“Yoga isn’t a miracle, but it does allow us to recognize the miracle that we inhabit, to move from a world that emphasizes physical beauty and ideal body shapes into one that teaches us to honor the power our body offers.” Felt-Gray
One of the most wonderful things I have found about living in Costa Rica is the appreciation for the natural female figure. A culture far from that which I am accustomed to. There is health and self-care, but there are also curves, and cherub cheeks. There is a contagious level of self-respect, self-love, and self-acceptance that I don’t find at home. Being immersed in such a special world has been both beautiful and transformational. If only I could bring this back with me.
The following are 6 facts about body image in the US:*
- 90 percentage of all women who dislike their bodies
- 90 percentage of all junior and senior high school girls who are on a diet
- 15 percentage of these girls who are actually overweight
- 100 the amount (in billions of dollars) spent on diet products each year
- 11 the number (in millions) of cosmetic procedures performed in 2007
- 1 the place for weight concerns for women aged 61 to 92
This alone is enough to say there is a problem. It is a something so deeply embedded into our ways of being that it is now seen as a norm. Women will forever suffer in their relationship with their own bodies. It is what it is. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Though I am fully aware that yoga can further promote the shame and self-criticism, I believe that the true spirit of yoga can help affect a change. It helps teach us to love being in our own skin.
I admit that I first arrived to my mat to lean out my legs, tone my arms, and strengthen my core – my interest was purely superficial, as it is for many. I wanted to lose weight. And there is not necessarily anything wrong with that. Healthy eating, exercise, being strong and fit, these are all great things, things that I am passionate about. Environments that promote such things are also great, but for a woman full of self-doubt, and a longing to be more like the girl practicing in front of her, they can also be toxic. I remember the classes where I looked around the room at the beautiful, flexible, strong bodies that surrounded me, and left feeling discouraged, wondering why mine didn’t look more like theirs. Rather than benefiting from the beauty of the practice, I was being harmed. I would argue to say that my practice at this point was not an authentic yoga practice – not by fault of any teacher, studio, or school of yoga, but rather by fault of the intention with which I arrived to my mat each day.
Through practice, study, and CHOICE I have learned to come to the mat with the intention of transforming my relationship with my body, thus transforming my heart, rather than transforming my body itself. Today, I practice an entirely different yoga than I practiced a year ago. My practice today is a practice that encourages me to befriend the body that I abused and disrespected for so long.
As with any type of love, a love affair with your body is a choice one must make every day.
Yoga comes from the sanskrit word jug, meaning “to yoke” (Sparrow, 2010). The practice of yoga is a practice of learning to yoke together your body and your mind, to allow them to work together rather than to oppose one another, to consciously effect change. The intention of yoga is not to judge your body, but rather to experience it, respect it, and to remain aware within it.
When else are you asked to notice our toes as they root into the earth, offering you a foundation of strength and stability. To move up your shins, quads, then glutes. To notice the breath as you inhale, filling your lungs, and then to envision the breath as it travels throughout your body, opening and softening the places that need extra attention. To notice the things that support you and let go of those that don’t serve you. To notice the strength of your arms, rather than the “extra skin” on your belly. To notice when you push yourself, and when you hold back. To notice the movements that evoke emotions and to use the breath to let the emotions go with ease, in order to stay present in that very moment.
When the pain and tension arises, yoga invites us to notice the sensations without judgment, and treat our bodies with compassion. When the destructive self-talk begins, yoga invites us to appreciate what and who we are in that very moment. When the comparison and frustration begins, yoga invites us to celebrate the power of our bodies as they move us through our own versions of the poses. Nowhere in the literature of yoga does it say you have to be a certain size to practice, or a certain shape, or be able to do a certain posture. Yoga invites us to appreciate our bodies for what they are and what they can do, not for what they look like.
But in order to do so, we must be completely and totally aware of what is happening inside our hearts and our minds as we arrive to our mat. And we must set an intention that fosters exactly what we want to create.
Though I have the tools and the answers, it remains a constant struggle. I am competitive and thrive on accomplishments by nature. I often find myself comparing, berating my body, and seeking perfection. And I am therefore constantly reminding myself to return to my intention of transforming my heart first. I make the choice to let go of the things that threaten to rob me of the authenticity of my practice. And then I am able to celebrate the new sensations, the progress, the strength, the settling of my heart and my mind… in the most wholesome way.
“Your body is precious. It is a vehicle for awakening. Treat it with care.” Buddha
Sparrowe, L. (2013, June 12). How Yoga Helps You Love Your Body. Retrieved November 17, 2017, from https://yogainternational.com/article/view/how-yoga-helps-you-love-your-body