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Isn’t it strange when you ask most people to look in a full length mirror, they laugh, squirm, ask if they ‘have’ to and generally feel uncomfortable in seeing themselves in the way everyone else sees them?

When treating a patient, with say a back problem, it is important to assess their gait, how their body is contorting to accommodate the injury. You need to assess how they walk, bend, move, assess the level of the hips, the shoulders, and see any curvature in the spine. I always had full-length mirrors in the clinics I’ve had, so when explaining what has or is happening with a body, the visual imagery can help enormously in the patient grasping an understanding of what their bodies are dealing with.

But usually, with women, the suggestion of them having to look at themselves head to foot, in their underwear is not a happy prospect. I find this fascinating. It isn’t to assess whether you are beautiful, or that I’m asking you to be vain, it isn’t to study your attributes, nor criticise, it is to see the body you are in for what it is, and how it is physically adapting to the injury in question.

Within seconds the embarrassment and uncomfortable initial phase passes and they start to see their body in a way they have never seen themselves before. Seeing how potentially the waistline is more curved on one side than the other, the hip line may be higher on one side, shoulders the same, the head may be slightly turned to a side, off centre. The centre line down the front of the body may be way off straight. It is fascinating and to see the awakening of how their own body is in a patient’s eyes is a wonderful experience, they have seen themselves from outside their body’s maybe for the first time in a non judgemental way, and to add to that, in the company of someone who is just appraising the body whilst respecting the soul.

I keep threatening my yoga ladies that I am going to introduce full-length mirrors into our yoga hall to their many moans and trepidation! But most gyms are equipped with mirrors not only to help disperse the lighting to make the gym appear larger, and also make it easier to keep an eye on everyone for safety reasons; but also for people who want to visibly see they are lifting weights and exercising correctly; and yes ok, some people love to look at themselves too! But seriously, our minds can make us believe we are the most flexible person, who’s arms are always straight when they should be, who’s body’s ability to flex is the same left to right; who’s body is relaxed when it should be; but in reality the very opposite could in actual fact be true.

I usually ask anyone who wants exercises from me to be done at home, that they do them wherever possible in front of a mirror. Again, that concept is met with disapproval and negativity. But I am asking not for the vanity of how gorgeous you are, but to help you check your starting stance, and acknowledge the areas that become apparent from this appraisal. As a teacher, I can see your body, and when I ask you to stand up straight and relax your shoulders down and back, I can see that you are not straight, your shoulders are not relaxed, but in your head, we see ourselves in near perfect posture. It’s the same for me too.

To be truthful and seeing the true movement and shape of your body can be very liberating. It does help prevent some people from kidding themselves, because when the exercise they have been doing is actually seen, they realise their posture has been wrong, hence the benefits they have been expecting have never been felt.

To be able to see your body from an outward perspective has many benefits into its welfare. It also adds a dimension to yourself that may not have been recognised before. So when you next do some stretching, some yoga, or when you want to try and work out why your back hurts, or why you have regular headaches, spend a little time and look at yourself in a mirror. Look at your face, relax the frowns, soften the face, look at your shoulders, see whether one appears higher than the other, look at muscle definition and see whether a muscle appears tighter across the front of the shoulder than the other side, the same into the arm. Look at the waistline and see if there is a difference in the curvature of your outline; put your fingers on the top of the hip and see whether the fingers line up horizontally across your body or whether one side is higher than the other. Look at the knees; again do they look the same, look at the ankles and how the feet are rotating. Look at the spread of the feet on the floor, and the angle of the feet.

The body has a towering effect to keep us upright and functioning. If you have an ankle lets say that rotates slightly differently to the other, then the knees will be first to try and rectify the imbalance, then the hips will feel it, which in turn puts tension into the lower spine unevenly. This will tower itself, left to right, then right to left up the length of the spine, to the neck and shoulders. So no one place in the body works alone, the whole body works as one. Little differences are completely natural, but if the differences are because of injury, or are left to become bigger differences then at some point the body will manifest a pain or problem that will need attention.

So look at yourselves in that mirror; see your body; then see yourself; the ‘you’ inside and be proud you’ve ‘separated’ the two. Much can be achieved when the body is given what it needs, and you can see it as it really is.

Oh and, don’t forget to give yourself permission to be honest and not turn that into a negative mindset. If you can’t stretch visually as well as you can mentally, so be it, don’t beat yourself up, just lessen the stretch to the point of how it should be done, and with practice, the rest will follow to the best of your body’s ability, and that’s all you can ask of it. Be mindful of having fun when you exercise, whether it’s a daily practice or purely for a weekly de-stress. To have a happier state of mind to start with helps every body respond better. Of course we all have off days, and for some the daily schedule has to be adhered to, but generally speaking, mix the routine up a little, doing the same thing every day, can make the body lazy in assimilating the benefits of the what you are doing, and thus will be reflected in your image in the mirror. Plus mentally you’ll get bored and lazy in your approach, and then skip the next session, and then the next when something else sounds more exciting. We’ve all been there I’m sure.

Looking at yourself in a mirror not only has huge educational benefits; it can also fuel our confidence, help us rehearse how we deliver a presentation; help us decide on the best clothes choice. It allows us to communicate directly with ourselves, and the better we know ourselves the happier and fuller life we can live. We owe it to ourselves and our bodies, to know them and look after them the very best way we can. So embrace and enhance your image, give yourself the freedom to be you, and you are most definitely, allowed to admire yourself inwardly and out!