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Workouts That Help You Feel Better About Your Body

Mind-body exercises can give your body image a boost, practitioners say

The Power of Pilates

Judy Stanley, 57, had been overweight most of her life. Over the years, she'd tried many types of exercise but never stuck with it.

"I wanted to exercise but I didn't have the energy," says Stanley, a retired schoolteacher. "It didn't feel good."

Then she learned of Pilates through watching an infomercial. It wasn't the exercises that intrigued her as much as the fact that they were done barefoot.

"One of the things I hated most was bending over to put on tennis shoes," says Stanley, who has been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Stanley discovered Centerworks Pilates in Wichita, Kan., six years ago and has been practicing Pilates ever since.

"Obviously, I wasn't happy with my size, but that wasn't the biggest motivation," says Stanley. "I was looking for something I'd stick with."

Still, she's seen some weight-loss benefits.

"I've gone down at least three dress sizes and I've not dieted," she says. "As you become firmer and get a little smaller, you tend to watch what you eat. I'm more conscious of what I put in my mouth."

Stanley's teacher, Aliesa George, is quick to clarify that Pilates isn't designed for weight loss, though that is often a byproduct.

"Getting that mental focus to pay attention to what's going on with the body helps you to get in touch from the inside out," George says. "Once you get control of the body, and of finding the right muscles to put the body into the positions, you realize you can control other things in life."

Strength and Focus

The focus that mind-body exercise requires seems to beget a strength that can go beyond the Pilates Reformer or the yoga mat. Indeed, results of a study published in Psychology of Women Quarterly back up the idea that yoga can make women feel better about their bodies.

The study compared women who practiced yoga regularly with those who did other forms of exercise. Women who hadn't done regular exercise for at least two years were also included.

In surveys, the women who practiced yoga expressed healthier attitudes toward their bodies and had fewer disordered eating behaviors.

Yoga students learn to tune in to their bodies as they move through the poses. That could emphasize the body's abilities, instead of its appearance, say the researchers.

"Through yoga, this study suggests that women may have intuitively discovered a way to buffer themselves against messages that tell them that only a thin and 'beautiful' body will lead to happiness and success," researcher Jennifer Daubenmier, PhD, of California's Preventive Medicine Research Institute, said in a news release.

If you're in search of a healthier body image, getting involved in a mind-body exercise may be worth a try. But just as you wouldn't attempt a full lotus during your first yoga class, don't expect to start loving your body right away, warns Sell.

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