In How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness: Simple Daily Mindfulness Practices for Living Life More Fully & Joyfully*, Jan Chozen Bays, M.D., writes “Just as an untamed elephant can do damage, trampling crops and injuring people, so the untamed, capricious mind can cause harm to us and those around us.”

Boy, can I relate. When I was in a body image black hole, my mind would run with mean thoughts. I’d become one big, clenched ball of self-criticism, anxiety, tension and negativity.

Can you relate?

This is one of the reasons mindfulness can be so helpful as a coping strategy – and way of life. We don’t have to live in negativity. We don’t have to criticize ourselves.

This might seem obvious, but I know that for me, I was so accustomed to my intense self-judgment that I didn’t see a way out.

I hadn’t realized that there were ways that I could change my perspective. That I didn’t have to exist in a frightened, flaw-focused world.

Dr. Bays writes, “Mindfulness is a potent tool for training the mind, allowing us to access and use the mind’s true potential for insight, kindness and creativity.”

She defines mindfulness like this:

“Mindfulness is deliberately paying full attention to what is happening around you—in your body, heart and mind. Mindfulness is awareness without criticism or judgment.”

There are many misconceptions about mindfulness, which we’ve talked about before. Dr. Bays mentions an important one in her book: Many people view mindfulness as a “program of time-limited exercises, such as a thirty-minute period of sitting meditation.”

However, mindfulness pervades all areas of our lives, which is why it’s so powerful. Dr. Bays writes:

“Mindfulness is helpful to the extent that it spreads out into all activities of our life, bringing the light heightened awareness, curiosity and a sense of discovery to the mundane activities of life, getting up in the morning, brushing teeth, walking through a door, answering a phone, listening to someone talk.”

Today, I wanted to share with you four of my favorite exercises from Bays’s book that’ll not only help to boost your body image but also improve your mood and life.

1. Appreciate your hands.

A few times a day, watch your hands as though they belonged to a stranger. To remind yourself to do this, you can write “Watch Me” on the back of your hand, wear a ring that you normally don’t, put on nail polish if you don’t usually wear any or wear a unique color.

We rarely realize it but our hands do a lot to take care of us. Bays writes:

“Some Zen teachers say that the way the body takes care of us, without our even being aware of it, is an example of the beautiful and continuous functioning of our Original Nature, the inherent goodness and wisdom of our being. Our hand pulls back from fire before we even register heat, our eyes blink before we are aware of a sharp sound, our hand reaches out to catch something before we know it is falling.”

I think that taking the time to appreciate our hands also helps us learn to appreciate our entire bodies. So focus on what your hands do for you.

Not only do they nourish you with food, but they’re also the vehicles of creation. With your hands, you can cook, paint, draw and write, among other things. You can also hug and touch and thereby support others and show them love.

2. Try a media fast.

Bays suggests not taking in any media for one week. This includes avoiding everything from social media to iPods to TV to newspapers to books. We’re constantly plugged into so many types of media.

So many things grab for our attention on an hourly basis, making it hard to be mindful. A barrage of bad news and vivid images of violence, weather disasters and suffering also affects us deeply.

A media fast is a great way to combat our culture of thinness, too. We’re exposed to so many ads per day, unrealistic images and shame-inducing headlines that it’s healthy to take a break.

We need to take a break, and look inward.

As a reminder, you might cover the TV and put up a sign that says “No News or Entertainment This Week” on your car radio or computer screen.

So what will you do with all the free time you’ll have?

Bays suggests the following: “You can meditate, take a walk, play a game with your family, cook something from scratch, weed the garden, take photos, do artwork, learn a new language or how to play a musical instrument, or just sit on the porch and relax.”

If a week sounds like too much, try a few days or even one day. See how you feel after you’re done.

3. Look with loving eyes.

As Bays says in her book, our usual way of looking at life isn’t loving. It’s either neutral or negative.

This makes me think of how we zero in on our perceived body flaws. We zero in on our cellulite, pockets of fat and bloated belly, and forget to appreciate ourselves as whole beautiful beings.

Instead, try to look at life with loving eyes. Bays writes: “When people try looking at the world with loving eyes, they report a shift in how they see objects and other people.”

So rather than bashing your body, looking at it with disgust or just being uninterested, see yourself with loving eyes. The same eyes we use “when falling in love, when we see a new baby or a cute animal.”

4. Look deeply into food.

Being mindful when we’re eating is so important. It helps us to listen to our body’s cues and savor our food.

According to Bays: “When you eat, take a moment to look into the food or drink as if you could see backward, into its history. Use the power of imagination to see where it comes from and how many people might have been involved in bringing it to your plate,” such as the people who planted and harvested the food, the grocers and the family members who cooked it. “Thank those people before you take a sip or a bite.”

As we think about everyone and everything that’s involved in bringing food to our table, we not only gain a deep appreciation for our meals but we also realize “the true meaning of communion. Each time we eat or drink, we are coming into union with countless beings.”

Bays features a beautiful quote by Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh:

“A person who practices mindfulness can see things in a tangerine that others are unable to see. An aware person can see the tangerine tree, the tangerine blossoms in the spring, the sunlight and rain which nourished the tangerine. Looking deeply one can see the ten thousand things which have made the tangerine possible…and how all these things interact with each other.”

What are your favorite ways to be mindful? How does mindfulness help your body image or life general?

The Giveaway!

By the way, the winner of Julie’s beautiful e-book is … Sarah! Congrats! Please email me to claim your prize. 🙂 Thanks so much to everyone for sharing their inspiring quotes!

(* I received a free copy of the book.)