Having a crap body image sucks no matter your situation, but it can be particularly sucky, from my viewpoint, as a yogi.
The idea of a yogi in Western culture is most often associated with lithe, willowy, bendy wisps. And that is not me.
I struggle every day with body image.
In fact, I am not sure there is a minute that goes by that, somewhere in the back of my mind, I am feeling self-conscious. Inadequate. Unworthy. Ashamed.
Every day, I have an internal war. My far more enlightened yogi self understands that how one looks has absolutely nothing to do with, well, anything, really. But the part of me that has felt fat from the second grade (I wasn’t) usually wins the battle.
I wonder if other people maintain a running tally of comparisons to everyone they see? This constant measuring of myself—with weight being the only criteria—ensures that I always feel inadequate.
And, of course, the comparisons reach a crescendo when I enter the yoga studio. Sadly, something that has been such a positive influence on my life has also led to a regular practice of internal fat bashing. I often find myself sizing up all the students in class to determine whether, in fact, I am the heaviest person in the room. And let’s not even get into yoga apparel for those of us with a little more faux meat on our bones.
When I started teaching yoga, I had enormous fear that people would judge me. How could a chubby person possibly do yoga much less teach it?
But people not only stayed that first class, they’ve come back again and again. It seems not to matter much to them whether or not I can work my hands around myself and into a bind (I can’t) or have to modify twisting chair because my belly gets in the way. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind, I, too, know it doesn’t matter. I know it, but somehow I can’t digest it (pun sort of intended).
I know others carry with them this blanket of useless embarrassment. And I imagine that they are just as exhausted and depleted by the monumental waste of energy we expend on thinking about how we look. It’s not an original thought, I realize, but it is certainly one worth considering: how much could we accomplish if we didn’t take up so much mental and emotional space hating our bodies?
More and more I am eager to find out just what might happen if I let go of this burden. What if I just didn’t think about it at all? What would happen if I just stopped quantifying and judging every bite I put in my mouth and didn’t cringe at my reflection in a shop window? I eat healthfully and I do vigorous yoga practices many times a week.
Maybe my body just wants to be this way.
Easier said than done, it’s true. But if I’ve learned anything from yoga, it’s that practice is everything. I’ve spent over four decades practicing self-loathing. Now it’s time to undo those deeply ingrained patterns by practicing self-acceptance instead.
So I’ve decided to create my own personal body acceptance sutras. They might not be as pithy as Patanjali, but I’m hoping they’ll do the trick. Here’s what my practice will be comprised of:
1. Challenging the internal fat dialogue. Whenever those old patterns of abusive thoughts arise, I will consciously turn my attention away from them. I am not my thoughts. I can choose not to engage.
2. Changing the external dialogue. I have this habit of “informing” people about my weight. Perhaps it’s because I am hoping they won’t agree; “oh, you’re not fat!” Because, other people’s opinions somehow matter far more than my own. Or maybe I want to say it before they do—I’ll insult myself before anyone else has the chance. Whatever the reason, it needs to stop. Saying it out loud only reinforces the ugly internal mantra
3. Stop comparing myself to everyone else. We are all unique and that’s pretty cool. I always think it’s a shame I wasn’t born in the time of Rubens. But, maybe all the willowy wisps felt badly about their bodies then. Why must there only ever be one ideal of what is aesthetically pleasing? My self-acceptance practice will encourage me to be a rebel, embracing my shape—embracing who I am—even if it’s not what the magazines tell me is attractive.
4. Not looking in those shop windows anymore. This might sound kind of counter to my argument of embracing myself as I am, but the reality is that the reflection is highly irrelevant anyway. Whether I’m pleased with it or unhappy about it—physical appearance is such a small piece of who we are. Which bring me to my final sutra;
5. Focus on the real me. The inner me. The reason we do yoga and meditate in the first place. It’s time to take all that energy that I’ve wasted on thinking about this shell, this body that is finite and use it to cultivate the parts of me that are infinite.
So I’ll be practicing these self-acceptance sutras.
And no doubt it won’t be easy and I’ll backslide. But hopefully over time, I can learn to let go of the loathing. I wish the same for all of you, whether you are willowy wisps, Rubenesque or any other shape on the spectrum.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Andrea Parrish-Geyer/Flickr