Yoga Tools For Quieting Body Comparing Thinking
(Note: Parts of this post originally appeared in my article 5 Secrets to Help You Quit Comparing Your Body to Others During Yoga Class on Yoga Journal.com and are inspired by my upcoming book Body Mindful Yoga.)
Inner dialogues fixated on what we don’t like about our bodies are harmful, as they breed guilt, shame, and comparison to others, making it nearly impossible to feel peaceful, confident, and present. We become distracted and agitated. A single body comparing thought can instantly multiply into 100s, and before we know it, we have lost 30 minutes of our lives, missing out on opportunities to connect, experience, and appreciate ourselves, others, and our surroundings.
In fact, when we are caught up in body comparing thoughts, we are probably everywhere but present. Meaning, our eyes are scanning others’ bodies around us, comparing size, shape, features, flexibility, and capability. We might even get caught up in comparing clothing and perceived popularity or how much more people “fit in.” Comparing to others is a slippery slope that can go on and on and on, compromising our self-worth, self-esteem, body image, and eating disorder recoveries.
If you are often distracted with body comparing thoughts, here’s 5 of my favorite hands-on Yoga tools to quiet body comapring thinking and practice becoming more present:
1. Ground in the moment with your hands at heart center.
Anjali mudra, or hands at heart center, is posture commonly performed during yoga class. Done from standing or seated, we often pause with our hands at heart center to connect with ourselves and the moment; an opportunity for quiet reflection.
Body comparing throws us far off our center as we obsess about external factors. Use this mudra to pull yourself back to center. Use it like a reset button, a physical reminder to let go of body comparing and return to the moment.
Firmly press your hands together and bring your awareness to the feeling of palm into palm, fingertips into fingertips. Take a few moments to stay focused on the feeling of your hands pressing into one another as you take several deep breaths in and out. Count the breaths to help deepen your focus and detach from body comparing. Stay with this hand position and your breath for as long as you need and remember that you can return to it again as many times as is helpful to ground again.
2. Soften your eyes.
In yoga, we often talk about keeping the eyes soft to embody a sense of ease and calm in our poses. A hard, narrow gaze translates into tension in 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 the pose and less concerned about controlling the outcome.
Practice looking at others with soft eyes. You will be less likely to compare when the intention in your eyes is softness. See yourself with soft eyes, too. Literally soften how you hold your eyes 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.
3. See yourself as part of the whole.
Body comparing thoughts 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 stay stuck in picking apart your body, notice other elements in your surroundings. Imagine you are looking into a giant mirror and 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 this mirror reflects belonging versus self-alienation. See yourself through the lens of wholeness founded on connection, founded on yoga.
4. Use mantra.
The practice of mantra is incredibly powerful, for our words directly influence our body image and self-esteem. The more we use body comparing language in our self-talk, the greater our shame and guilt. Conversely, the more we make purposeful efforts to feed our minds kind language, the more open and compassionate we become.
Create a short affirmation or mantra that you can repeat throughout your day. 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, an “I am” statement, or a simple, short phrase. If it feels difficult to identify a self-affirming mantra, choose one from a quote or source of inspiration in your life.
Your mantra is your personal power source. Using it is not “fake it until you make it;’” rather, it’s purposeful practice learning to relate to yourself in a new and affirming way.
5. Rather than compare, wish others well.
Cultivating gratitude for our bodies can feel impossible on those hard body image days. Even still, harming ourselves with nasty body comparing self-talk is not OK and goes against our yogic practice of ahimsa (or kindness). The practice of well wishing—literally wishing others well—is a beautiful way to counteract feelings of resentment and jealousy and 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 filled with guilt, shame, and comparison thoughts about your body. 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 physically and mentally. Smile and repeat as many times as needed to help you create more ease and presence.
These tips, when done with compassion and patience, will allow you to be more present in your daily life and less consumed with body comparing thoughts. 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 body comparing 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.