As human beings we like attention. Some more than others. And body image is one of the first things people recognize, so we tend to care about it a lot more. It is part of the first impression. People strive to feel or present themselves in a certain way to get the best response for different occasions. Some people just don't care. But women, on the other hand, seem to have a significant amount of pressure to look a certain way. From the top of our heads down to our pedicures. Yeah, some women do it for themselves or even to impress other women, but more or less to win the attention of men. To beat out the competition. Men have different taste across the board. Some like women with a large breast, a “donkey,” long hair, tall, skinny, thick, etc. And women, either consciously or subconsciously, tend to adjust their appearance to appeal to them. Then become so critical of ourselves or each other, that it can take a significant toll on our self-esteem.
As a woman, you can look back and recall situation your outer appearance was criticized or made you feel less than a woman. Maybe it was in a relationship, parents, religion, or even a job. Growing up Pentecostal, I was taught women should cover up and wear long skirts, no jewelry, no makeup because it was pleasing to the lord of almighty! Thankfully, I do not ascribe to such beliefs anymore, but I felt it was the right thing to do. There was a relationship where I downgraded my outward appearance to make him feel less insecure around other people. Then there was another when he wanted me to look sexier. Then I went natural and wore my curly for years and remember being told by a supervisor at my job my hair was unprofessional. Then I began to straighten my hair and was told by a few zealots as a black queen I should wear my hair in its natural state as if I didn’t know already I was a queen, I can keep going on and on. But this type of criticism can take a toll on your self-esteem either you realize it or not, and we began to make decisions that are unhealthy for our souls.
Let's be honest with ourselves and how we strive to appeal to the masses. How much are we doing it for ourselves? How much are we doing it for attention? And why? We can change anything about ourselves and still be criticized or feel that we aren't enough. That is why we must get in touch with the SELF. Nurture our souls. Calm our minds. Love ourselves, so that when we look in the mirror every morning makeup or no makeup, think or skinny, A cup to DD, short or long hair—you see nothing but divine royalty. This is where yoga comes into play!
Yoga is a meditative practice through asanas (poses) that helps you develop a more serene life. Yoga also offers physical, psychological, and spiritual benefits. Yoga means different things to a lot of people. I believe anyone can choose what aspect to focus on depending on their personal lives, vices, or attitude. There is now Trap Yoga, Kemetic Yoga, and Goat Yoga (that I will never do). Or if you just want to have fun, go for it! At some point I realized how much I’ve allowed other people influence my life either it was the way I dress, speak, act, etc. As I continued to do yoga (six years), I began to realize how much it has changed my life including improving self-esteem issues. How is that?
It was an awkward experience when I began to do yoga naked—feeling air in unfamiliar places during downward facing dog or even a headstand was very different haha. But I started to feel more and more liberated, not associating any negative experience with perceived flaws. So peel off them yoga clothes, get down to who you were before you entered this world; before you were told or felt like you were inadequate. This can be done alone from the comfort of your home; when your kids are asleep or gone to school, or in the bathroom after or before you shower (if it's big enough). Better if there is a mirror around to look at all your "flaws" and declare them beautiful; cellulite, stretch marks, freckles, etc. That's right, even if you don't feel it, say it anyway. Because your body is divine and made precisely the way it should. Now when I find myself being self-critical, I strip off my yoga close and move around the mat naked.
There are a series of poses I do more than others that I feel aid in loving myself more. If you aren’t comfortable with doing yoga naked or don't have the quality of space to do it, try out these poses.
1. Goddess pose. This pose is perfect! You turn to the side of your mat with your legs apart, knees bent, chest to the sun, and arms spread like an Egyptian goddess. I suggest staying in the pose for at least three breaths or more. When done, heel-toe your feet back up to a standing position.
2. Knee to chest pose. This pose is a great way to love yourself literally. You lye on your back and bring both knees to your chest. Then you embrace your arms around your legs to give yourself a big hug. I stay here for at least five breaths—when do you get the chance to hug yourself?
3. Head to knee pose. This pose you bring your foot to your opposite leg's inner thigh keeping the other leg straight, lowering your head to your knee. From here, go ahead and kiss yourself on your leg. It is a beautiful gesture, and you may feel weird, but you love yourself remember? I stay here for at least five breaths.
4. Rag-doll. This pose you literally fold over with knees slightly bent and grab opposite elbows having your torso resting on your thighs and dropping your head. This pose gives yourself a little hug that I usually stay for at least three breaths.
5. Warrior II. This pose is electrifying, channeling your inner warrior to help you feel confident about yourself. From here you can move into Exhaulted/Peaceful Warrior dropping your back arm down your hind leg, front arm extended up to the sky. Stay for at least three breaths.
You can stay at each pose for as long as your body will comfortably allow, making sure you are focusing on your breath.
Not just any plain out yoga music station or CD, but music that is both mentally and emotionally stimulating to help shift your Self back to the center. For instance, if you just broke up with someone, play Beyoncé if she does it for you (to the left, to the left!). Or if you have been self-critical on your body lately, play a romantic artist like Ed Sheeran. Or even Tank and Usher. That's right "When We" and "Can You Handle It" type songs. I find this helps to rebuild my self-confidence and makes me feel good about myself again. Sometimes I have a song or album on repeat. You can play whatever you like however long to help you feel better about yourself.
As women, we must realize how much we can allow others to influence our self-appearance and shift that concern to ourselves. We must truly love ourselves to a point where if someone makes you feel inadequate, you can laugh and “twirl” on your haters knowing that you are beautiful and divinely made. This is something that must be worked on throughout our lives throughout changes in our physical physique such as pregnancy. And yoga is a beautiful tool to have when you find yourself being self-critical, insecure, or just plain unloved. So go ahead and create a playlist of sensual or empowering songs, and start doing yoga naked. If being naked is too much, start off playing the music when you are cleaning or before you start your day. Hang affirmations on your mirror such as "you are beautiful," “you are enough," "you are perfect just the way you are," or whatever you may be feeling insecure about, write the opposite of how you want to feel. Repeat the affirmations every day! Then maybe move along to the poses, then perhaps get naked! Whatever way you go, stick to it, don’t give up on yourself. You deserve to be loved!
Hope these tips can help you along your journey to self-love and freedom as it has mine. Namaste.
~ JoAnnah (Jo Jo) Thompson