Body Image, Mental Health and Yoga 

In the practice of yoga the external and internal meet. The physical body moves through a series of a postures, during which yogis attempt to clear the mind of thoughts and distractions engaging with the meditative side of practice. This meeting of internal and external means that yoga can have incredible effects on for your mental wellbeing and body image.

Ask anyone who has taken a faced-paced class, such as Dynamic Vinyasa, and they will tell you that yoga can used as a form of exercise. Practice can get your heart racing, strengthens and tones your body, and improve your overall flexibility. It has been proven in various studies that exercise in general can reap generous rewards beyond physical health. Regular physical activity has been proven to improve self-esteem, whilst also reducing stress and anxiety.

Acceptance Through Asana

This physical aspect of yoga also helps yogis learn about acceptance. Many styles of yoga revisit the same poses, whilst others like Bikram are based on set sequences. This repetition encourages yogis to turn their focus inwards and explore their physical and mental relationship with each pose. After a level of prolonged practice, a yogi will soon realise which poses, depths and variations work and do not work for their body. This is fine, as during the practice we are encouraged by teachers to ‘acknowledge without judgement’, an important wellbeing philosophy of accepting your body and mind as it is and one that can be extended far beyond the mat in day-to-day life.

Image Credit: Katja Widelska

Importance of Community

This philosophy is made very clear when practicing yoga in a studio setting. Each yogi has different levels of strength, flexibility and so on, because body is different and in the process of acknowledging that, one soon learns to accept and be grateful for theirs. The group practice of yoga is also rewarding for the mind. Practicing with others gives a sense of communal identity, where during and after class yogis go on a shared physical, mental and spiritual journey, something that we are not often awarded in our often-busy day-to-day lives. This is often sealed at the end of practice, where yogis are encouraged to say ‘Namaste’ to the class, roughly meaning ‘the light in me recognises and honours the light in you’.

These physical and mental benefits of yoga are no secret. Guardian journalist Laura Barton recently wrote an honest and powerful piece about how hot yoga was instrumental at time when her mental health and body image were at their lowest, ‘when my brain was broken, I focused on my body my mind returned to me.’

13 – 19 May 2019 is Mental Health Awareness Weekand this year’s theme is Body Image – visit their webpage for more information.

Blog written by George Bartlett.