By: Michal Coret

You look in the mirror and go through your list of things to improve about your body. Flatter stomach, perhaps? Thinner arms? Or more muscular arms? Maybe “nicer” legs? Regardless of your favourite target for scrutiny, you are not alone in this attitude. According to a 2011 study by Wade et al., body image disturbances and eating disorders affect over 30 million Americans at some point in their lifetime. That’s an unfortunately high number, and the situation isn’t much better in Canada.

We all know body image affects self-esteem and confidence. These factors, in turn, have been studied and shown to negatively affect academic performance, and are correlated with increased drug and alcohol use, as well as increased risks of depression and anxiety.

What can you do to improve your self-esteem? Maybe you aren’t comfortable going to see a (free) counsellor at the Student Wellness Centre in the basement of MUSC. Maybe you haven’t yet heard that SHEC has (free) peer support in MUSC 202, or that there is an anonymous (free) Peer Support Line provided by McMaster students. I can go on promoting other (free) services, but they might not be the best answer for you. It can be difficult to walk into a counsellor’s office and openly admit that you are having trouble with your body image. It can be difficult to call a support line and tell them your story. Asking for help can be incredibly challenging and will be perceived differently by each person. So if the above services do not work for you at this moment, there are ways you can help yourself.

The beneficial effects of daily yoga and meditation have been a hot media topic recently. To people new to the idea, all the benefits that are advertised can be hard to believe but most are actually supported by solid research. A new and uprising area of study focuses on the effects of mindfulness on body image. The researcher Jennifer J. Daubenmier said in a press release about her study on how yoga benefits body awareness and reduces self-objectification: “This study suggests that women may have intuitively discovered a way to buffer themselves against messages that tell them that only a thin and ‘beautiful’ body will lead to happiness and success.” Yoga was found to reduce self-objectification due to its focus on body awareness and responsiveness. Although that specific study focused on the effect of yoga in women, it is important to acknowledge that body image certainly affects men as well, and the effects of yoga are likely not limited to one gender.

DBAC offers yoga classes as well as free mindfulness meditation classes. There are also plenty of apps, books, videos, and classes off-campus that teach yoga or meditation.  The benefits of yoga extend beyond improving self-esteem and include improving sleep quality, bone strengthening, increasing your focus, and boosting your immune system. We are fortunate to have these opportunities around us. Join SHEC in this challenge to benefit from these options and become more self-aware and develop a healthy (or healthier) attitude towards your own body, one breath at a time.

Photo Credit: Huffington Post


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