Robert Butera and Jennifer Kreatsoulas joined us for an interview on their book, Body Mindful Yoga: Create a Powerful and Affirming Relationship with Your Body. What follows are our questions in italics, and their thoughtful responses.
In your introduction to Body Mindful Yoga: Create a Powerful and Affirming Relationship with Your Body, you identify your message – “Change your language to heal your relationship with your body.” Please tell us more.
Our language is everything: it shapes our reality and reflects how we feel about ourselves. How we absorb or internalize others’ words and how we speak to ourselves directly impacts our body image and self-esteem.
Our language is not separate from our bodies; the two are intimately connected. Our bodies translate language through mood, health, perception, and disposition. For example, when we tell ourselves that we don’t measure up, that attitude comes through in subtle and gross ways in our bodies. We might hunch our shoulders or not look others in the eye. This attitude will likely influence how we dress and maybe even how we look at food and nourish our bodies. In contrast, when we are connected to a sense of confidence, we are likely to stand a little taller, feel more entitled to share our ideas, and be less distracted by what others are doing. Our dress probably mirrors our confidence, and we’re likely to compare ourselves to others less.
One of the most profound ways we lose hold of our personal power is through our language, especially when we negate instead of affirm, belittle instead of empower, chastise instead of validate ourselves. The good news is that we can regain our personal power by using language purposefully and mindfully. We begin healing the language within by noticing how our language is either lifting us up or knocking us down. From that awareness, we can make shifts in how we use language, little by little eliminating the words and phrases that are self-critical, freeing up space to feel more ease and even contentment. This is a foundational belief of our body mindful philosophy.
What is your definition of “body mindful”?
Social norms have made it acceptable to openly and frequently express dissatisfaction with our physical appearance. Conversely, conveying a sense of pride or contentment with our bodies runs the risk of being interpreted as self-centered or even narcissistic. Mixed messages such as these may leave the impression that our bodies are a problem, and we may innocently fall into the pattern of talking disparagingly about our bodies or purposely refraining from showing appreciation or admiration for our bodies’ abilities and attributes. Ultimately, these ways of relating to our bodies can keep us stuck in stories that focus on discontent with our physical appearance. Yoga practices elevate our consciousness and attune us to these often taken-for-granted aspects of our cultural narrative and, specifically, our internal dialogue, which is an essential component and contribution to the larger cultural messages around body acceptance and peace. This is where the idea of Body Mindful comes in.
Body mindful means to speak mindfully about your body. The practice of body mindfulness is to purposely choose words that nurture self-validation and affirm your body in your self-talk and conversations with others. To be body mindful means to intentionally refrain from disparaging body talk and to challenge guilt, shame, and comparison self-talk.
Body mindful consists of three guiding principles:
- Our desire for external validation plays out in our relationship with our body, which includes how we hold it, dress it, feed it, describe it, perceive it, and respect it, and how we view others’ bodies.
- Our language either nurtures self-validation in ourselves and others or feeds the desire for external validation.
- Our relationship with our body is affirming when we rely on self-validation instead of external validation.
Ultimately, body mindful is a pathway to the gifts and answers that already exist inside of us, those virtues like confidence, resilience, courage, hope, appreciation, and grace that empower us from the inside out and allow us to embrace an attitude of possibility. We can strive to change our exteriors over and over again, but unless our insides are aligned with our higher selves (all of those beautiful virtues), we will never know how to affirm our bodies.
In line with the yoga principle of listening to one’s inner wisdom, the Butera Method of Personal Transformation starts with listening. What are you asking your readers to consider?
The listen step means to identify a starting point so that you can determine the next step(s) to help you meet a goal or improve a situation. Naming a starting point allows you to chart a course for future success. In our book, we provide readers with a variety of self-reflection exercises to determine where they are currently in their relationship with their body. More specifically, we invite them to establish their body mindful baseline (meaning where you are right now in your relationship with your body) and identify body mindful goals for how they want that relationship to change or shift. Readers will also examine the factors that influence their body image. The other Listen step exercises focus on body narrative(s) and learning how to use the yogic practice of intention setting to support their body mindful journey.
As readers move through the 4 steps of the Butera Method: listen, learn, love, and live, you provide exercises to develop these steps. Can you please provide a before and after example of a change in language that a student may develop?
Let’s consider this scenario: Perhaps a common script that you hear is that your body is wrong. By moving through these four steps, you might learn that that belief comes from messages you received growing up about how you should look, and you realize that because of this, you are hyper critical and always compare yourself to others to make sure you are “ok,” even though you believe your body is actually wrong. As you move through the book, you uncover that looking at certain accounts on Instagram inflame these feelings and turn on intense self-doubt and unkind inner dialogue about your body. By doing the reflection exercises, you realize that you would like to have a kinder relationship with your body and let go of the belief that your body is wrong. Reflection leads you to identify language of self-acceptance that you then incorporate into your body mindful yoga practices that you do for 5 minutes every day. You also make a conscious effort to not talk disparagingly about your body to others or engage in conversations with others who do. With time, commitment, and practice, you realize that language related to acceptance becomes more accessible and starts to feel truer. As you continue the body mindful journey, your relationship with your body shifts to a more kind and affirming one, freeing you up to be more present in your life and at ease in your body.
Relationships and belonging are positive components in the human experience. How can being body mindful aid our connections with others?
In Chapter 8 of Body Mindful Yoga, we examine the relationship between social media and belonging. Social media taps into our basic human instinct to belong to the “tribe,” which is a major reason why our favorite platforms maintain such a prominent role in our lives. With every scroll through our newsfeed, we subconsciously seek to satisfy a deep and primal desire to belong. When used in the true spirit of connection, social media is a wonderful tool to nurture our natural need for a sense of belonging.
The line between satisfying our survival instinct and seeking external validation can sometimes blur in our relationship with social media. Let’s face it, the constant stream of images can trigger comparison, jealousy, sadness, shame, and discontent with who we are and what we look like. Filters and other image-enhancing tools have upped the game when it comes to presenting ourselves to the world as picture-perfect, which can leave us feeling pressured to constantly look ready for an image worthy of posting. Research has demonstrated that comparison and other versions of self-criticism can increase as a result of social media use.
Social media use and other ways we tap into a sense of belonging represents a rich opportunity to practice body mindfulness by paying attention (practicing yoga self-study) to which aspects of these activities influence your relationship with your body in positive, negative, and neutral ways. The practices in our book help readers to identify and honor the empowering aspects of social media in their life and recognize patterns that are disempowering and make body mindful shifts to foster a more affirming relationship with oneself and social media.
Please explain how the yoga practices of mantras, affirmations, and prayers are powerful ways to integrate new ideas, like body mindfulness into one’s life.
A yoga practice is any activity that guides self-awareness. A body mindful yoga practice adds the dimension of purposefully tuning into self-talk during the practices and noticing where there is room for more kindness, acceptance, and compassion. Body Mindful Yogaincludes a variety of mental, physical, auditory, and visual practices designed to help you establish an awareness of your inner dialogue andincorporate body mindful language into your life with the intention of improving self-confidence. Mantras, affirmations, and prayers are examples of mental practices we teach in the book.
Since our spoken and unspoken words shape our reality, a key exercise for strengthening our body image is through the conscious repetition of positive statements in the form of mantras, affirmations, and prayers. Mantras are words, sounds, or invocations that are used to aid concentration during meditation. Common examples are “Om,” “love,” or “peace.” Affirmations are positive “I am” statements that can be used any time to cultivate positivity, such as “I am confident” or “I am strong.” Prayer is an act of devotion and a way to ask one’s higher power for help, comfort, support, and love.
Reciting mantras, affirmations, and prayers is a powerful way to integrate new ideas into your life. As is the case with exercise, when done consistently and with a tone of conviction, these high-vibrational thoughts can raise the levels of dopamine and serotonin, often referred to as our “happiness hormones.” Therefore, positive words and slogans truly do help our minds feel better about our bodies and other areas of our lives that we may judge harshly. Body Mindful Yogaincludes four practices related to mantras, affirmations, and prayers to help you wire in new, affirming language.
In your final chapter entitled, “How to Be a Body Mindful Ambassador,” which tells of the Butera Method’s Step 4 of Love, you suggest people “Listen Teach.” What is “Listen Teach”?
People crave direction. Many of us want to be told how to be successful, feel better, lose weight, or overcome challenges—all of which taps into patterns related to external validation. To “listen teach” means to actively listen to others with compassion rather than offer unsolicited advice or insert your own story or opinions. We can actively listen by asking questions that allow the other person to find more clarity within themselves and identify the answers for which they are searching. As a listener, we hold the space for this personal empowerment to unfold – all without giving external validation. Instead, the listener helps guide the speaker to validate themselves. So not only is the speaker truly heard, they have the experience of encountering their own inner wisdom.
About the authors:
Robert Butera, M.Div., Ph.D., directs YogaLife Institute in Wayne, Pa. and has trained over 1000 Yoga Teachers and 250 Yoga Therapists. He published “Yoga Living” magazine for 20 years. The Yoga programs follow Bob’s books, Pure Heart of Yoga, 2009, Meditation for Your Life, 2012, Yoga Therapy for Stress and Anxiety, 2015 and Body Mindful Yoga, 2018. See www.YogaLifeInstitute.com
Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT, is a certified yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. She is an inspirational speaker and author of Body Mindful Yoga: Create a Powerful and Affirming Relationship With Your Body (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018). Jennifer provides yoga therapy via online and in person at YogaLife Institute in Wayne, PA, and leads yoga therapy groups at Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia. She teaches workshops, retreats, and specialized trainings for clinicians, professionals, and yoga teachers. Jennifer is a partner with the Yoga & Body Image Coalition and writes for Yoga International, Yoga Journal and other influential blogs. She has appeared on Fox29 news and has been featured in the Huffington Post, Real Woman Magazine, Medill Reports Chicago, Philly.com, and several podcasts, including the Yoga International and ED Matters Podcasts. Connect with Jennifer: www.Yoga4EatingDisorders.com.