The Blessing of Affirmations
April 9, 2013 by Debra Hennesy
Filed under Activism, Anxiety, Body Dysmorphia, Body Image, Eating Disorders, Empowerment, Expressive Arts, Expressive Arts Therapies, Fat Talk, Featured, Finding Your Voice, Freedom, Healthy Communication, Healthy Coping, Livin in the Moment, Media Literacy, Mental Health, Mindfulness, Prevention, Recovery, Role Models, Self Esteem, Self-Acceptance, Self-Care, Self-Compassion, Spirituality, Stress Management, Treatment, Weight Stigma, Wellness, Wellness, Writing and Poetry, Yoga, Yoga and Meditation, Yoga Therapy
When you look in the mirror, what’s the first thing you say to yourself? If you are like most women, it’s not something kind or complimentary. Most of us are WAY too hard on ourselves, and the media doesn’t help with that. Think about it…can you recall ONE company that promotes happiness with what IS rather than desiring something other than what we ARE or what we HAVE? (Okay, maybe “Dove”…they’re doing a mighty good job with promoting a positive body image…but that’s the only one I can think of!) Rather, we’re bombarded with “don’t you want THIS hair, THIS product for glowing skin, THIS new exercise technique for a firmer tush?”
Recently I presented myself with a one-day challenge, which turned into a one-week challenge: upon seeing my reflection, I was to give myself a positive affirmation NOT RELATED TO APPEARANCE. Yeah, you read that correctly…I’m supposed to LOOK at myself & compliment something that I DON’T see. If you think this was a difficult thing to do, you are absolutely correct! Of course, when I shared the idea with my husband, we both laughingly conjured up the old “Stuart Smalley” bit from Saturday Night Live: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and DOGGONE IT, people LIKE ME!”
The truth is, we are so programmed to identify with what we see in the mirror: “I have dark hair” (well, when I’m not at the salon getting it highlighted, that is!), “I am a woman with an olive complexion”, “My eyes squish up into almond-like slits when I laugh” (which happens a LOT, thanks to the glorious combination of my fathers sense of humor and my mothers eyes!). How could I basically ignore what I see in the mirror to complement something else about my personality, my spiritual side, my intellect? When I woke up the morning of my challenge, the first thing I noticed in the mirror was a red blotch on my nose, from a too-tightly placed C-PAP strap (I have sleep apnea). I thought, “Whoa, I look like Rudolph!” (I immediately “caught” myself…”But Rudolph is GREAT! I mean, Santa couldn’t guide the sleigh without him, right?!”) This was gonna be tougher than I thought!
I needed some reinforcements. So I did what any mother of a kindergartener would do: I went to my crafting supplies! I cut construction paper into little pieces with a pair of scalloped scrapbooking scissors (Oh, come on, they were prettier that way!), and wrote something positive about myself on each one. It took a LONG time! Which honestly made me sad…I could ramble off a lengthy list of things I don’t like about my appearance in no time at all, but to find 10-15 things I like about myself, that aren’t attached to what I look like…that was hard!
I put my slips of paper into little bowls, and placed the bowls next to the mirrors in the house. My goal: to pick one up whenever I walked by, look into the mirror, and say the affirmation out loud to myself. My son thought it was a little odd (then again, “Yoga Mommy” is often doing things he thinks are odd, so it was just another day in paradise for him!), but he got right in there with me, telling himself something nice in the mirror whenever I did the same. I found it interesting that, at 6 years old, he didn’t have to rack his brain or write things down…he had all sorts of great things he said to himself that day! Which made me wonder: do we inherently feel good about ourselves as children, and then LOSE the positive stuff because of the media, etc., or is it just harder to access when we age (maybe because it seems “self-centered”)? Note to self: discuss this among fellow therapist friends!
My challenge became easier as the day went on…I continued to look in the mirror (and I even got ready for an event that night, but chose to “play up” the features I like rather than dwell on what I can’t change, or focus on the wrinkles, etc.). I continued to read the affirmations, and felt better and better about myself all day. Which is why it led to a full week…I so enjoyed being kind to myself, I kept it up. And the positive affirmations continued beyond that week…even once I got rid of the bowls of paper, I would say something kind to myself whenever I thought to, affirming my worth beyond the physical.
This challenge has transpired beyond the mirrors onto my yoga mat, where I find myself at least once a day. And I have found that I’m hard on myself for the things I once could do that I no longer can, due to health reasons, and my body undergoing changes I never imagined. What I teach my students and clients is to be not only forgiving when we notice those thoughts, but grateful for the things our wonderful bodies CAN do. Why had I allowed different rules to apply to me? Once I came to this realization, and used those self-affirmations on the mat, my practice opened up in a whole new way…I felt lighter, more “open” and free. The fact is, I woke up this morning, I took in a breath…and that in and of itself, is a blessing worth affirming.