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The benefits of banishing bad body talk

Maya Rees never liked what she saw when she looked in the mirror. As a teenager she searched for clothes that would hide her frame, endlessly attempted to lose weight and lived in a “default” setting of shame towards her body.

“You have to be mindful enough to say, ‘Hang on, I’m being really unkind to myself.’”

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“I always felt not good enough,” the 39-year-old says. It wasn’t until a friend invited her to a yoga class five years ago that Maya began to change her attitude. She didn’t know what to expect from the class, but immediately fell in love with the practice.

Maya believes she learnt self-compassion through yoga. Instead of accepting all the horrible thoughts she had about herself as truths, she began to challenge them. If such thoughts persisted, she attempted to soften them. She also began actively deciding to not allow her thoughts to dictate her feelings and, in the process, she no longer felt hatred towards her body.

Maya discovered how body image could be dramatically altered through self-compassion. Research exploring the effects of writing with self-compassion, published in Psychology of Women Quarterly this year, reflects her experience. In the study, a group of women wrote letters to themselves. These letters focused on compassion towards themselves as a whole, compassion towards their body or gratitude for their body. Relative to a control group of women, the study found the letters increased the level of body satisfaction for the participants.

Psychologist Dr Marny Lishman believes letter writing can be helpful because it makes your thoughts feel “more real” and allows you to express yourself freely, without judgment. But you don’t have to write lengthy tomes to strengthen self-compassion, says Sarah Harry, co-founder of Body Positive Australia. She says jotting down a few words at the end of the day – something you did well that day, or something you’re grateful for – can also help foster positive feelings.