Belly Love, do you have it? When I teach, I spend time each session focusing students on their bellies. With the “belly bonfire” breath, we expand the belly out to it’s fullest, softest capacity with each inhale.. and I suspect that this may be hard for some women. Many of us have spent too much time in our lives holding in our bellies. Is it any wonder that we find it difficult to be soft?

Many come to yoga in the first place from a place of great enmity with our bodies. We want to change what we are, thinking that we aren’t good enough already. We want the “yoga body.” Where does this come from? A lifetime of cultural messages and a media diet teach women that we never perfect enough. And often the idealized yoga images don’t help in our journey toward of love an acceptance – quite the reverse. I often ask my students to let go of that of that perfect yoga image from Yoga Journal magazine as we move into our poses organically (I want the poses to be about how they feel, not what they look like).

From Danielle at Body Divine Yoga, who compares our current way of thinking to ancient views of the sacred female body:

That’s what bothers me about the images fed to us by the yoga marketing machine. They speak to an ideal of spiritual discipline in which denial is the name of the game. And they take root in an ascetic tradition that spurns the body and the physical world, and female bodies in particular.
….According to author Lisa Sarasohn, (The Women’s Belly Book)  the belly of the Great Mother Goddess signified woman’s miraculous connection to “the force that brings forth, sustains and renews life”. It’s abundant folds signify not only her procreative powers but her capacity to nourish herself, to feel and fulfill her desires. So she asks, is it any wonder from the point of view of a patriarchal authority invested in keeping women under control, that the belly became so subversive?

Venus of Urbino (by Titian) – had no problem with her rounded belly. There are clearly healthier ways to embrace our natural softness.

It is important to understand deeply what moves our decisions. Are you motivated to practice yoga or to exercise by self-care or self-loathing?

How do we move towards self-care? 

1. Mindfulness. The first step, if you are coming from a place of negative body image is to be mindful of your negative self-talk about your body. If you can notice your negative thinking, you are already shining the light of awareness onto the problem. Notice what triggers negative thoughts and how often it happens. Notice how those thoughts make you feel.

2. Question your assumptions. Try to truly answer this question: How would your life be without those judgmental thoughts? Would you be able to shine your light more fully in the world if you were grounded in a place of self-love and acceptance? Would you be able to practice more kindness and generosity?

3.Counter with Gratitude. What wonderful things does your body do for you every day? Can you appreciate that you have a healthy heart, healthy limbs? Can you appreciate that this wonderful, soft belly has (or has the potential to) sustain life (what a miracle!!!)? If you practice a gratitude journal every night, write down three things about your body that you are grateful for.

4. Set an Intention of Care and Power. In your yoga practice (or other exercise), instead of making a superficial body image goal, set the intention to build your power in body, mind, and spirit. Practice to take care of yourself and build your focus, grace, groundedness, and power. Practice to unleash the vibrancy of the universe within.

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Be well,