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Body Mindful Yoga presents a novel consideration of body image, combining awareness of language and social factors with self-reflection and yoga. Authors Robert Butera and Jennifer Kreatsoulas suggest that the book is designed to assist readers with cultivating a more affirming relationship with their bodies. The techniques described are largely based on a system developed by the first author, The Butera Method of Personal Transformation. Both authors have a background in yoga therapy, an individualized approach which utilizes application of yoga practices towards improved physical and mental health.
In their introduction, the authors explain how body image comprises of learned perceptions which are not based on fact. They postulate that it is our perceptions which formulate a "body narrative," or the messages which we tell ourselves about our bodies. Language has a major influence on this narrative, both how language is received from society and how we use language to talk about ourselves. The authors each share personal stories regarding how language and other factors contributed to their own body narratives.
The opening chapter of the book focuses on the role of language in the development of body image. The concept of "body mindful" is founded on the belief that language can be used purposefully and mindfully as a means to empower. Body mindful language includes using words that validate and affirm while avoiding disparaging comments. These principles apply to our self-talk as well as to our interactions with others. The authors emphasize that body narratives, while influenced by external factors, fall within the providence of the individual, and thus individuals have to power to change their own narratives, in part via skillful use of language. The Butera Method of Personal Transformation is thus described as a "pathway to meaningful change." There are a series of four steps—Listen, Learn, Love, Life—involving active participation from the individual on this road towards change.
The central point of Step 1, Listen, is establishing a baseline. Exploratory questions (e.g., "how do you describe your body?", "what is your definition of a healthy body?", and "what is your definition of a beautiful body?") are combined with journaling as a means to identify how words have impacted one's individual body narrative. The next exercise examines the influences that contributed to the development of this narrative, from family/peers/community to one's internalized response to these factors. This chapter concludes with identifying body mindful goals and intention. Examples of empowering body mindful goals are provided, such as "my goal is to enjoy health" and "my goal is to feel more alive." One's intention refers to the desire or gift that this goal might offer, a wider umbrella that applies not only to one's body image but also to one's whole life.
After the creation of greater insight through Listen, the next step is Learn. Gaining knowledge about self comes first, with further questioning and writing exercises to explore one's learning style, personal nature, personality, and identity. This step also expands on the use of language. The authors review the impact of common slogans and sayings on self-talk. This includes morality language as it relates to food ("you are what you eat"), combat language as it relates to fitness ("just do it"), social media trends (e.g., yoga selfies), and the connection between fashion and status. For each of these areas, the authors select several powerful examples which are examined in detail. They propose alternative body mindful statements to counteract these extremely prevalent and potentially detrimental messages. Summary exercises connect this new information back to one's body mindful goals and intention. The final chapter in this section offers body mindful language suggestions to address other influences that may have contributed to a negative body narrative, including religion, ageism, and nicknames.
The Love step builds on the foundation of the first two steps by incorporating yoga practices to affirm and strengthen a body mindful approach. The authors expand on the reductionist view of yoga as fitness by introducing both mind-oriented and body-oriented yoga skills. The mindful practices include mantras, affirmations, and sensory activities. For the yoga asanas, or physical postures, the authors introduce sixteen basic yoga poses. As with the other exercises in this book, the yoga poses are designed to be empowering. The authors focus on postures that encourage both outward energy and inward introspection. Each pose is illustrated using a simple black and white drawing accompanied by a short descriptive explanation. Those familiar with the physical practice of yoga will recognize common poses like mountain, tree, and warrior. A daily practice of both the physical and other yoga techniques is recommended.
The final step, Live, centers around taking the body mindful approach outlined throughout the book and utilizing it in one's interactions with others. The central theme is becoming a "body mindful ambassador," which involves qualities such as listening compassionately to others and recognizing others for their internal worth rather than external characteristics. A last exercise revisits the body narrative with the intent of creating a new, body mindful narrative.
This book is engaging, accessible, and affirmative. It is well-written in a reader-friendly format, including ending each chapter with a numbered summary of key points. Given that I am both a yoga teacher and a psychologist myself, the ideas presented highly resonated with me, particularly the emphasis on language. At the same time, I found the "Learn" section of the book to be overly repetitive, with repeated examples illustrating the same basic point. Overall, however, I though this book was an extremely worthwhile read. I would recommend it both as a self-help manual and as a guide for supportive others, from helping professionals to allies.
© 2019 Beth Cholette
Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college students.