It’s time to stop begrudging our stretch marks, moaning about our shape, or resenting our poor eyesight – and instead remember just how wonderful our bodies really are...
Our bodies are amazing – they help us explore the world around us, and enable us to live our best lives possible, and yet, so often we grumble about them, and treat them with contempt. But what if we tried switching our mindset and celebrated our bodies instead of resenting them?
“We’ve all become used to the idea that there’s a ‘perfect’ body,” says Lana Walker, a holistic massage therapist, and EFT practitioner. “But that’s not reality. The truth is that the human body comes in a huge range of sizes, shapes, and differences, and that’s to be celebrated. Our bodies do an amazing job, and we need to applaud that.”
With so many pressures on us to look a certain way, perhaps it’s little wonder that our self-esteem can sometimes take a hit. And of course, with the added stresses of lockdown – and the heightened focus on what we’re eating and how we’re exercising – many of us haven’t been able to escape from our individual body hang- ups in the past few months.
Worryingly, a number of eating disorder charities have reported a sharp rise in demand for their services since we entered lockdown, with charity BEAT saying calls to its helpline increased by 50%. And this is the problem: disliking our bodies can have a serious impact on our physical and emotional wellbeing. In fact, research suggests that a poor body image can be associated with a poorer quality of life, anxiety, psychological distress, and a higher risk of unhealthy eating behaviours.
So what’s the answer? “Certainly not looking in the mirror and feeding ourselves with more self- hatred,” says Carly Chamberlain, a holistic health expert. “We must break this cycle by moving forward with positive internal dialogue, and other acts of self- love and self-worth.
“Having space and time is the real key to connecting with ourselves, and tuning-in to our body’s needs,” she adds. “We need to reset, stop punishing ourselves, and cease sabotaging our greatness.”
Keen to put this into practice? Our experts share their advice...
Repeat positive affirmations
Changing your internal dialogue and the way you speak to yourself is the first step in altering your perception, according to both Lana and Carly. “Positive body affirmations are very important in changing your mindset, and therefore how you feel,” Lana explains. “Your mind has learnt its negative beliefs through years of repetition, but by incorporating positive affirmations into your life every day, you’ll soon feel the benefits.”
TRY THIS: Lana recommends focusing on three parts of your body that you (think you) don’t like, and considering ways in which you can appreciate them. Write these affirmations down on some Post-It notes, and display them where you’ll see them regularly. “These affirmations could be things like: ‘I love my freckles – they are unique to me,’” she says. “Another powerful affirmation is simply, ‘I am enough.’ This works for all the aspects of your entire life, and reinforces the fact that right now, you are enough.”
Listen to your body
How often do you stop to check-in with how you’re really feeling? The truth is probably very rarely, but as Carly explains, by taking note of what our bodies are doing and what they may need, we can help them function better, and improve our relationship with them. “If we’re too busy and chaotic, we can’t hear (or we may ignore) the messages our body is trying to give us,” she says. “Whether it’s a niggling ache in our shoulders, a monthly headache, or an ongoing knee pain, these are all red flags that tell us our system needs nourishment, support, and a possible shift in our habits.”
TRY THIS: Many experts recommend a five-minute body scan meditation to help you listen to what’s going on inside. Simply sit or lie somewhere comfortable, close your eyes, and take deep breaths. Draw your attention to your feet, taking note if you feel any specific sensations. Gradually move your focus up through your legs and torso, all the while checking in with how you feel, and tuning-in to the different parts of your body. Continue mentally scanning your form until you reach your head, and finish the meditation with a few deep breaths.
We need to reset, stop punishing ourselves, and cease sabotaging our greatness
Use soothing touch
Enjoying the feeling of your own hands on your body can feel like an indulgence you don’t have time for, but spending a few minutes massaging your limbs and gently stroking your face, can promote feelings 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. Start by pouring 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. “Gently place your oiled hands on top of your chest, below your neck. Then gently move your hands around your shoulders, with smooth, slow strokes. After you’ve massaged your shoulders, move up towards the back of your neck, always avoiding the spine. You can then move your hands around your face, starting from under the jaw, and moving upwards to around your eyes and eyebrows. Your hands will naturally gravitate to a place that feels good. Enjoy that feeling, and know you can show your body self-love at any time.”
The simple act of stretching has been enjoying somewhat of a resurgence in recent years, after being seriously under-rated for too long. Not only can stretching help improve blood-flow and enhance our posture, but it can also enable your body to work more effectively.
Carly is a big fan of yoga- inspired stretches for this reason. “Practising holistic movement is the key to systemic balance in the body,” she says. “Stretching moves that are founded on the ancient science of yoga take into consideration both the strengthening and stretching of the agonist (prime moving muscles), and the antagonist muscles in the whole body.”
TRY THIS: Carly recommends a number of yoga stretches: “A standing forward bend is a great grounding technique that encourages us to reach for the earth, stretching out the spine from the top of the neck to the bottom of the coccyx. Start by squeezing the tummy muscles, bending the knees, and rolling the body forward into a folded, hanging rag doll. Drop the head and arms towards the ground, and gently move your back from side to side to feel a nice stretch, and use deep, slow breathing.” The cobra also offers a really great stretch for the thighs, hips, stomach, and throat, she adds, and a spinal twist can help strengthen our core, spine, and back muscles, too.
How you breathe can have a dramatic impact on the way you feel, and by breathing deeper we can be kinder to our bodies, and give them the tools they need to function efficiently.
“We all know how to breathe. It’s simple, isn’t it? Well, yes and no. Sometimes, we breathe in a shallow way, and we’re not getting oxygen into the full capacity of our lungs,” says Lana. “Lungs can expand more than you think, and we need to take advantage of that.”
TRY THIS: “Begin by placing one hand on the top of your chest, just below your neck,” Lana says. “Place the other hand on your belly. Breathe at your normal depth and pace, and see how much your lower hand moves. If it’s not moving, visualise your lungs expanding to allow the oxygen into the lower part of your lungs. When this happens, you’ll feel your lower hand move out, and once you get the hang of this, you’ll be able to belly- breathe whenever you need it.”
Don't punish yourself
Do you constantly berate yourself for reaching for a tub of ice cream instead of a banana? Stop! There are times when we need to be extra sensitive to our needs and mental wellbeing, says Carly – and the global pandemic we are all facing is one such instance. “Rather than punishing ourselves for a lack of discipline, we could look at this situation through a different lens,” says Carly. “We can’t always be expected to mainain discipline when experiencing trauma. This is when we often revert to comfort, safety and stability wherever we can find it – 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. Find out more at bodyandmindholistics.co.uk
Carly Chamberlain has 15 years’ experience in holistic health, and is the author of ‘Listening through my Hands: What is your body saying to you’ (Filament Publishing, £10.99). Find out more at carlychamberlain.com