“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” – Wayne Dyer
A healthy mind is just as important as a healthy body! While you may make exercise a priority to take care of your body (which is awesome, btw, keep it up!), if you are regularly practicing negative self-talk or find yourself feeling down or bad about your body, it may be time to start including some exercises to help you improve your self-image too. These three simple (but effective) positive body image exercises are a great place to start!
The Importance of a Positive Body Image
What exactly is ‘body image’? According to the National Eating Disorders Collaboration or (NEDC, as quoted here) body image can be defined as “…the perception that a person has of their physical self and the thoughts and feelings that result from that perception.” The NEDC also says it is made up of four aspects:
Perceptual body image: how you see your body
Affective body image: how you feel about your body
Cognitive body image: how you think about your body
Behavioral body image: the way you behave as a result of your perceptual, affective, and cognitive body image (NEDC, 2017)
All of this is important because when your body image is positive, you can accept, appreciate and respect your body, which may make you more likely to engage in healthy behaviors.
3 Simple Exercises to Help Build a More Positive Body Image
If you are ready and open to it, here are three simple exercises that can help you change the way you see your body:
Research shows that focusing on what we’re thankful for about our bodies can improve our body image and decrease weight bias internalization, both of which are important for physical and psychological well-being. Brainstorm a list of all of the things you are grateful for about your body (such as your health, your strength, even something as simple -and incredible – as your beating heart). If you can, try to come up with at least a list of five different things.
Once you have your list, read them through and really feel and visualize each one. Then pick your top three and get specific about why you are grateful for each of them (for example, I’m grateful for the strength in my arms that allows me to carry my grandchildren, my groceries and hug my loved ones). This simple exercise can be a wonderful way to start or end your day and offers some major mood and body image boosting benefits. (Learn more: “One Simple Exercise to Improve Your Body Image“)
#2: Write A Letter To Yourself FROM Your Body
I’ve often heard that writing a letter to your body can be helpful, but when I came across this exercise here on Soul of Therapy centered around writing a letter to yourself FROM your body, I was intrigued. I mean, think about that for a second — have you ever stopped for a second to wonder what your body would say back to you after all of these years? Maybe it’s been trying to speak to you and you haven’t ever stopped to listen. This exercise is such an eye-opening way to connect to your body!
Soul of Therapy suggests starting with your eyes closed, taking a moment to do a thorough full-body scan (while this is usually done in group therapy with a leader assisting, you can also try this on your own by really focusing on moving down your body from head to toe, taking time to really check in and see how all of the various parts of your body feel when you focus your attention on them one at a time).
After you’ve spent some time to really connect with your body, try writing a full letter to your body answering the question, If your body could talk back to you, what would it say? Don’t judge or censor your answers, just try to let everything stream out on to your page and fill it with whatever comes to mind. This is a powerful exercise that can really provide some insights. If you are open to it, you may find that your body really has a lot to tell you and has just been waiting for you to ask it to speak.
#3: Adopt a Personal Mantra (or Two)
Let’s face it, we all have moments when we say some not-so-nice things to ourselves. One of my favorite ways to break the train of negative thoughts is by adopting one (or two, or three!) personal mantras that you can use to redirect your brain when it starts spiraling down. Some examples might be: I love myself. I respect myself. I am enough. I have enough. Or, just because I think it, doesn’t make it true. (If you need more, check out this great list here on Greatist). The important thing is just to find something that resonates with you, especially when you say it to yourself.
Healthy Body Image = Healthy Body, Mind & Spirit
Exercising both your mind and body are equally important, especially if one of your goals is changing your body size or composition. We often think that if we can just lose those last ten pounds or fit into those skinny jeans we’ll feel better and be happier, but that isn’t usually the case. Spending time caring for and developing your body and mind can lead to better health, happiness, and contentment, today — not just when you reach your goals. Try to incorporate any of these positive body image exercises regularly into your self-care routine for a healthier body, mind, and spirit.
(And if you aren’t exercising regularly yet, but would like to start, or continue on a healthier path, be sure to find a program that makes you feel better about yourself, not worse! Look for a plan that is appropriate for your current level and an instructor or trainer will make you feel successful (challenged is OK!) and inspired to stick with it over the long term, not just during ‘swimsuit season.’ You can learn more about all of our available home workout programs here).
This content is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. Be sure to consult with your physician or other health care provider with questions about your fitness goals.