I'm not referring to the usual Valentine's Day tedium here like having a spa day with deep tissue massage or going to Kiki de Montparnasse for fantasy lingerie and erotic "tools," although those are both pretty fun things to do on V-day. Rather, I'm going to list some things you can do to raise your self esteem and positive feelings towards your body. No matter how long you've been in a relationship with someone else, the longest relationship you'll have in this life is the one you have with yourself.
1. Look in the mirror (or close your eyes) and "see" the attributes that the people who admire you most see in you. I'm still working on learning how to accept a compliment. If you need to work on this too, accept any compliment that comes along graciously and own it. See what others see in you. Have people told you you're funny? Generous? Easy going? That you have a great butt? Nice skin? A beautiful smile? Don't undermine or brush it off by saying, "Eh, my butt's not what it was back in high school," or "Funny? Well, looks aren't everything." I love self-deprecating humor as much as the next person who grew up in dysfunctional Jewish family, but making it a habit isn't going to raise your self worth. So, say "thank you," and know it to be true.
2. Break a good sweat. Maybe you exercise regularly, maybe you don't. If you do, but you don't do vigorous workouts, you might be missing out on a full dose of "feel good" hormones. In your next workout, dial it up a notch. Make it a little more intense by going up a level in weights if you lift, add more or faster intervals in your cardio, do some sets of plyometric exercises, or try a circuit or boot camp workout with a motivating trainer. Just like the body builds up tolerance to drugs, so it goes for exercise too. Keeping your exercise regime the same for too long eventually loses its effect. If you don't get regular exercise, you're not only doing your physical body a disservice (we all know exercise improves your health and looks), but it's crucial to improving your mood and self esteem.
3. Get some nature. There is a mound of research supporting the benefits being outdoors has on our mood and self esteem. Get outside and take a walk or take your entire workout outside for some fresh air. Yeah, I know it's February and the weather may not be conducive to outdoor exercise right now, but when the weather is favorable, get out there and move. Dog owners: back me up here. You probably heard that having a pet improves your mood and makes you happier. I'm pretty sure that some of this is from the physical benefits of walking outside with your dog. The more bucolic the setting, the better, so if you can take Rover out to the beach, the mountains, a forest or the like, the happier you both will feel. Add some sweat to the equation (see #2), and your body will feel the love as well!
4. Listen up. Audible.com has become my new best friend. I've been downloading all kinds of books but mostly the "self help" kind for a spiritual boost since my regular house of worship is the gym. So, to get my spirit soaring, I go to gurus like Dr. Wayne Dyer, Thich Nhat Hanh, teachings of the Tao Te Ching, and so on. That might not be your thing, but there are plenty of audio books you can download to your iPod and take for a stroll thru the park or out with your dog (see #3). Always remember, "your body follows your mind." If you head is in a good place, your body will join it there.
5. Grow with mindful movement. Every year, my New Year's resolution is to do more yoga. I've been teaching Pilates and Bar (aka "Barre") based workouts for years as part of my day job, but when it comes to being a student, I take yoga. If you're not already a practitioner of a mind body movement, find a method you like, and grow with it. I mean that quite literally! Whether you break a sweat of not from yoga, Bar or Pilates workouts, you will stretch, lengthen and feel taller from improved posture. Your body follows your mind (#4), but the reciprocal can also happen. When you're walking taller or have more ease of movement, the "lifted" feeling you've cultivated will also show on the outside.
6. Eat what feels good. Ah ha, caught you! If you're thinking comfort foods and sweets with your sweet for Valentine's day, you're falling into a trap. All that stuff you crave for comfort today does NOT feel good tomorrow (or even later that night)! Remind yourself when you look at that decadent menu, that eating "well" today, will feel even better tomorrow when you wake up with a guilt-free conscience. If you must indulge on Valentine's day, share one goodie with your honey, or cut your portion in half. Do this more often and you'll drop some pounds too, further adding to your self-esteem if you've got some gut to trim.
7. Give a little bit. Random acts of kindness or charity feeds the spirit and the soul. Sign up for a charity event and feel the love! Of course, I'd recommend a physical event like a 5K or something where you get the double benefit of doing good for others while you do good for your body. But just helping someone out when you see a person in need feels good too as does donating to a worthy cause. If you work in an office, instead of bringing in the pink frosted doughnuts on Valentine's day, bring in flowers and leave one at everyone's desk instead.
On that note, I joined a team to raise funds for Memorial Sloan-Kettering's rare cancer research and will participating in the Cycle for Survival at Equinox on March 2nd -- an indoor cycling event where 100 percent of the funds raised goes directly to research. Care to join me?
If you have more suggestions on how to love your body and raise your self-esteem, please share your tips here!