Four phrases toward a healthier body image

By Antoinette Tate, Ph.D.

Recently in my practice, I have encouraged clients to engage in a meditation ritual rooted in the Hawai’ian practice of Ho’opnopono. In the simplest of terms, the practice focuses on four familiar phrases: I’m sorry, Please forgive me, Thank you, I love you. These phrases encompass the values of repentance, forgiveness, gratitude, and compassion (love). Meditating on these phrases is meant to bring about healing in relationships – with loved ones, within oneself, with the universe. I appreciate the simplicity of this ritual – the phrases are familiar and yet are imbued with a great deal of meaning. If you’re interested in a deeper understanding of the history and practices of Ho’oponopono, I encourage you to check out this Wikipedia entry: For the purposes of this post, I’d like to talk about taking the principles and practice of Ho’oponopono and imagining how we can apply this toward building healing energy in our relationships with our bodies.

Body image is a term used to describe our thoughts and feelings related to our body and appearance. Negative body image tends to be accompanied by a cruel inner dialogue commenting on what one is wearing, eating, and doing. Thoughts such as “Don’t eat that, you’ll gain weight,” “why did I wear this? I look fat,” “I’m disgusting. I can’t be seen in public”. Sometimes I ask clients to imagine these inner thoughts as a dialogue with their body – imagining the two as having separate voices in order to challenge the negative thoughts. When I learned about Ho’oponopono, I realized that the four phrases could be applied to that imagined dialogue; so that you can foster healing in the relationship you have with your body. Below, I take you through each of the four phrases and how you might apply them toward nurturing a healing energy in your relationship with your body. Keep in mind that everyone’s experiences are unique and my examples may or may not feel like they fit for you.

I’m sorry.

If you’ve been treating your body like an enemy, you probably have a lot for which you could apologize. Imagine offering your body this apology – for hating it, for blaming it, for hurting and depriving it. Imagine that you offer this apology in the service of repairing the relationship. All intimate relationships involve vulnerability and repair. When you apologize, you take responsibility for a transgression and offer a pathway to strengthening the relationship in the future. For this meditation, you can imagine a specific “transgression” or simply imagine expressing the words to your body.

Please forgive me.

When imagining the first piece of this exercise, you likely identified ways that you have not been kind to your body, either physically or emotionally (or both). Perhaps you’ve engaged in starvation diets, or made yourself eat to the point of feeling sick. If you have felt like you are in a war-like relationship with your body, you’ve probably engaged in behaviors and had thoughts that were like weapons launched at an enemy, intended to make them bend to your will (e.g. lose weight, exert control, manage strong emotions, etc). Offer this phrase – please forgive me – and ask your body to absolve you from your past hurts so that you can move forward on this path of a more nurturing relationship.

Thank you.

Humans are biologically wired to sense danger in our environments and therefore we more readily encode thoughts and memories that relate to negative experiences. Recognizing positive experiences – experiencing gratitude – therefore needs to be more intentional because our passive attention does not instinctively take in those details. Imagine thanking your body for actions that it allows you to do. Go through each of the five senses and think of something that you’ve experienced thanks to your body. What we see – sunsets, loved ones, television shows; what we hear – conversations, baby giggles, music; what we taste – coffee, watermelon, your favorite holiday dish; what we touch – grass under our toes, a partner’s hand in our own, a pet’s fur; what we smell – Spring rain, a favorite perfume, baking bread. Bring to mind the sensations that you appreciate and thank your body for each one.

I love you.

If you struggle with your body image, you’ll probably struggle with the idea of telling your body “I love you.” In fact, you have probably told your body countless times “I hate you”. Or other versions of the same idea, such as comparing you to others and finding yourself to be lacking. Self-compassion may feel unfamiliar, and trigger a sense of resistance. Just for a few minutes – just that small amount of time – try to suspend your self-judgment and comparisons. Imagine what it would feel like if you could say to your body “I love you” and have it feel true. If resistance or negative thoughts interfere, visualize them rolling off like hot wax on a melting candle and return to the phrase. Imagine that your body responds in the dialogue and offers you compassion and acceptance in return – I love you too. You are ENOUGH.

Remember that meditation, like any skill, requires practice to develop. Start with just two minutes in the morning or evening and increase the time as your skill develops. The practice is highly adaptable. You can change the order of the phrases, spend time on each of the phrases each day, or focus in on the one phrase that you feel you need the most at this time. If you create a goal to try this and forget for a week, it’s okay! There is no such thing as perfection (or failure) with Ho’oponopono.

We receive countless messages from the outside world (media, family, strangers, etc) about how to look, behave, and generally “be.” Let this practice be a way to re-center around the positive, healing messages that you want to offer yourself and your relationship with your body.