Month: April 2014
Yoga and Body Image
I attended a workshop this past weekend at the studio that I teach my Gentle Yoga. It was an advanced study of several yoga poses. It was supposed to allow you to find your way into these poses by breaking down the kramas, or stages, of these poses to really enhance your yoga practice. I was encouraged to see all types of people from advanced yogis to yogis that had attended my Gentle Flow regularly there. As we all settled down onto our mats, I was feeling pretty good. Looking around, stretching out. I was quite warmed up since I had just taught my Gentle Flow class not half an hour before. I was sure this was going to be a good class. The poses on the roster didn’t even scare me. Broken in Eight Places, Peacock. I’ve gotten into stranger ones before given the correct opening postures.
Ok… so let me break it down. You think of Yoga, people usually have two images that come to mind…
Both of which don’t make you feel that fantastic about yourself if you happen to be an average looking person, man or woman. As a yoga teacher, I’ve been trained to not see those images as that of an average yogi and, quite frankly, NO yogi I have ever met looks like that. I have taught entire classes on not judging yourself and accepting your body as how it is today, not yesterday or how it used to be before ____. Several students have thanked me for reminding them of just that and focusing on how yoga and our bodies are a journey not something to be judged and scrutinized. But, as I’ll explain below, even those to teach these concepts can fall into the dreaded body image trap.
Sitting on my mat at the workshop, we started to work on the poses and, sadly, the only thing I could think of was how weak I was and how my body wasn’t what I wanted it to be. Since I had my little girl almost two years ago, my body has gone through some amazing changes. I have lost a lot of abdominal strength and gained some good insight into how my body works. I find myself sad at times that I didn’t take advantage of some of the strength I had before the baby. That I never really got into yoga until she was three months old. Of course, I practiced several DVD versions at home, but really diving into a yoga practice is so much different. When she was three months old, I decided to get my Yoga Teacher Certification. I really attribute the teacher training for getting me through some really bad months in my recovery and acceptance of being a new mom. But even through my training and all those encouraging words of accepting your body, you can still have those derogatory thoughts creep in. I began having these intrusive thoughts while unsuccessfully balancing on my arms, falling on my butt, and trying to laugh through it all. But I’ve found, I can only laugh so much before it starts getting to me. I kept working on the poses, just going through the motions and trying my absolute best, but by the end of the class I was in tears. I actually broke out into tears several times during the workshop.
Yoga is a strange thing, Some days it invigorates me and I walk out of my Gentle Yoga completely transformed from the unsteady teacher who questions her every move to the confident person that is closer to my authentic self. The one who wears glitter and randomly dances to 80’s songs at a moment’s notice. There are those other days, like the one I experienced in this class, where I walk out of my practice like I have just gone through a war zone. Yoga has the ability to connect you to your body and your mind like no other form of exercise. Despite the popularity of Yoga, the poses or Asanas are only one of EIGHT limbs of the practice. There are entire forms of yoga that focus only mildly on the postures. In our Western culture, though, asanas have become the epitome of yoga and all that it stands for. This is in part the reason we judge our bodies so harshly on their form and their strength. I found myself slipping into that downward spiral that day. Walking out of class, I was embarrassed and almost a shell of my former self. I confided my fears and my insecurities to a fellow teacher and I got hugs and reassurances.
As I reflect on that workshop and my feelings that day, I am reminded of a phrase my teacher Meg taught me. “You are exactly where you need to be.” This really resonated with me the first time I heard it. At the time, I was still recovering from the birth of my daughter and unsure of if I would ever look anything like my former self. I am exactly where I need to be. Mentally, Physically, Spatially. That is what this meant to me. Wherever you happen to be, trust that the universe has put you there. I’ve always believed in Destiny. Not the kind of destiny where you just sit back and let the world take you. But the Destiny that shows you your purpose in life, that takes into account the choices you have made and who you are, and gives you exactly what you need when you need it. My choices, my purpose in life, my place in my life had put me exactly where I needed to be and how I looked at that time. Whatever age, weight, height I happen to be. It is exactly what is best for me at that moment. As I teach my students, I can only hope that no matter what I am feeling that day I can help them come to the same conclusion that allows me to be okay about how I feel about myself and my body… “You are exactly where you need to be.”