Mind and body aren’t simply connected; mind and body are made, fundamentally, of the same stuff. And so, the space of one can be used to help find healing in the other. The following pages explore a new construct — using the ancient technology of therapeutic yoga — through which you can challenge negative core beliefs in the interest of creating a more positive, even joy-full, sense of self, being and body. The awesome truth: you don’t have to feel bad about yourself any longer.
I look so fat; I don’t like my body; I don’t like to look at my body;I hate the way it feels to pull on my jeans; My thighs are so thick; I hate my thighs; I hate my body; I hate the way I look; I don’t want to look at or feel my body; I’m so unattractive; I feel heavy; I feel tired; I feel depressed; I hate myself.
The territory between thought, and feeling - between mind and body - is inherently blurred: thoughts become feeling; feelings inform thoughts; and, when we tread repeatedly the path between certain thoughts and feelings, we create paths of least resistance, virtuous or vicious cycles of thought-feeling that drill deeply inward until they become seemingly, permanently embedded within our bedrock of self concept. Eventually, these thought-feelings cross into core belief territory and fuse with our internal landscape; I feel unloveable becomes I am unloveable.
Ideally, these core beliefs are grounded in positive self regard, underpinned by healthy social support systems. Often, however, for whatever murky reasons of nature and nurture, we tread negative paths of thought-feeling and construct less than positive core beliefs. Many of us end up feeling pretty rotten about ourselves, without ever realizing that we have a choice in the process.
The thing about a core belief is that it feels unchallengeable. To paraphrase honorary yoga therapist Albert Einstein: what does a fish know about the water in which it swims all its life? When subsumed within the paradigm of a core belief, seeing beyond feels impossible, like being asked to perceive light without eyes. As Einstein also astutely understood: “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” To see the way out of a negative thought-feeling cell, one must first realize the nature of one’s imprisonment!
Indeed, even partnered with an experienced psychotherapist, mining a deeply held core belief in order to challenge its veracity is muddied work. Therapists so tasked are challenged: do you attack the negative core belief head on, risking push back by the ever protective ego? And what of dismantling a client’s core foundation too quickly? One should surely then expect some great quakes to follow. Additionally, a mind comfortable in a pattern of thinking will find ways to circumvent change, even if that change would result in a more healthy end for both mind and body.
Therefore, though the mind is the place in which these patterns are initially constructed, it does not always offer adequate space for their dismantling, nor for the subsequent reconstruction of healthier, more joyfully engendering patterns. It is in fact the body, despite often being the perceived source of our mental malaise, that can offer the space to un-work, and re-work, patterns of self perception, thought-feeling, and thereby the construction of core beliefs.
The majority of my yoga therapy clients, across gender and age, present with some issue around self image, ranging from more general negative self esteem and its implications, to clinically diagnosed eating and body image disorders often partnered with depression and anxiety. My experience is that the tools contained within the framework of yoga — movement, meditation, visualization, affirmation, among others — “work” as medicine for these ailments. I’ve watched clients, through committed practice, move from wholly negative self concepts to love of self, body and being.
The “treatments” I co-create with my clients aren’t solely derived from theory. I, too, was once intensely addicted to a negative self esteem, and I had a heck of a time “seeing” my way out of it. Though talk therapy was the initial stimulus for healing I sought, the most effective and lasting treatment I’ve found came to me in the form of yoga and meditation. Through conscious pairing of mind and body — cognition, and somatic engagement — I’ve enjoyed blessed remission from the disease of self hate.
And so, because I embody these concepts, I can teach. Moreover, alongside sharing these tools in group classes and one-on-one therapeutic sessions, I’m interested in building a new model through which both clients and practitioners can understand the healing process. Using tools honed during my training in clinical psychology (MA, 2013), and yoga therapy (MS, 2015), I’ve constructed a new lens through which to view negative self concept, and therefore the mechanisms for healing: the root pathology, I propose, is grounded in what I call Disordered Body Awareness, or DBA.
Underpinning DBA is the idea that body awareness directly informs self concept; that is, the tenor of one’s self perception is informed by the very capacity to perceive one’s self. When someone feels badly about herself, she has the tendency to actively dissociate from her body and being—to avoid “seeing” herself, and in the process numb from physical sensations and stimuli. Disordered Body Awareness and negative self concept are therefore linked in a kind of vicious, mutually reinforcing cycle. Dissatisfaction with self breeds dissociation from one’s physical form; dissociation further informs dissatisfaction, which begets disordered body image attitudes and negative core beliefs. Repeated cycling along this cruel line of perception-thought-feeling ultimately result in Disordered Body Awareness, which then informs a host of physical, psychological, and emotional issues.
I see it in my yoga classes: students visibly in the throes of negative self image, demonstrating very little conscious relationship to where and how their bodies exist in space; others grinding through asana, attached to an idea of achievement that negates their present moment capacity, sometimes to the point of injury. In both cases, the lack of relationship to their bodies and being in a compassionate, present-centered way is evident; rather, minds are gripped by thought-feeling patterns steeped in negative self-judgement.
When caught in this ruminative cycle of comparison of self to some other external ideal — an act which fundamentally removes one from the present moment — becoming aware of one’s being and body in the present moment becomes impossible. Thankfully, when consciously practiced, yoga and meditation fundamentally provide the tools to counteract Disordered Body Awareness: noticing the here and the now, as one is; in the face of present moment appreciation, the tangle of past and future-based patterns of heavy self-judgement are dissolved.
It’s a murky, muddled, complex and still poorly understood relationship, that between mind and body, however enough is known to unequivocally assert that one impacts the other. Good hard science supports this theoretical supposition. Whereas dysfunction in a part of the brain called the insula is understood to be correlated with the kind of dissociation present in body image disorders, activation in the insula — as observed in the brains of active meditators — is thought to be positively correlated with body awareness. That is, mind-body practices strengthen the brain’s functional capacity to tangibly perceive one’s self.
And this is only half of it; in numerous qualitative studies, individuals suffering from issues involving negative self concept — from body image issues to depression, etc — report improved self concept with regular yoga practice. As their neuronal capacity to see themselves clearly strengthens, so too does their ability to value themselves positively. It’s easy to see at least a correlational, if not potentially causal link: regular yoga practice can positively impact self perception through improving body awareness.
Framing the root issue behind negative self concept and its related dissociation as Disordered Body Awareness offers tangible, alternative avenues for treatment when traditional psychotherapeutic approaches prove ineffective. The subclinical and clinical issues that arise can be mitigated, if not outright treated, by regaining functional awareness of one’s self. The tangible act of improving body awareness becomes the “way in” when the mind alone feels too murky a place to see one’s self clearly.
Once the mind can firmly root itself inside the body, breaking the vicious ruminative cycle of self-judgement, then — and often only then — can the conscious re-writing of old, negative patterns occur; in the present moment appraisal of what is, new, positive core beliefs can be mindfully constructed.
And so, when the mind is too entrenched in negative core belief, I direct clients to take the mind “into” the body — to use the space of the body to strengthen the muscles of awareness. That heightened capacity for awareness acts as an anchor to the present moment in which the judgement and worry generated by past and future rumination do not — cannot — exist.
When practiced as meditation in movement, the physical practice of yoga is a perfect vehicle for this cognitive-behavioral work of pairing mind and body; the body can take a shape, and doer can direct the mind toward a certain tenor of self-perception within that shape. For example, a shaking muscle can be choice-fully perceived as “strengthening,” as opposed to weak; body and being can be actively perceived as “whole,” “enough,” “complete,” “deserving,” “lovable.” Every negative thought pattern can be challenged, and re-written through conscious, present-centered choice-full appraisal of self. In the “doing” of the physical yoga, mind and body work together to create and then utilize the internal space for the redrafting of internal physiological and cognitive schemas—positive paths of thought-feeling that thereby inform positive conceptualizations of self. And this can only be done in the light of real, embodied awareness of the present moment!
Okay - enough of the science and the technical talk: of what relevance is this to you, practitioner? The greatest takeaway from this work should be that you, already, contain within you all the tools you need to a) interrupt negative thought patterns through cultivation of “here and now” awareness b) challenge negative core beliefs and c) see your self more clearly in the interest of enjoying real, blessed self-acceptance and love. When the mind feels too dark, too muddied a place to do the work, your body offers you another way in. On days when “thinking” your way out of a negative thought pattern feels impossible: don’t. Put the thinking aside, and move. And when you move: witness. Watch. Practice awareness in every breath. Throw down your yoga mat, and notice the feeling of every strand of muscle firing, whole foot planting, breath filling body like a stretch from the inside out.
And in the space of each breath, notice yourself fully, and let every moment of noticing every inch and ounce of you be an affirmation of you, here and now—and not tangled in some ruminative pattern steeped in self-judgement. You, here and now, are not the you that should have done better in the past, or the you that might fail in the future. You, here and now, are a breathing, moving being, whole and complete, nothing more, and certainly nothing less.
You needn’t be an unwilling partner to an abusive mind any longer. You can walk away, into the clear, well lit space of the body, and choose what kind of relationship with yourself you’d like to cultivate. Start now.
I feel good; I like the way I look; I feel healthy, and strong; my body serves me in ways that make me feel good; I like the light in my eyes, and the way it feels to smile; I notice that when I smile, and feel good, I see that reflected in the faces of others; I feel lovable; I like myself; I love and value myself; I want to help others feel the same way.