In yoga, we often talk about keeping the eyes soft to embody a sense of ease and calm in our postures. A hard, narrow gaze translates into tension through our bodies and thoughts. In comparison, when our eyes are soft, our thoughts are kinder. We judge, berate, and demand less. We are more open to the sensory experience of each pose and less concerned about controlling the outcome.
Walk into the yoga room with soft eyes. Do your best throughout your practice to hold a soft drishti (gaze). Practice looking at others with soft eyes, too. You will be less likely to compare when your intention is a soft gaze. Here’s something that may be revelatory: Try seeing yourself with soft eyes, too. Literally soften how you hold your focus and facial muscles, and put your attention on your breath instead of physical forms. When you feel your forehead or jaw tightening, that’s your cue to come back to soft eyes.
Comparative thoughts often lead us to believe we don’t fit it in, we are different, and thus isolated. Calling on the definition of yoga (union) is a tangible reminder that we are not separate after all.
Rather than picking apart your body, notice other elements in the room. See yourself in connection with the world around you. Appreciate the space; take in colors, shapes, nature, architecture, and the beauty of light. Recognize yourself as part of a larger group—and world. Imagine how much you belong.
4. Use mantra
The practice of mantra is incredibly powerful, because words directly influence body image and self-esteem. The more you use comparative language in your self-talk, the greater your shame and guilt will be. On the flip side, the more you make purposeful efforts to feed your mind kind language, the more open and compassionate you become.
Pause before entering the yoga room to set a short affirmation or mantra that you can repeat throughout your practice. It’s best to focus on this before you enter an environment that triggers unkind feelings about your body. Your mantra can be one word (like “trust”), an “I am” statement (such as “I am enough”), or a simple, short phrase (for example, “I am strong and beautiful”). If you have difficulty coming up with a self-affirming mantra, choose one from an existing quote or other source of inspiration in your life.
Your mantra will be your personal power source. Using it will not be a fake-it-until-you-make-it situation. It’s a purposeful practice that will help you learn to relate to yourself in a new and affirming way.
5. When you catch yourself comparing, wish that person well
Cultivating gratitude for your body can feel impossible on tough body-image days. Still, harming yourself with nasty self-talk is not OK—not to mention goes against our yogic practice of ahimsa (non-harming). The practice of wishing someone well is a beautiful way to counteract feelings of resentment and jealousy. It opens us up to our natural capacity to offer love—even to strangers.
Well-wishing is a quiet practice meant only for you to hear. It cultivates positivity within and extends goodness without. To do this practice, notice when your thoughts are ridden with guilt, shame, and comparisons. Pause and take a few breaths to clear your mind and calm the feeling. With soft eyes, place your focus on the person or thing you are reacting to, and quietly say to yourself, “I wish you well.” Repeat the words until you sense a shift, both physically and mentally. Repeat this during your yoga practice as many times as needed to help you foster more ease and presence.
When practiced with compassion and patience, these tips will allow you to be more present in yoga class and less consumed by comparisons that aren’t serving you. These practices will also help you develop appreciation for your own body, because you will have more energy to pay attention to your abilities, gifts, and unique experiences. I’ve used them myself to overcome negative body image in my own life, and I’m hopeful you’ll find them to be valuable as well. Repetition, consistency, and time are essential to letting go of habitual comparative thoughts. Be gentle with yourself, but also committed to showing up more fully for yourself in these ways. You are worth it. Your body deserves your kindness, too.
by Jennifer Kreatsoulas