I don’t remember exactly when in my childhood I started disliking my body and myself, but I do remember the moment that I finally started to love and accept myself. It was in April 2014 during a backbend in an Ashtanga Mysore class. My teacher was assisting me to go deeper than I ever had before. I felt something inside me crack open—not a physical crack, but one I definitely felt. As I came out of the pose I burst into tears, and my self-loathing started to flow out of me right along with the tears. The next day—for the first day since I was a child—I went about my day and didn’t think, let alone care, about what anyone else thought of my body.
While not everyone will have a sudden and definitive moment of clarity like I did, there are plenty of ways to steadily boost self-acceptance through yoga. Here are seven practical techniques to help you along on your self-acceptance journey.
1. Gift Yourself
Stepping onto the mat for an hour or so of practice is an act of generosity to yourself. Whatever the reason you originally rolled out the mat, realize it is a small gift you’ve given yourself; a little window of time away from the regular concerns and influences of life, like a mini-retreat. Each time you claim that hour of practice for yourself, you reinforce the notion that you are worthy of being nurtured.
2. Build Strength
We build our self-acceptance “muscle” in the same way we build our physical muscles. As we build strength in the body—particularly in the core—our confidence strengthens as well. Every action we make, from walking to reaching for things, begins in the core, so a stronger core naturally creates stronger movements.
A strong core boosts our confidence because housed in the core is the solar plexus chakra, Mani Pura, the center of our sense of self and self-love. The stronger your core, the more energy you give to this important chakra. Focus on building core strength by incorporating poses like navasana, plank, and chaturanga, as well as arm balances and jump-throughs, to your practice.
3. Release Stress with the Breath
When we are stressed, we sit within the sympathetic nervous system, meaning we’re in a constant state of fight or flight. When we are bound in this mode, we can’t access the higher thinking part of the brain, making it much harder for us to resist negative thoughts and influences and discern between real and imagined threat. We fall into old patterns and tell ourselves stories that aren’t true.
Focussing on the breath can help free us from fight or flight mode. By using the mind to maintain measured breathing, we can release negative chatter and experience instant stress relief. Taking it a little further and ensuring our exhales are a little longer than our inhales, we can start to let the parasympathetic nervous system take over, shifting us into relaxation mode. In relaxation mode we can regain control of the brain and choose more loving thoughts and actions.
4. Cultivate Body Awareness
As we continue to practice, we become more aware of ourselves, from the breath to the toes and everything in between. Yoga is a moving meditation that demands we pay attention to the details: how we move between asanas, how we place our limbs, and our breathing. The more we practice, the more we appreciate the body for what it can do rather than what it looks like.
5. Challenge Yourself
Our yoga mat should be a loving and non-judgemental place for us to be challenged. Finding and facing challenges on the yoga mat helps to build self-acceptance. With regular practice, poses that once felt completely beyond us become possible, and then eventually become easy. This natural progression transforms our belief in ourselves and our abilities, improving self-acceptance.
6. Emphasize Progression Over Perfection
Yoga is about making progress, not about perfecting anything. The physical practice of yoga is a tool and a journey, not a destination. Finding patience and joy in the process and meeting ourselves where we are helps us to let go of perfectionism, one of the greatest thieves of self-love and acceptance. The practice of accepting where we are on the mat, in turn, increases our acceptance of where we are in life.
7. Release the Issues in the Tissues
We are not born believing we are not enough. This belief comes later, works itself into certain areas of our body, and travels through life with us until we let it go. Any bodyworker and most yoga teachers will tell you about the emotional outpouring that occurs as you release and find ease within the physical body. Those who study fascia in particular, such as Tom Myers, James Oschmann, and Paul Grilley, suggest memories and trauma are stored in this strong and sturdy connective tissue. Yoga, especially yin, helps to release the fascia and the negativity that lives inside it.
The personal breakthrough I had during that backbend came about after years of regular, committed practice that incorporated all seven of these techniques. I still stumble and have setbacks once in a while just like anyone else, but with continued practice and awareness, I’m getting better and better at loving and accepting myself, and I believe that you can do the same.