You’re not alone. Here’s how to use your yoga practice to feel better in your body right now.
We live in a world highly conscious of the presence of social media as a force for human interaction and connection. Social media taps into our basic human instinct to belong to the “tribe,” which is a major reason why our favorite platforms maintain such a prominent role in our lives. With every scroll through our newsfeed, we subconsciously seek to satisfy a deep and primal desire to belong.
Yet here’s the catch: Our personal tribes on social media are significantly more expansive and far-reaching than our tribes of old. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram allow us to bond with friends and family all over the world. In the mere space of a post we watch babies grow up, teens go off to college, couples get married and divorced, and every life event in between. We follow what people eat, what they wear, when they go to yoga class, and how many miles they ran. From the most mundane to the most significant events, we are privy to others’ lives in intimate ways.
See also A Practice to Help You Break Up with Your Bad Body Image Once and for All
Not only does social media offer that comforting sense of “these are my people,” but it also encourages us to make new friends and access other tribes or social groups. As we accumulate more friends that intersect with tribes removed from our personal one, our sense of belonging expands. Plus, beyond interacting with friends, we can join closed groups, create communities that support a cause, and network as professionals. We have instant access to current events and an outlet to voice our opinions. We can like and be liked—loved even. Every post is an opportunity to bond with our tribe, and every like, comment, share, and retweet reinforces our survival instinct to belong.
The line between satisfying our survival instinct and seeking external validation can sometimes blur in our relationship with social media. Let’s face it, the constant stream of images can trigger comparison, jealousy, sadness, shame, and discontent with who we are and what we look like. Filters and other image-enhancing tools have upped the game when it comes to presenting ourselves to the world as picture-perfect, which can leave us feeling pressured to constantly look ready for an image worthy of posting.
Want to form a healthier relationship with social media?
For yoga practitioners, social media represents a rich opportunity to practice the Svadhyaya, the fourth niyama in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Svadhyaya literally means “one’s own reading” or “self–study” and is the practice of observing our behaviors, actions, reactions, thoughts, patterns, habits, and emotions with the intention of gaining wisdom about how to reduce suffering and become more empowered in our lives.
See also Feeling Stuck? Try Self-Inquiry for Resistance
When it comes to using social media, you can empower yourself by paying attention (practicing self-study) to which aspects of social media influence your relationship with your body in both positive, negative, and neutral ways.
To get a baseline for how your relationship with social media affects your body image and self-worth, take a few minutes to reflect on these questions:
- How does your basic human desire to be loved influence how you use and engage with social media?
- How do you feel about yourself when you use and engage with social media?
- What words do you say to yourself about yourself and the people you observe on social media?
The answer to this last question is especially important to study, as your inner dialogue holds tremendous power over your self-esteem, body image, and mood.
See also 5 Ways You Can Use Your Yoga Practice to Improve Your Body Image
In the spirit of yoga, remember to observe your answers to these questions without judgement. Consider what this short self-study exercise revealed. If you bumped up against disempowering thoughts, notice them, breathe, and offer yourself compassion. Commit to one small shift you can make in how you use social media. For example, you might limit your exposure, unfollow triggering people and hashtags, or repeat mantra or affirmation to call on in response to negative self-talk that shows up when you use social media.
A practice for a healthy relationship with social media
Balance the images you feed your eyes and mind with this body mindful yoga practice. As you do it, practice self-study and notice how your self-talk and general vibe compares with these visuals versus social media:
View paintings, drawings, statues, and other pieces of artwork that inspire positive feelings. Notice the colors, textures, and other fine details that capture your attention. What unique qualities do you appreciate about these artistic pieces? If a work of art is especially pleasing to your eye, consider using it as a point of meditation. Gaze at it first thing in the morning for an allotted period of time as you recite a mantra, affirmation, or prayer.
Use this practice often to balance out social media use and bring yourself back to center if you feel “off” after a breeze through your newsfeed. You can also choose to focus on nature or other non-screen entities that bring you a sense of focus, calm, and appreciation.
Call on the practice of self-study often to enlighten you to the empowering aspects of social media in your life as well as recognize patterns in your social media use that are disempowering. When used in the true spirit of connection, social media is a wonderful tool to nurture our natural need for a sense of belonging. It connects us to our primal and collective human need to belong. What was once the tribe or village is now an online format of like-minded friends.
See also Practice Svadhyaya (Self-Study) On the Mat
Adapted from the book, Body Mindful Yoga, by Jennifer Kreatsoulas and Robert Butera. Reprinted with permission from Llewellyn Worldwide.
About the Authors
Robert Butera, MDiv, PhD, founded YogaLife Institute in Pennsylvania, where he trains yoga teachers and Comprehensive Yoga Therapists. Robert’s PhD at CA Institute of Integral Studies focused on Yoga Therapy. He authored The Pure Heart of Yoga, Meditation for Your Life, Yoga Therapy for Stress & Anxiety, and Body Mindful Yoga. Visit him at www.YogaLifeInstitute.com.
Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT, is a certified yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. She is an inspirational speaker and author of Body Mindful Yoga: Create a Powerful and Affirming Relationship With Your Body (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018). Jennifer provides yoga therapy via online and in person at YogaLife Institute in Wayne, PA, and leads yoga therapy groups at Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia. She teaches workshops, retreats, and specialized trainings for clinicians, professionals, and yoga teachers. Jennifer is a partner with the Yoga & Body Image Coalition and writes for Yoga Journal and other influential blogs. She has appeared on Fox29 news and has been featured in the Huffington Post, Real Woman Magazine, Medill Reports Chicago, Philly.com, and the ED Matters Podcast. Connect with Jennifer: www.Yoga4EatingDisorders.com
This is How One Yogi Doctor Used Ayurveda to Treat His Own Cancer
When Tim McCall, MD, found himself in the patient’s chair—diagnosed with cancer in his neck—he didn’t run straight for conventional treatments. Instead, he traveled to India to see an Ayurvedic therapist. Here’s a look at his journey.
Wearing only a muslin loincloth, I lie on a hardwood table stained the color of mahogany from years of oil massages. A warm breeze flutters a sun-bleached crimson sari mounted lengthwise on the wire-screen wall that separates the treatment room from the garden and coconut palms outside. Krishna Dasan, the Ayurvedic therapist working on me, glides an oily satchel filled with freshly cut leaves, garlic, and lemon in long strokes from my chest to my legs. Sometimes along the way, detecting a stubborn area of muscular tightness, he stops and rubs back and forth over the stuck area for a number of staccato strokes before resuming longer ones.
When the bag cools, Krishna hands it to his assistant, Shashi, who puts it back in turmeric-infused oil bubbling on a single-burner gas flame and hands Krishna a hot one. After pounding the satchel once or twice on the table to cool it and remove excess oil, Krishna traces firm circles on either side of my chest. The air is fragrant with a smell more like food than medicine, vaguely reminiscent of homemade pea soup.
See also Raw Green Mint Soup for the Anahata (Heart) Chakra
Because he is worried that the hot oil might cause the metastatic cancer cells in the lymph nodes of my neck to spread, Krishna massages that area only lightly. A few days before we’d begun these treatments, his guru, Chandukutty Vaidyar, an elderly Ayurvedic physician, had warned him to be careful.
Normally, Vaidyar, whose name is the Malayalam word for “doctor,” refuses to treat cancer patients, but since I have been his student for years, he’s made an exception.
“I’m not expecting Ayurveda to cure my cancer,” I tell Krishna. He seems relieved. “I just want to get as rested and balanced as I can be before I undergo the heavy-duty treatments.”
I figure the massages and herbal remedies, which had helped me so much in the past, would at least give me a better shot at getting through what was to come. And although there is zero scientific evidence to support the idea, I suspect they may even increase my odds of getting cured.
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Helpful Ayurvedic Treatments Before Chemotherapy
A few days after beginning this round of Ayurvedic treatments, I notice that my tonsil is no longer covered with a grayish film but is shiny pink and looks smaller in the mirror. When I move my fingers across the lymph nodes in my neck, as I’ve done thousands of times on patients, it feels like they are also shrinking. Krishna agrees. Over the next couple of weeks, this trend continues, with a progressive, slight decrease in the size of the tumors. I’m not thinking this is going to be sufficient to eradicate the cancer, so I’m still planning conventional care, but it feels like confirmation that what I’m doing is already making a difference.
In deciding to go to India for Ayurvedic treatments before commencing chemoradiation, I remember something that I learned in medical school: Cancer is potentially life-threatening, but in most circumstances, it’s not an emergency. That’s why I shudder when people hurry into treatments before they’ve had a chance to carefully consider their options. By the time a cancer is diagnosed, it has often hidden in the body for years, sometimes for a decade or more. This is why a few weeks delay—unless there is a critical situation, such as a tumor obstructing a breathing tube or compromising another vital structure—usually won’t matter much. What is crucial to me is to get the best care possible, not, as I’ve heard patients say, to “get the cancer out of me as soon as possible.” I have the luxury of not being in an emergency, so I am able to do extensive research, talk with loved ones, consult colleagues, and get second opinions from other health-care professionals.
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Yoga and Ayurveda During Chemotherapy
Less than a month after India, I arrive at a major medical center in the southeastern United States for cancer treatments. The air conditioning in the hospital is freezing. I’m wearing a maroon stocking cap, one of several that my sister-in-law, Madelyn, bought for me. Before the chemotherapy drug Cisplatin is infused, the nurse brings a paper cup with two anti-nausea pills. One is a powerful corticosteroid called Decadron. The other pill is a popular new anti-nausea agent that is said to be much more effective than the drugs that came before it.
Just in case, though, to help prevent nausea, I’ve drunk nothing but warm water for the past two days. I made the decision to forgo food after reading a report in an oncology journal that found patients who fasted during their chemo treatments reported little or no nausea. Sitting in the infusion center, I chew on slices of fresh ginger I’ve brought from home—an Ayurvedic remedy for nausea.
See also Fresh Ginger Tea
As the yellow contents of the small bag of Cisplatin drip into a larger bag of saline running into a vein in my arm, I do not think of it as a toxic drug, even though I know full well that it is. Instead, I imagine that it is a healing nectar flowing into me and circulating throughout my body. I lie back on the vinyl chair, look out the window at the few trees in this urban landscape, and silently chant mantras.
The yoga pose that is proving most helpful to me is a prone restorative twist. To come into it, I sit with my bent knees to the right side of my body with my right foot cradled in the arch of my left. As I bring my torso down toward a cylindrical bolster, I twist my spine and my head to the left. Just before my chest lands on the bolster, I turn my neck in the opposite direction, so that my knees and head face the same direction. My breath deepens as I sink in.
This is a beautiful stretch between the neck and the rib cage, helping me preserve movement threatened by the chemoradiation. And because this prone twist is a restorative pose, I can hold it for a long time. I’ve been tired and unable to do much yoga practice most days. Some mornings, just standing and lifting my arms overhead feels like too much. I stay 20 minutes in the twist, then come into the pose on the other side.
Yesterday, Madelyn caught me asleep in the pose. I might have been there 45 minutes. Normally that never happens.
See also Find Serenity Now with this Restorative Yoga Practice
An Integrative Approach to Cancer Treatment Shows Results
Three months post-chemoradiation treatment, I return to the hospital for another PET scan to evaluate my response. I’m told that the areas that lit up on my initial tests seven months ago, indicating cancer, have returned to normal. Neither of my doctors, both of whom examine me carefully, finds any evidence of cancer in my mouth or lymph nodes. I have what they call a “complete clinical response.”
In my experience practicing medicine, cancer treatments can be both overused and overly aggressive. For many malignancies, including mine, an integrative approach that includes the best of modern scientific medicine, but which also addresses the many areas of mind, body, and spirit that the field systematically neglects, appears to offer the best hope.
Holistic systems of medicine such as Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine work like an organic gardener who makes plants (in this case the body) hardier by strengthening the soil rather than simply pouring on pesticides. But sometimes you need both. One aspect of good holistic care is that it welcomes treatments such as drugs and surgery when they seem like the right tools for the job. You might say the integrative path I chose to deal with the pernicious invader that is cancer incorporated the toxic chemicals of chemotherapy along with the soil-enhancing effects of diet, stress reduction, and gentle herbal remedies.
See also 18 Reasons to Practice Self-Care
I didn’t choose this cancer adventure. But I see clearly that my choices set the karma in motion that brought me to it. In trying to deal with it as skillfully as possible, given the imperfect collection of information I’d amassed by the time each decision needed to be made, I did the best I could. And overall, I’m happy with the choices I made.
All you can do is the best you can do at any given time and not second-guess yourself. That’s skill in action—the Bhagavad Gita’s definition of yoga. Is it also yoga to use your life and struggles to learn and grow, turning seemingly bad events into things that serve you. Yoga teaches that it’s possible, through your actions, to change some bad karma into good karma. I chose the path of holism, taking one small step at a time and trying to look at specific aspects of my situation in hopes of shifting the whole in a helpful direction. I addressed my structure, my breathing, my nervous system, and my mind. In addition to the Ayurvedic treatments, I had dozens of acupuncture treatments and regular visits to a physical therapist for bodywork called myofascial release. And I continued my journey of psychological excavation, jettisoning attitudes and behaviors that may have served me in my difficult childhood but which I no longer needed.
As hard as I’ve worked to get through the challenge of cancer, I have also surrendered the illusion that I can control it. After getting the news I’d been hoping for at my follow-up appointment, I learned that there is a 5 to 10 percent chance the cancer will recur in the first three years. Optimistic as I am, I’m aware that my efforts may not have been enough. Part of my hopefulness is that I know that if the cancer should recur, I have tools to help me get through it. To heal even if I cannot be cured. To live however much life I have left with joy and contentment and love. And the urgency the diagnosis has brought is to live life more fully, to bring even more passion and discipline to the work I feel like I’ve been put on the planet to do.
See also NOW Solutions Meditation Ritual for Self Care
About the Author
Adapted from Saving My Neck: A Doctor’s East/West Journey through Cancer by Timothy McCall, MD, © 2018 Timothy McCall (Whole World Publishing). McCall is the bestselling author of Yoga as Medicine and has been Yoga Journal’s medical editor since 2002. Learn more at drmccall.com.
7 Ways You Could Be Sabotaging Your Yoga Practice (And How to Fix Them)
Don’t make these simple mistakes.
If you’re putting the time and effort into showing up for your yoga practice on a daily basis, you want to make sure you’re not accidentally doing anything to sabotage all that goodness.
After all, there are countless little things many of us don’t even think about that can throw off an otherwise lovely, consistent yoga practice: say, rushing out of class to immediately grab a cocktail (or worse, go back to your stressful job), being too harsh and rigid with yourself about practicing certain poses every time, or being glued to your phone the moment you step out of class (guilty, sigh).
Here, we unpack common yoga missteps and how to sidestep them to develop your most beneficial, healing, consistent yoga practice.
See also 9 Top Teachers Share Their Go-To Yoga Mantras
Mistake No. 1: Being too rigid.
When it comes to yoga, you should be going with the flow. (Get it?) That means everything from your practice schedule to whether you take a Wheel Pose or a Supported Bridge. “It’s called a practice because it’s meant to have natural ebbs and flows,” says Los Angeles-based yoga instructor Alexis Novak. “If someone misses a day or is low energy and skips a few chaturangas, that is part of the practice. Sometimes I see yogis using their need to rest or even skip a day of yoga as another way to beat themselves up.”
Mistake No. 2: Not taking some time to revel in yoga’s after-glow.
You definitely don’t want to rush right back to the office (or to whatever your next task is) as soon as you finish Savasana. The whole purpose of yoga, after all, is to stretch the body in order to sit comfortably in meditation. “Rushing from one thing to the next without letting your practice sink in means you can’t really enjoy the benefits of the space you carved out during the session,” says Novak. “Another way people sabotage their yoga practice is by hopping on their phone immediately after they walk out of class,” says Jen Wendowski, owner of Yoga Habit in Philadelphia. “Give yourself a ten-minute rule (even 5 minutes!) of no technology right after class. Let all of the benefits of your class settle in for a bit before you jump right back into life. Your texts and emails will still be there.”
Mistake No. 3: Not valuing your rest days.
If you’re running all the time trying to squeeze in classes (or other workouts) just so you don’t miss a day, odds are you’re not practicing as mindfully as you could be—and that you’re also not comfortable with giving your practice a rest sometimes. Rest days are important! They let you collect yourself and relax, catch up on other errands and tasks that can distract you if they’re not done, and give your body a much-needed day off.
See also How 30 Days of Barre Transformed My Yoga Practice (Plus, 5 Moves Every Yogi Should Try)
Mistake No. 4: Checking your wearable tech during class.
“Our lives are full of sounds, technology, conversation, distraction, and music, and some of these things are great,” says Wendowski. “But it’s healthy to take a break from all of this, too. When I see people in class and they are breathing, sweating, moving, and connecting with their body—and then all of the sudden their Apple watch lights up—game over. It can take them right out of their practice. All of that space they were creating in their mind can get filled up again.”
Mistake No. 5: Treating yoga like an obligation.
It’s OK to schedule your practice—we all lead busy lives, and sometimes you just need to reserve a space in class. But it shouldn’t feel like something you’re doing out of obligation—ever, says Wendowski. If you still feel that way at the end of class, maybe it’s time to take a step back and remember why you practice yoga in the first place, and what you’re trying to cultivate in your life.
Mistake No. 6: Not getting enough sleep.
When I hit my mat in the morning after a night of not enough sleep, I really do seem to hit it— like a heavy load of bricks,” says Cicilee Chapelle, a yoga instructor in Philadelphia. “It’s like I’m dragging my body through quicksand. This does not make for a good physical practice.”
See also Can’t Sleep? Try These 6 Restorative Poses Right in Bed
Mistake No. 7: Over-hydrating or eating right before practice.
You want to eat healthfully and drink enough water—but you don’t want to go overboard or you’re going to struggle throughout your practice. “Having a belly full of liquid can get in the way during your yoga practice—literally, your distended belly could get in the way when you’re twisting and forward folding,” says Chapelle.
About the Author
Gina Tomaine is a Philadelphia-based writer and editor. She is currently Deputy Lifestyle Editor of Philadelphia magazine, and previously served as Associate Deputy Editor of Rodale’s Organic Life. Her work can be seen in Women’s Health, Runner’s World, Prevention and elsewhere. Learn more at ginatomaine.com.
9 Top Teachers Share Their Go-To Yoga Mantras
Looking for a mantra to help you focus during your yoga or meditation practice? We asked some of our favorite teachers to share their go-to mantras.
We’ve all been there during a yoga practice or meditation session: Despite our best efforts, monkey-mind takes over and we’re running through everything from that sticky interaction with the boss to all the to-dos that need to happen before the end of the day.
One way to quiet this all-too-common scenario is to practice using a yoga mantra. Similar to the breath, mantras are a useful tool for anchoring into the present moment and providing a point a focus. The best part? You can easily use a mantra anywhere you go. In fact, for many of the teachers we talked to, mantras are a way to help them experience the kind of peace they feel on their yoga mats and meditation cushions when they’re out in the real world.
Even better, your mantra can change whenever you like, depending on what you need. And it doesn’t have to be in Sanskrit or so long that you need a little print-out. A mantra can simply be a word or phrase that is accessible and supportive.
See also The Beginner’s Guide to Common Mantras
We asked top yoga teachers to tell us their go-to mantras, so you can get inspired to use a meaningful mantra in your practice, too. Here’s what they shared with us.
About the Author
Bridget “Bee” Creel is the editorial producer for Yoga Journal. She works as a yoga teacher in NYC and is the co-founder of the wellness community, Mood Room.
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