We often think that the only path to accepting our bodies and treating them (and ourselves) well is to embrace everything, to embrace ourselves from head to toe. And you might be wondering: But what if I still hate my thighs? What if I can’t get over my nose? Does that mean I’ll be miserable in my skin forever?
I think the path to a positive body image and body acceptance can start with the practices of treating ourselves well—well before we love our thighs and well before we accept our noses.
Similarly, you don’t need to change your thighs or change your nose or make any other adjustments to start feeling more comfortable with yourself. Again, there are different practices you can try, different actions you can take that directly help you to feel better (no changes or blissful feelings necessary).
On Wednesday, therapist Lea Seigen Shinraku shared three powerful self-compassionate practices in this piece. Below, she shares three more important practices for being kind to your body (and yourself) even when you don’t like it, even when you think you don’t deserve kindness.
Meet Your Wildness
Sometimes being kinder to your body means taking a break from focusing on its imperfections and shifting your attention elsewhere, in this case to the wild, natural world. It might not seem obvious at first, but there’s a deep connection between self-compassion and wildness.
This is illustrated by a part of Anne Frank’s story. She had a relationship with a chestnut tree outside the building where she and her family hid from the Nazis. Just looking at and appreciating that tree and the sky beyond it seemed to nourish Anne’s strength and resilience, and to remind her of her connection to something much vaster than her extremely challenging circumstances. Her experience can remind us that we all have access to wildness, wherever we are, and that it’s a powerful resource.
Why does contacting your wildness help awaken self-compassion? One way to understand it is to recognize that self-judgment is an expression of your conditioned mind, and it’s a kind of trance. When you mindfully contact something wild, you have the opportunity to break that trance, and to come home to your timeless true nature. Nothing wild is going to reinforce your story that you will only be acceptable or happy if you weigh xxx or are a size __.
Try it. Right now, give your attention to something that’s unconditioned; something not made by human minds and hands. Look away from your computer, phone, or tablet and make direct contact with the natural world. You might notice the color of the sky, the movement of clouds, the shapes of shadows on a wall. Or there may be a tree or plant that’s growing near you. Perhaps an animal or an insect is passing by. Maybe you can feel the sun on your skin, or the breeze on your face. Focus your attention on this experience for a minute, absorbing as much of it as possible. Notice how you feel.
If you have an unscheduled block of time, you could extend this practice by heading out to a park or hiking trail and noticing how you feel when you’re surrounded by wildness and consciously paying attention to it. If you don’t have a whole afternoon or morning, don’t let that stop you. Even five minute break of looking at the sky can shift your perspective and help remind you of who you are, the vastness that you belong to and that doesn’t judge you.
Appreciate The Ordinary
When you’re stuck in a trance of self-judgment and self-hate, you tend to focus on all the things that are going wrong or needing to change, rather than recognizing what you do have and what (or who) is supporting you. Here is another practice that can help you shift your focus from criticizing your body/appearance, to the other aspects of your life that you appreciate.
This practice comes from the Mindful Self-Compassion course that I teach, and it can help you relate more compassionately to yourself and your experience, and to remind yourself that there are aspects of your life that are working and that you appreciate, even though you also struggle. It’s widely acknowledged that practicing gratitude has many benefits, and this practice is often surprisingly enlivening.
You can practice appreciating the ordinary by sitting quietly for a few moments. As you pause, reflect on your life or a typical day and see if you can name 10 tangible, everyday things that you really and truly appreciate, but that you typically take for granted. Some examples might be: heat, buttons, clean water, soap, erasers, ear plugs, coffee, pens, dental floss, wind chimes, books. You might want to write down your list. Notice how you feel after identifying and appreciating these ordinary things you may have not thought much about!
You can try this practice daily. You can also remember to appreciate the ordinary when you notice that you feel overwhelmed or self-critical and need to remember what you do have; what you do appreciate. Taking just a few moments to recognize the small, important things can help you recalibrate when life, or self-criticism, feels like too much.
Soles of the Feet
- To start, stand up and feel the soles of your feet on the floor. (It’s easier to feel your soles on the floor if you take off your shoes, but if it’s not convenient to do that, it’s ok)
- Begin to notice the sensations ~ the sense of touch ~ in the soles of your feet on the floor.
- To better feel sensation in the soles of the feet, try gently rocking forward and backward on your feet, and side-to-side. Perhaps making little circles with your knees, feeling the changing sensations in the soles of your feet.
- When your mind wanders, just bring it back to feeling the soles of your feet again.
- As you focus your attention on the soles of your feet, perhaps finding a sense of appreciation for all these feet have done. They took your first steps, and think of all the places they have taken you since. See if you can let a sense of gratitude register for these hard-working feet.
- Now beginning to walk, slowly, noticing the changing sensations in the soles of your feet. Noticing the sensation of lifting your foot, stepping forward, and then placing your foot on the floor. Now doing the same with the other foot. And then one foot after the other.
- As you walk, perhaps appreciating how small the surface area of your foot is and how your feet support your entire body. If you wish, allowing another moment of gratitude for the hard work that your feet do, which we usually take for granted.
- Continue walking, slowly, feeling the soles of your feet.
Now returning to standing again, and expanding your awareness to your entire body, letting yourself feel whatever you’re feeling and letting yourself be just as you are.
Lea Seigen Shinraku is a licensed marriage and family therapist in San Francisco. She offers depth-oriented, self-compassion-based therapy, as well as workshops, groups, classes and trainings focused on self-compassion. Learn more about Lea and sign up for her self-compassionate newsletter at http://www.leaseigenshinraku.com.