As I sit here grooving to YogiTunes, I cannot help but overflow with gratitude for how comfortable I feel in my own skin. I credit yoga for this sense of comfort. Why, you ask? Well let’s begin by saying that as a young woman who has struggled with body image since my teens, I can tell you that one’s actual physical structure really has very little to do with “body image.”
As a child I was called a “bean pole,” I grew up with a girl who was teased for developing a hearty bust at age ten, and meanwhile the girl in the corner with beautiful eyes was called “fat.” Did any particular label hurt more than the other? No. Perhaps the girl who was called “fat” would have yearned to be called a “bean pole” and yet this term hurt my feelings. My friend who developed early was almost certainly teased out of envy, and yet it mortified her and caused her to cry at night and wear loose t-shirts. So, that being said, why is it that we allow others to dictate our own body image?
Body image is a profoundly personal and intimate subject, yet somehow society and the outside world manage to make it their business. This is completely within our control, however, and I’d like to call out to all hearts for us to turn inward and regain that power. Yoga, in my mind, is the practice of being in one’s own skin and moving through life with long, full, deep breaths. This is a practice that I take on my mat, and take off of my mat out into the world. When I’m on my mat, yoga is about listening to my body. I’ve practiced sporadically over the years, and I vividly remember my first yoga class at age twelve. The teacher spent a great deal of time explaining how to root down through the feet, using the pinky toe and the big toe to balance, rooting down through the “four corners” of the feet.
Over the years my practice waxed and waned, but for the past year I’ve become a dedicated daily practitioner. That being said, in the past year I’ve learned to love and embrace my body as so much more than a physical manifestation of myself. I’ve learned through yoga that my practice morphs daily, monthly, even hourly, just as my moods and thoughts do. I’ve learned to listen to my body and feel my value through a heating Vinyasa practice, while also indulging in restorative poses and rolling around on my back on days I’m feeling low. I’ve come to see my mat as a place of refuge, a shelter from the storm, if you will. Whether I’m massaging my third eye into my Prana mat in child’s pose, or dripping beads of heated energetic sweat onto it through a challenging Ashtanga practice, I feel as though my mat is my little magic carpet. It’s a place I go to create, to manifest what is truly swimming around my heart: passion for life.
I suffered a life-threatening eating disorder in my late teens and spent the ensuing years deeply afraid that I’d never come to terms with what a beautiful, powerful mechanism my body is. I was terrified that my scars were so deep that I would never be able to look in the mirror and love myself unconditionally. Yoga has helped allow me to do just that. Most importantly is the awareness that we as humans change physically on a regular basis, particularly as women. The path of infancy, to childhood, through puberty, into womanhood, through pregnancy, into middle ages, over/under/around menopause, entering elderliness is a path that can be bumpy I’m sure. There may never be a time one looks in the mirror and actually sees a body that they deem “perfect.” But what is perfect, anyway? Yoga helps answer that question. Yogi and mind/body expert Ashley Turner says it perfectly in her yoga DVD; learn to “view the body as an instrument, rather than an ornament.” Society urges us to be ornaments, to get the latest makeover, to “perfect” ourselves in every way possible. Yoga gently leads us through the transformation from ornament to instrument. We use our bodies to perform the fluid dance of yoga practice, to cultivate deep Ujai breathing, and to feel one with the earth and with our breath. We pause from heated flows, as Kathryn Budig has her students do mid-flow in her Aim True DVD, and place the hands over the heart…“it is always there, and it is always wanting to work for you,” she says, “take a moment…appreciation.”
This journey of yoga solidifying a foundation on which body image might bob in the waves of positivity and healthfulness is life long. No single yoga class will get us there, but life is not a destination after all, it’s a journey. Though the wisdom of a single teacher, and the actions within a single class can be enough to flip the switch on, igniting within an individual what it is to be “perfect.” What “perfect” means is to simply be YOU; it's the one thing no one but you can do perfectly. Build your confidence, build your practice, and build your body image from the ground up. Practice yoga in order to tolerate the exquisite, sometimes painful, and deeply meaningful consequences of being you.