Why Learning Your Body’s Needs Can Improve Your Body Image

Anna Guest-Jelley
Why Learning Your Body’s Needs Can Improve Your Body Image

Do you know that saying about how fish don’t know they’re in water because they’re surrounded by it?

I relate to that fishbowl life because the water I swam in for the majority of my life was of the mostly-hate-my-body-all-the-time variety. That was so true for me that I didn’t even know I felt bad about my body for a long time. I just thought that was how all people felt at all times—simultaneously feeling like too much and not enough.

You Take What You Can Get

The only tool I had at the time to fight that feeling was dieting. So my cycle went something like this: Feel bad about my body, hunt down a new diet, feel victorious and like the world would be my oyster in 2 weeks or less, fall off the diet, feel terrible, start again. Lather, rinse, and repeat.

And, of course, the more I re-inscribed this pattern, the harder it was to see it as such.

Instead, I saw myself as a failure and continued to further disconnect from my body, which didn’t exactly make me feel better about it.

New Paradigm

Years later, when I was first in therapy, my therapist asked me to engage in an experiment to notice how hungry I was throughout the day on a scale of 1 (starving) to 10 (Thanksgiving-full). Most of the time, I just marked down a 3 before and a 7 after because…well, I had no clue.

To help me find a way into this process, my therapist suggested I cue into one identifiable physical sensation. At first, I balked. If I knew what my body was feeling, why would I be in her office?!

But after I took a moment to hop off that particular ledge, I realized there was something I could connect with—my breath.

Tuning Into My Breath

What eventually gave me a way back into connection with my body was a deep breath.

Breath was available to me as a physical sensation because I’d been practicing yoga for years. Of course, I hadn’t come to yoga for bodily connection or acceptance (quite the opposite, really), but it turned out it had been waiting for me all along.

So I began the experiment again, cueing into my breath along with my hunger. I noticed that my breath was shallower when I was hungry or stuffed, but more relaxed when I was satisfied and full—neither hungry nor stuffed.

To say this was a huge a-ha! moment for me could go down in the Guinness Book of World Records, filed under “Biggest Understatement.”

How I Got Here

The more I practiced this, the more I realized how much more available my physical sensations were, thanks to yoga. And that’s everything.

Because here’s the truth: if you want to feel better about and accept your body, you first have to know your body. Our bodies are so brilliant that our physical and emotional states are intricately connected. So when you can tune into your body during a moment of emotional discomfort, you can often locate where it’s living in your body.

For me, I often feel this as a pit in my stomach. So when I feel into that pit, I can soften it by placing my hands there and taking a few deep breaths. Amazingly, that alone will often begin to loosen my grip on the edge of the body image cliff I was about to fall off.

Conduct Your Own Experiment

So unlike my own feel-bad cycle, I now have one that goes like this: Feel bad about my body, locate the sensation in my body, do something to shift it (breathe and/or move), ground and come back to center, locate my negative belief and shift it (acknowledge, journal, talk with someone). Repeat as needed.

The beauty of this approach is it’s available to you anytime. So the next time you find yourself in a similar position, see what you can shift and change through the connection you have with your body…and what yoga has been building for you all along.