How Yoga Helped Me Embrace My Body

Written by Melissa Holland
How Yoga Helped Me Embrace My Body

Growing up as a female in America can be so hard. It starts in middle school when your body starts to change and its the first time in your life you become aware of your looks and body. Kids are so cruel. I remember being made fun of all the time because I went through puberty so late. I can still relive some of those moments as if they happened 5 minutes ago. People saying things to me like “at least I’m not so flat that people could eat off my chest” or referring to my chest as having “2 mosquito bites.” One of the worst things someone said to me was on a field trip in Washington DC. It was a table of boys and one of them asked me to come up to the table. In front of everyone he said “you’re a carpenters dream… flat as a board and never been screwed.” Of course, right away this hit my self esteem very hard. On top of being a late bloomer, I have raynauds disease which causes me to flush very easily, and to have a purple tint to my legs, hands, and feet. People would always point it out. I didn’t really get made fun of for it, but was always uneasy when I started to feel red or purple.

And then there is society. Magazine covers repeating weekly how to lose weight. Fashion ads showing anorexic women wearing clothes that would never fit a healthy girl. TV shows about extreme makeovers and glorifying plastic surgery. And even listening to guys in my age group who placed physical appearance as their only dating requirement. In my lifetime, I can’t believe the things I have heard come out of guys mouths that I know. I have actually heard a conversation once where a guy said he broke up with a girl because he was disgusted by her toes. I have even heard an educated guy in his mid-thirties tear down girls because of imperfections as small as eyebrow hairs and skin blemishes.

So growing up in the US as a female, how could you not be overly critical about your body? I would say that in the past, my self worth was based on my looks. Hourly, yes hourly, I would think and obsess over my imperfections and I would spend a huge part of my day self deprecating. One of my favorite things to complain and obsess about are my legs. It's unfortunate how much time I have wasted in my life worrying about the physical appearance of my legs.

At almost 29, these obsessive thoughts have gotten a lot better. However, I still think about what I don’t like about my body on a daily basis. Today, for the first time, something happened that had never happened before. When I my usual negative thoughts in my head about what I didn’t like surfaced, I tried to stop and think about what I did like about my body.

I credit yoga for this. Yoga to me is not just another form of exercise. I feel like it is much more than just being on the mat in a studio. I practice yoga off the mat in my everyday life. Since I started doing yoga, I have began to have so much more respect for my body. I admire all the changes that I have seen in my body. I am not talking about appearance either. Before starting yoga, I wore insecurity on my sleeves. I was very weak physically. And I didn’t respect my body that much. For months, I could not do poses that everyone else in the class was doing. I even struggled with Upward Dog. And I couldn’t do a balance pose for the life of me.

Now, I do probably 60 chaturangas into up dog in a single class with ease. I've done poses that I thought I would NEVER be able to do. The overwhelming feeling of success that comes over me when I am able to stand on one leg in Warrior III, or stay in Eagle for more than a few seconds is probably one of the best feelings I have felt. And the great thing about yoga is that I am overcome with an incredible sense of accomplishment in every class! For the first time in my life, I feel strong. I feel capable. I feel pretty.

Nevertheless, those negative thoughts still live in my head. I'm sure most women have them as well. The other night, while reading, I was looking at articles about different exercises and detoxing. I decided to type cellulite in the search box to see what yoga poses would help cure this problem, a problem that I have let rule over me for far too long. The articles that came up were not what I expected at all. Instead of finding gimmicky procedures, fad diets, or exercises, I found articles that said that I should overcome my imperfections, be proud of my body, and to love myself. (The link to these articles are here.)

Being that it is May and bikini season, these self deprecating thoughts about my body have been on my mind. Today at the pool, I took some photos with one of my best friends. When looking at the photo, I immediately zoned in on what I call my “problem areas” and started to think about what I didn’t like. Then something happened that had never happened before. I stopped. And I asked myself what I did like about this photo. I said to myself, that although I am unhappy about the size and shape of my thighs and that my skin isn’t perfectly tight and smooth like you see in magazines, I really do have amazing abdominal muscles. I saw my body in a different light.

One day, I hope my relationship with my legs can be different. I think it will be…because instead of glaring at them and pouting in front of the mirror, I am starting to think about how strong they are to hold me up in half moon, how flexible they are to make Trikonasana my favorite pose. And how blessed I am to have two healthy legs, that I use everyday without acknowledgement and that move for 13.1 miles when my mind wants to stop.

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