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Yoga and Body Image Robbin Zirkle Introduction Each year, thousands of young women enroll in universities all

over the United States. During their years in college, these individuals are subjected to a variety of self-imposed pressures that are difficult to evade, especially pressure in regard to physical appearance. Amidst advertising geared at the young female demographic, movies about college and the glorification of a stick-thin, female body, is no surprise that in a 2002 study, Suzanne F. Abraham, an associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Sydney in Australia found that many young women, both with and without diagnosed eating disorders, feel that body image and exercise are important for their selfesteem, want to lose weight, are afraid they might gain weight and become fatter, and feel fat (Abraham 607). For the purposes of this essay, body image will be defined as The subjective concept of ones physical appearance based on self-observation and reactions of others (Body image). In Abrahams study of young women, fifty-six percent of those individuals included in the study were [Exercising] for shape/weight (Abraham 608). It does not necessarily follow immediately that exercising to lose weight will result in an improvement of personal body image, but is it possible that if everything else is held constant, exercise can improve body image? Consider, for example, the practice of yoga, which incorporates cognitive and somatic components. Used correctly, yoga may be employed therapeutically, improving psycho-

2 physiological functions (Khalsa and Cope). As the ultimate goal of this practice is holistic wellbeing, it is possible that it bring peace and solitude to its practitioners. If the ultimate goal of yoga is to heal a practitioner internally, and a large component of body image is based upon self-evaluation, then it seems possible that yoga could improve an individuals peace with herself as a whole, thus improving her observation of herself. The purpose of this research study will be to examine whether or not traditional (aged seventeen to twenty-two) college women at Central University * experience an improved body image after practicing yoga.

Literature Review This section of the research paper will provide a background and some insight into the context of the researchers work and the development of the ideas examined. The socially constructed importance of body image is a real concern in Western societies such as in the United States. The ideal body image has been constructed throughout the American and other Western societies by images shown in the media (Cussins). Pratkanis and Aronson examine the evolution of advertisement, propaganda and mass media and how they shape our ideology. The Age of Propaganda suggests that the only way to reverse the effects of images circulated by the mass media is to combat its mental impact. Western society may reshape its ideology and concept of perfection if only its citizens look into themselves to find change.

Indicates that a pseudonym is being used.

3 Melinda Elena Delazar discovered that images of the ideal body circulated by the media cause dissatisfaction and objectification in regard to the female body. Thus, the correlation is inverse: the more that a woman is exposed to images of this ideal body image, the less satisfied she is likely to be with herself. After reviewing many cases throughout Australia, Suzanne F. Abraham acknowledged that some women are biologically predisposed to developing eating disorders and that diagnostic criteria for assessing body weight is flawed, leading many women to believe that they are unhealthy and need to lose weight. These ideas are enhanced by media images. Following the 2000 Body Image Summit in London, Anne Marie Cussins compiled research asserting that images from the media may in fact inspire negative body image in females especially. Cussins concludes that the media also plays a role in triggering eating disorders, which may be treated by counseling and rationalization of body image fears. It becomes clear after assessing all of this information that women in particular need to find a method to alleviate body consciousness and negative self-image. In any effort to improve self-image, it is important to acknowledge that "interventions that enhance self-esteem do, in fact, lead to positive psychological changes...Subjective feelings of self-esteem provide ongoing feedback regarding one's...[self] value (Leary). Thus, any intervening activity which improves ones own body image may improve his or her perceived worth. We can also conclude from Learys statement that self-image is ever-fluctuating and may be influenced positively or negatively. It is important for researchers to identify methods for improved self-image.

4 A method which might improve body image needs to work to restore mental contentment, relieve anxiety and provide light activity. Yoga is recommended for people who experience anxiety and want to prevent illness and maintain or improve health (Wilson). All in all, yoga is a restorative activity that might be expected to improve lifestyles of its practitioners. As yoga is mentally beneficial, it follows naturally that it can alleviate anxiety about all sorts of things; perhaps it can even alleviate unease regarding body image. The relationship between body image and yoga has been largely ignored amongst scholars. The goal of this research study is to try to determine if a correlation exists between the practice of yoga and improved body image in college-aged females at Central University.

Method of Inquiry The goal of the following research is to examine the relationship between female body image and exercise. I examined yoga specifically because it is regarded across Western society as a method through which one can come to peace with oneself. The primary concern of this research paper is to ascertain whether or not practicing yoga correlates with improved body image in college-aged women. College-aged women will be defined as traditional students between the ages of seventeen and twenty-four, and all participants are enrolled as undergraduates at Central University. Participants were invited to come on a volunteer basis using the social networking website Facebook, and were informed that I was assembling a group of female, college-aged women to assist me with a research project involving yoga (Appendix). A group of nine girls elected to participate in the study.

5 I attempted to eliminate external influences on body image during the session by separating her test subjects from the university at large. Before beginning the surveys or yoga, I also asked my test subjects to turn off any sort of communicative devices so that there was no external contact between themselves and others. Both surveys and interviews were used. Surveying before yoga and after yoga under these controlled conditions helped to reconcile the discrepancy between correlation and causation, which I recognize are not synonymous. Because of these conditions, the only foreseeable variable was yoga. The interviews attempted to help me understand the feedback I received through surveys. Upon arriving at the Research Yoga event, I asked each person participating to fill out an individual written survey designed to provide feedback prior to actually participating in group yoga (Appendix A). After completing the survey, the nine individuals participated in group yoga using a video with a female instructor. The session lasted thirty minutes and all of the individuals surveyed chose to participate. Following the yoga session, I asked participants to complete another individual written survey designed to assess whether or not their body image had improved following the yoga session (Appendix A). Each person in the group was assigned a number and the researcher picked two of these numbers randomly from a hat. The two individuals selected in this manner, Alisha* and Sandy*, were asked to partake in a short interview with the researcher in an effort to collect feedback to explain the improvement or lack of improvement in test subjects body images. Results and Discussion After compiling all of the data collected from interviews and surveys, I decided that it would be best to organize my results and discussion thematically. Organizing my information in

6 such a manner allows me to examine parallels between my interviews and survey data. As the study itself is qualitative rather than quantitative, all interpretations are subjective and could be construed differently. Body Image prior to Yoga Session Prior to beginning the yoga session, all nine participants completed a survey that was designed to judge each young womans respective body image anonymously (Appendix A). Three women classified their perception of body image as negative, that is, they indicated that they were either very uncomfortable with their body image or simply not comfortable with their respective body image. Only one woman indicated that she had no opinion of her body image, while five indicated that they were content with their body image. None of the participants indicated that they were very happy with their bodies. Upon considering the study data, it is clear to me that young women are not likely to admit that they are truly happy with their body image. I elected to use the survey because it collected anonymous feedback with no pressure for a certain type of answer, so I am forced to assume that participants answered honestly. Only one out of nine women has no opinion of her comfort with her own body, which indicates that eight out of the nine participants are in fact conscious of their bodies and their body image, as they give an opinion of it when asked. It is encouraging to see that five out of nine women indicated that they were content with their bodies, even if they are not completely happy. In contrast, however, three out of the nine indicated that they were actually unhappy with their bodies, that is, one third of the participants (Appendix B).

7 If I am to project these ideas onto all college-aged women as a large whole, I would guess that the results seem more significant. If eight out of every nine college-aged women are in fact conscious of their body image, then that creates a wide margin for body dissatisfaction. Interestingly, five out of nine body-conscious women indicated that they were not unhappy or happy with their body image; these individuals were content with their bodies. This is successful, but realistically, it is only slightly more than half of the participants in my study (fifty-five percent), whereas a third (three out of nine) of these participants were dissatisfied. If these results are, in fact, indicative of college-aged women perceive their body images, then it become clear that a method for improvement ought to be identified. The Development of Negative Body Image After interviewing Alisha and Sandy, I was able to begin to understand how women can develop a negative body image, even though our society is one made up of people of all shapes and sizes. In my short interview with Alisha, an attractive slender, blonde white female, she said, I feel worse about myself after I eatI found this poster from [the television show] Melrose PlaceI didnt want to hang it in my room because I know Ill compare myself to them. It seems that even individuals whose bodies are what many others would classify as perfect experience pressure from societys ideals for the female body. Following my interview with Sandy, a beautiful, curvy freshman, it became clear that our perception of our own body image can be very much swayed by our families, the most important institution in our lives. Sandys grandmother insisted throughout her childhood and into her teens that she (Sandy) was too fat. Sandy felt that such harsh criticism from a person

8 she was supposed to love and trust created self-doubt and even caused her to hate [her] body. Where do these societal ideals come from? It would seem that the media influences what we perceive as beautiful; perhaps it even influences our families ideas of what we, as young women, ought to look like. This causes me to wonder who influences the media and societal ideals and if, in fact, they can be changed by something as simple as yoga. Changes in Body Image Following Yoga Session Prior to beginning the yoga session, all nine of the participants indicated in their surveys that they believed their comfort with their body image can be changed. Thus, I was pleased to see that there was a slight increase in the number of people who indicated that they were content with their body image, from five individuals to six. Also following the thirty-minute yoga session, one individual indicated that she had no opinion of her body image, but only two participants identified negative body image. Though the changes following the session are slight, they are still significant. While this was a group of only nine young women, there was one fewer woman with a negative body impression and one more woman who was content with her body. Perhaps the most significant aspect of these results is that the number of participants who had a negative body image did not increase. It become easy to recognize that a slight increase in positive body image and a slight decrease in negative body image in the group may be influence by the yoga session, as I did all that I could to control outside influence. It is important to recognize however, that this demonstrates a correlation, not causation. How Yoga Can or Cannot Influence Body Image

9 As I elected to use a survey, I knew that the best information it could provide was a correlation between the practice of yoga and body image, thus why my interviews and openended feedback were so important. One of the open-ended questions on the anonymous survey was, Do you feel that this yoga session influenced your body consciousness? Why or why not? Five participants responded by saying yes. One woman explained, Yes- it relaxed me and allowed me to focus on MYSELF, feeling strong, limber and refreshed. This yoga session rejuvenated my mind and my body, allowing me to feel BETTER about myself. There were, of course, four individuals that disagreed. Two individuals indicated that they had become more conscious of their bodies, but did not necessarily indicate whether yoga had any significant influence on their body images. The last two participants indicated that they did not believe that the yoga session influenced their body consciousness, one writing, It was very relaxing. But [it] did not really change/influence my body consciousness. In my interview with Sandy, I was able to collect feedback that did not require a yes or no answer. I began by asking her if yoga helped her to feel more at peace with herself and her body. She responded: Definitely. I realize how much my body can doit might not do as much as someone elses, but it does a pretty good job. When I asked her how she felt about her body while she was actually doing yoga, she said: Im not always self consciousIm a curvy girl and I love my curves, but sometimes I look at myself and wish some curves were smaller. It appears that even though Sandy felt that yoga improved her body perception, insecurities lied dormant. Watching other girls do yoga along with her agitated some of these insecurities, but Sandy still felt that her body image was improved. It would seem that she

10 summed up the effects of yoga on her perception of body image quite well: [her body] might not do as much as someone elses, but it does a pretty good job. Though Sandy still feels that she has grounds to be insecure, she recognizes that her insecurities are only as potent as she allows them to be.

Conclusion When considering this study as a whole, I have come to several conclusions. It seems that body image is an issue that is frequently on the minds of traditional college women. My goal in doing this research study was not to identify what causes this problem and how to eliminate social pressuresthese studies already exist. Rather, I examined the possibility of improving body image in spite of social pressure to conform to an ideal female body image. It seems that the best way to improve female body image might be through positive reinforcement. Many of my classmates indicated on their surveys that relaxing their minds calmed them down. It would seem that female body image might be improved by alleviating anxiety about imperfections and comparative body image. I would be interested to explore the role of positive rather than corrective reinforcement of body image, especially in a university setting. An example of this is encouraging students of all body types to be comfortable with their bodies, rather than make statements such as real women have curves which often stigmatizes natural slenderness. Individuals and universities alike might find more success in focusing on a womans beauty rather than criticizing the system. This is not to say that the system cannot or should not be

11 changed, but that we should instead attempt to quell existing anxiety through positive social pressure. In my role as a Community Assistant (Residential Assistant), I can encourage positive body image by hosting programs such as Love Your Body Week that focus on taking pride in what beauty you possess and celebrating it. I believe that women (and men alike) ought to take pleasure in their appearance rather than making apologies for imperfections.

Reflection Upon signing up for Dr. Parks research writing class, I was unaware that it focused on diversity and social justice. In some instances, I became more aware of social justice issues that I was not fully conscious of, such as heterosexism. Even when the class dealt with issues I was aware of, I found that my perception improved thanks to thorough in-class discussion. The issue I responded to the most was heterosexism, as it was the focus of my group presentation. Before beginning my project, I was aware of negative attitudes toward homosexuality itself, but I was ignorant of many of the other complex, interrelated issues. I did not think about discrimination within LGBT culture, nor did I think of assumed heterosexuality (heterosexism), nor the silence that I expect from LGBT individuals. Truthfully, what I will take away from that project is the picture of an LGBT individual who is not a well-dressed, collarpopping, lisping gay man. Thanks to my research study, I am beginning to gain an idea of how young women can fight body image ideals, or at least improve their own negative body image. My study suggested that not only can women change the way they themselves think about their

12 appearance, but that changing your own ideas about your appearance can inspire selfconfidence, which is the most beautiful thing of all. Working in this class has improved the organization of my writing. I now understand how my work must flow to communicate effectively with my reader. Constructing my research study in phases helped me to understand what should be included in each section of this type of writing. My research skills have improved dramatically; I was forced to become familiar with the library, JSTOR and Google Scholars. I enjoyed the course, though I wish we had looked at more examples of introductions, method of inquiry, et cetera toward the beginning of the course rather than focusing as much on informal presentations regarding diversity and social justice.

Appendix A Collected Data I. Survey: Before What is your age? One 17 Three 18 Three 19 Two No Answer How comfortable are you with your body? Very uncomfortable/unhappy with body image Not comfortable No opinion of body image Pretty content with body image Very comfortable/happy with body image 1 2 1 5 0

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Do you believe your comfort with your own body image changes?

All nine responded yes

II. Survey: After How comfortable are you with your body? Very uncomfortable/unhappy with body image Not comfortable No opinion of body image Pretty content with body image Very comfortable/happy with body image 1 1 1 6 0

How do you feel college-aged women can improve their perception of their own body image?

Take care of themselves by eating right, working out, and getting enough sleep. Non-Western approaches to body image perception are often different than our viewswe should consider them.

14 Realizing that societys standards are unrealistic and that nobody is as critical of your body as you are. Repeated affirmations; eat right, work out, take stairs, etc. They need to partake in activities that promote POSITIVE energy and body image. They can feel healthier and will more likely eat healthier and act with more consciousness towards their bodies. By realizing that no one has a perfect body and recognizing just how amazing their body is. Exercise and pay attention to diet. Youve got to love you. No one else can do it for you. By accepting their body and who they are.

Do you feel that this yoga session influenced your body consciousness? Why or why not?

Yes, I feel much more at ease now. Yes, it helped me stretch and release tension. Yes, I feel that yoga improves the functioning of the body, and when my body is healthy, I feel very comfortable with myself. Not really. Low impact workout. Need more cardio or muscle training. Yes- it relaxed me and allowed me to focus on MYSELF, feeling strong, limber and refreshed. This yoga session rejuvenated my mind and my body, allowing me to feel BETTER about myself.

15 Some. In two ways, I know what my body can do (flexibility wise) but am also conscious of what other girls can. It definitely made me more conscious of my body because that was all I was really focusing on. Yesrelaxed me. Stretching helped. Slowed me down enough so that I could think. Seriously calmer after. It was very relaxing. But did not really change/influence my body consciousness.

III. Interview: Alisha Do you notice your perception of your own body image fluctuating due to different daily activities? Yes. What sorts of activities influence these behaviors? Eatingsleeping Theres this poster from Melrose PlaceI didnt want to hang it in my room because I know Ill compare myself to them. Does yoga seem to make you feel more at peace with yourself? Its tricky, but yeah. Do you feel more comfortable with the way you look after yoga as compared to before? Yes, because when you do it you know your own limits. What activities and things make you feel good about yourself? Detoxifying my body. How do you feel about your body while you are doing yoga? Becomes very self conscious about natural processes.

IV. Interview: Sandy

16 Do you notice your perception of your own body image fluctuating due to different daily activities? Yes. What sorts of activities influence these behaviors? When Im with my boyfriend or my female friendsthey make me feel good about myself. Sandys grandmother ruined her body image by telling her she was too fat, etc. Does yoga seem to make you feel more at peace with yourself? Definitely. I realize how much my body can doit might not do as much as someone elses, but it does a pretty good job. Do you feel more comfortable with the way you look after yoga as compared to before? Yeah. What activities and things make you feel good about yourself? Compliments, doing something that someone else cant do. How do you feel about your body while you are doing yoga? Its relative, but Im not always self conscious. Im a curvy girl and I love my curves, but sometimes I look at myself and wish some curves were smaller.

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Appendix B Data Charts Chart One: This chart demonstrates visually survey data collected prior to the yoga session.

Chart Two: This chart demonstrates visually survey data collected prior to the yoga session.

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Appendix C: Facebook Event The screenshot below shows the event created on Facebook inviting my female acquaintances to participate in the research study.

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Works Cited Abraham, Suzanne F. Dieting, body weight, body image and self-esteem in young women: doctors dilemmas. The Medical Journal of Australia 178.12 (2003). 4 Oct. 2009. <http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/178_12_160603/ abr10855_fm.html#elementId-1085947>.

20 Body image. The American Heritage Medical Dictionary . Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007. Cussins, Anne Marie. The Role of Body Image in Womens Mental Health. Feminist Review 68 (Summer 2001): 105-114. JSTOR. 4 Oct. 2009. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/ 1395747?seq=10&Search=yes&term=body&term=image&term=improve&list=hide&sea rchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dimprove%2Bbody%2Bimage%26gw% 3Djtx%26prq%3Dselfconcept%2Byoga%26Search%3DSearch%26hp%3D25%26wc%3Don&item=1&ttl=>. Delazar, Melinda Elena. The Relationship Between Self-Esteem, Objectified Body Conciousness, Personality Traits and Body Modifications: An Exploratory Study. Diss. Indiana University of Pennsylvania, 2004. Khalsa, Sat Bir S., and Stephen Cope. Effects of a yoga lifestyle intervention on performancerelated characteristics of musicians: A preliminary study. Medical Science Monitor (August 2006). Index Copernicus. 17 Nov. 2009. Leary, Mark R. Making Sense of Self-Esteem. Current Directions in Psychological Science 8.1 (1999): 35. JSTOR. 26 Oct. 2009. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/ 20182550?seq=4&Search=yes&term=leary&term=esteem&term=self&list=hide&search Uri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dself%2Besteem%2Bleary%26gw%3Djtx% 26prq%3Dyoga%26Search%3DSearch%26hp%3D25%26wc%3Don&item=1&ttl=339&ret urnArticleService=showArticle&resultsServiceName=doBasicResultsFromArticle>. Pratkanis, Anthony, and Elliot Aronson. Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 2001.

21 Rosenblum, Gianine D., and Michael Lewis. The Relations among Body Image, Physical Attractiveness, and Body Mass in Adolescence. Child Development 70.1 (1999): 50-64. JSTOR. 4 Oct. 2009. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/ 1132014?seq=1&Search=yes&term=body&term=college&term=image&list=hide&searc hUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dbody%2Bimage%2Bcollege%26x%3D0 %26y%3D0%26wc%3Don&item=13&ttl=59258&returnArticleService=showArticle&resul tsServi>. Wilson, Robin L. An Introduction to Yoga. The American Journal of Nursing 76.2: 263. JSTOR. 26 Oct. 2009. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/ 3423818?seq=3&Search=yes&term=benefits&term=yoga&list=hide&searchUri=%2Facti on%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dbenefits%2Byoga%26gw%3Djtx%26prq%3Dself%2B esteem%2Bleary%26Search%3DSearch%26hp%3D25%26wc%3Don&item=1&ttl=554&re turnArticleService=showArticle&resultsServiceName=doBasicResultsFromArticle>.