Want to Have a Healthier Body Image? Start Here.

Oh, body image. I have been contemplating you so often lately. I think about you as I watch my preschooler climb and hop and run like it’s her j-o-b (because it is) and without inhibitions. I think about you as l watch courageous yoga teachers like Kathryn Budig address body image and internet trolls directly, not only on social media but in this talk she did for Mind Body Green.

And I think about you as I hear Donald Trump spew his misogyny both generally and specifically at powerful, successful women like Megyn Kelly, Rosie O’Donnell, and Heidi Klum.

I think about how convoluted and dysfunctional our culture is about women’s power and women’s bodies and I feel disturbed. I worry about how utterly disempowering and dangerous it is to continue to both unconsciously and openly(!) treat women like chattel. I wonder when my daughter’s joy and purposefulness in her body will start sliding into self-consciousness and shame.

I know that she will look to me as her primary role model. And so, as much as I sometimes want to go hide under a rock when it comes to this very complex issue, I know that I can’t. I have to gather my wits and remember that if I want to see anything positive happen in the world, I have to begin with my own thoughts and behavior.

That’s essentially what Klum did when she responded to Trump’s public barb that she’s “no longer a 10” with this quick video. Not only does it make light of the utter absurdity of his comment, but Klum also clearly shows Trump that she doesn’t care what he thinks about her body and her looks. So what if she’s not a 10 anymore? is what she conveys with a shrug of her shoulders.

While it might seem easy for a uber successful, ex-super model to make such a statement, it inspired me. It made me think about how I can use tools from yoga to develop a healthier body image and resist the cultural pressure and craziness about women’s bodies.

The Recipe for a Delicious Bod

Here’s what I’ve come up with. It’s a two-part recipe: First, we make an effort to heal our relationships with our bodies by reversing the negative self-talk. Until we do this, we continue to perpetuate the idea that it’s OK to talk about women’s bodies like property. Here’s an example: I caught myself talking about my recent tamoxifen-induced weight gain in front of my daughter recently – I was joking about it, I was laughing about it, but I was also making it a thing. And when I looked down at her I saw that she was watching and listening intently. She was taking in all of that negative self-talk. (Yeah, not a proud moment for me.) If I talk that way about myself, I invite anyone around me to throw their crappy talk in the ring about me or other women. Not good. And a lesson to myself that my own healing process requires long-term effort.

Second, we practice letting go of unhealthy expectations about our bodies–whether they come from other people or from ourselves. (In yoga speak, this is a form of “nonattachment.”)

Letting go of what others think of us is incredibly difficult to execute because we’re culturally attuned to having our ego validated at every turn. We constantly seek praise. And we internalize criticism–whether it’s fair or below to belt–to mean that we’re unworthy. But nonattachment teaches us that if we allow ourselves to consistently internalize praise or shame, we set ourselves up for a lot of disappointment and feelings of personal failure in this life.

One way to practice nonattachment is to be compassionate with ourselves and notice how dynamic and everchanging the body is. We feel different every single day depending on how we slept, what we ate, even how the air feels outside. We feel different from year to year because we grow, our hormones change, we age, we go through stressful times, we go through easy times–and our bodies reflect all of this back to us. Viewed from this perspective, the body is a messenger and one that we should listen to.

Another alternative is to view your body from a spiritual perspective: Your body is not your essence; it’s a vessel for your whole self, including your heart, your spirit, and your mind. It’s not the entirety of your identity.

Pattabhi Jois said, “The body is just a rented house.” Budig puts it another way, calling the body our “meat suit.” They’re both saying the same thing: The body is going to go away. It’s just a buncha flesh and bones. What remains, what’s most important is what’s inside. Your body is a means for you to live your dharma or life’s purpose in this world. And that is undeniably miraculous. So, uh, who cares what someone else thinks of the way it looks?

Can’t I Just Get to My Ideal Weight and Then I’ll Be Happy?

Now, you may be thinking, “Ummmmm, how do I heal my relationship to my body image again? I’m just a little fuzzy on that whole concept. Do I really have to do this or can I just try to get down to my ideal weight and then I’ll be really, truly happy with myself?”

Look, I know how challenging it can be to have a positive body image. But, here’s why it’s important: Feeling negatively about your body is a form of shame. According to sociologist and shame researcher Brene Brown, shame is the feeling that we are inherently flawed and unworthy of love and belonging. Shame is highly correlated with depression, aggression, addiction, suicide, and eating disorders.

Conversely, when you know that you are worthy of love and belonging, you feel powerful. You can go out and fulfill your life’s purpose. So, you gotta do it. You gotta tell yourself, “I am enough. My meat suit is enough!”

If you’re with me on this, here’s my invitation to you. It’s in three parts.

Start With Self Care

Begin with the principal that taking care of your body and maximizing well-being is key. Take stock of the food you eat, the amount of time you set aside for exercise and spiritual practice, the media that you ingest, and the relationships you cultivate. These are all important considerations – and they trump any numbers on the scale. This is the starting place for taking care of your vessel.

Mindfulness Practice: Cultivate the Opposite Thought

Part two comes from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, II.33: “When harassed by doubt, cultivate the opposite mental attitude.” (vitarkabadhane pratipakshabhavanam for the Sanskrit junkies in the crowd.)

The idea is to observe your thoughts about your body and, when negative thoughts arise, cultivate the opposite thought.

Try it the next time you practice: Maybe there’s a moment when your body isn’t doing what you want it to, or perhaps you have a “problem area” that just constantly gnaws at your psyche. You know, a part of your body that you think is too long or too short or too squishy or too bony?

These days mine is my tummy. So, as I practice, I observe how often I nitpick my poor, unsuspecting tummy. And then I try to reverse the negative self-talk. Instead of calling it flabby, I remember that it housed a beautiful little human for nearly a year. I put my hand on it. I give it some love and I thank it for doing its job. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture; just acknowledging the negative thought, turning it around, and moving on is all that’s required.

And I might have to do this over and over and over again throughout my practice. But I make an effort to correct the negative thought pattern and remember that my vessel is a miracle.

Mindfulness Practice 2: Let Go of Praise and Shame

Finally, notice how you respond internally when other people either praise or shame you for your external appearance.

Allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling. I mean, really hold onto the feeling and let it course through you – whether it’s validation, sadness, fury, whatever. And then: Practice. Letting. It. Go. If you want, you can do this with a visualization – blow it away like a dandelion. Or smack it with a hammer. Sweep it away with a giant broom. If you’re more verbal, process the feelings with a friend or therapist. But then: Consciously allow to there be an endpoint for yourself.

This requires self-discipline, but it’s worth it to put in the effort. As Georg Feuerstein wrote in The Shambala Encyclopedia of Yoga, “Vairagya signifies the mood and practice of renunciation, or the abandonment of passion; sometimes counted as one of the components of self-discipline.”

Remind yourself that your body is a miracle. And it deserves a lifetime of your care and attention. But it is not all of you. You are powerful beyond your external appearance. Tap into that. And go out and live it.


  1. I can’t wait for training in February!!!

  2. You just don’t know how much I needed to read this. Made me cry. Thank you for reminding me that I need to be more compassionate toward my body. It is such a struggle.

    Thank you and Namaste.

    • I’m so happy to hear that it was helpful, Alma. I often write about things that I need to be reminded of myself!

  3. Great read – loved the message! But the unecessary political reference rubbed me the wrong way. I’m fine to agree to disagree, but I generally felt like it was a faux pas to bring up such a controversial topic in an otherwise peaceful article.

    • Hi Emma,
      I really appreciate your honest response. I was aware when I wrote that part of the post that it might not be everyone’s cup of tea…but I wanted to be true and authentic. When I apply the lessons I’ve learned in yoga to my life, I’m choosing include my thoughts about what’s happening in the world around me. I don’t expect everyone to agree, but I do hope you can glean what is helpful to you. With much warmth and respect, Andrea

  4. Thanks for reading our blog, Emma. I’m glad you liked parts of the article. With regards to the political reference in the article, it’s important to acknowledge that body image is already political–more, it’s inherently political. When we have a political candidate gaining national attention–and, bizarrely–benefitting from overly misogynistic rhetoric, I think it’s important to address it. From my perspective, addressing the political aspect of body image isn’t being negative or controversial. It’s acknowledging and addressing an existing problem that is deeply ingrained in our cultural psyche. Discernment is an essential practice in all spiritual traditions and there are scenarios–and this is one of them–where standing up for dignity is more peaceful than letting it slide. –Jason

  5. i love you guys! This one is getting shared with many Pepe I know and I will use it in my personal practice. Thank you for sharing your study and practice with the world!

    • Love you back, Anna!

  6. excellent, andrea. totally agree with the need to be careful what you say around the children (daughters) and pledging to be more mindful about this in our future…wondering what you think about the other extreme: self-editing so that something becomes “a thing” by virtue of avoiding addressing it directly? or avoiding certain words because they have become pejorative in the culture? striking a balance is hard. for example, i like the part of the body acceptance movement that destigmatizes and unloads words like “fat” so that they become more neutral descriptors instead of word weapons. i mean, the reality is that a very active, clean(ish) eating yet terminally chubby middle-aged woman like me who is never quite comfortable 10 pounds overweight is not going to be able to gnaw away at that weight without eating less or even a bit differently from the family. that takes place in the family’s public domain. i have noticed that my kids have already become sensitized to the pejorative nature of these words. if i say, “i’m going to skip/have less of the pasta because i’m chubbier than i want to be and it’s uncomfortable,” my son will get upset and argue, “you’re not chubby!” but, well, i am. it just isn’t a federal crime (yet) : ) .

    • Really great questions…and ones I will contemplate. But one, off the cuff thought is — are you really 10 pounds overweight? Or are you just not uncomfortable because you’re mentally uncomfortable (if that makes sense) about not fitting into some perceived ideal? And if you are 10 lbs overweight but you are taking care of yourself the best you can…does it really matter?

      Also, I’m realizing that I don’t ever think it’s OK for anyone else to comment on a woman’s body. I’m tired of it being an open target. I find it patently bizarre that we EVER spend time talking about women losing or gaining weight. It’s like we are societally addicted to picking women apart, starting with the outer shell and moving in. So…I suppose I’m just not in the “take back the words” camp on this one.

  7. Weighing in on the wording of your headline and what it means with regard to how we “think” about our bodies, especially with regard to yoga, but you can take this out into the world generally, because out there it becomes extremely useful to have respect for the core of sensations that arise while interacting with the environment and its contents. The message is this: the idea of “body image” is a political construct, it is used to judge others in a variety of ways, and most of them not healthy ways, but as a way to categorize as living creatures must do. so, yoga, the union of body to mind and mind to body, should not be concerned with “image” healthy or unhealthy. It should be concerned with creating and recognizing the connections, the sensations, the arising emotions, the arising insights, the arising of spirit, body and mind within its own contents as it knows itself. Ps., I highly recommend getting to know the bones, the muscles, the nerves…know your body as well as your mind. Forget “image”! Image, if you need and want, will follow. Oh, one more thing, I really Jason Crandell’s instructions and his pacings.

  8. Andrea I recently received a facebook post which showed a poster on the side of the inside of an aeroplane – the poster stated

    in a society that profits from your self doubt – liking yourself is a rebellious act –

    it showed a a side shot of a young woman on a seat on the aeroplane next to the poster looking straight ahead to the back of the seat in front of her

    The photo suggested that it could be saying different things – maybe that the woman was travelling forward towards change or – maybe the woman didn’t know what was written on the poster next to her or maybe she chose to ignore the poster?

    I agree that our self doubt can arise from parental conditioning but there is huge profit to be gained by a society that persuasively and repeatedly tells us that we are not ok – that we are lacking and we need to buy into changing something about ourselves then things will be ok and that we will be as good as the other better person – when actually we could all stop competing and instead be happy and want everyone to make it!

    We can find much strength in yoga when we contemplate this –

    When explaining Patanjali Sutra 1.2 Yogas (citta vritti nirodhah)

    The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff ……..

    Yoga SriSwami Satchidananda says that “Yoga does not bother much about changing the outside world ….Things outside (the mind) neither bind nor liberate you; only your attitude toward them does that……there is nothing wrong with the world – you can make it heaven or hell according to your approach”

    Thank you for your invitation Andrea which I gratefully accept .

    Warm wishes Anne

  9. Thank you for this insightful piece that is part memoir and part self-help guide. Poetic and practical.

    My favorite reminder, especially when I compare my current body with my former, more in shape, dancer body:

    One way to practice nonattachment is to be compassionate with ourselves and notice how dynamic and everchanging the body is. We feel different every single day depending on how we slept, what we ate, even how the air feels outside. We feel different from year to year because we grow, our hormones change, we age, we go through stressful times, we go through easy times–and our bodies reflect all of this back to us. Viewed from this perspective, the body is a messenger and one that we should listen to.

  10. wooww.. I love the article which give light to one of the current problems of today’s society. Unfortunately it is really difficult to underestimate the pros or cons of body image in life in general. Your suggestions are very good to follow… hope media do this first (!)..
    I also like the other comments which show the unity of mind – looking at the problem almost with the same glasses. Thank you..

  11. Dear Andrea

    Thank you for yet another interesting post, this subject is so controversial and still continues to be a challenge in women’s lives. My own beloved mother struggled with self doubt and found it virtually impossible to handle a compliment and whilst yes she was my primary role model I don’t wish to fall into the trap of attributing any blame to her about how I feel about myself on any given day. Whilst I will be the first to admit that I like fashion and taking care with my appearance as I go through life I realise that its not what’s on the outside that matters but how I feel on the inside. It was perfect timing to read your article and I intend to forward this onto my daughter and niece who I’m sure like me will find it insightful and inspiring.
    Thank You!

  12. Just read this article and as a young forty something with small children I am LOVING your sentiment. Good Good sense and I love your honestly in this article which mirrors how I feel in front of my daughter. Well Done !


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