from side to side to feel a nice stretch. Breathe deeply and slowly. “The cobra also provides really good stretch for the thighs, hips, abdomen, and throat, she adds, and rotating the spine can also help strengthen our core, spine, and back muscles.
Take a deep breath
How you breathe can have a dramatic effect on your emotions. By breathing deeper, we can take care of our bodies and give them the tools they need to function efficiently.
“We all know how to breathe. It’s easy, isn’t it? Yes and no. Sometimes we breathe shallowly and don’t get the oxygen to the full capacity of our lungs, ”says Lana. “The lungs can expand more than you think, and we have to use that.”
TRY THIS: “Start by placing a hand on your chest, just below your neck,” says Lana. “Put the other hand on your stomach. Breathe at your normal depth and speed and see how much your underhand moves. If it’s not moving, imagine your lungs expanding to allow oxygen to get to the lower part of your lungs. When this happens you will feel your lower hand move outward, and once you get the hang of it, you can always breathe whenever you need it. “
Do not punish yourself
Do you keep ranting about reaching for a tub of ice instead of a banana? Stop! There are times when we need to be particularly sensitive to our needs and mental wellbeing, says Carly – and the global pandemic we all face is one such example. “Instead of punishing ourselves for a lack of discipline, we could look at this situation from a different perspective,” says Carly. “We are not always expected to maintain discipline during trauma. This is when we often return to comfort, safety and stability wherever we can find them – and this is part of our human survival mechanism.”
Lana Walker is a holistic massage therapist and EFT practitioner and the founder of Body and Mind Holistics. More information is available at bodyandmindholistics.co.uk
Carly Chamberlain has 15 years of holistic health experience and is the author of “Hearing Through My Hands: What Your Body Says You” (Filament Publishing, £ 10.99). For more information, please visit carlychamberlain.com