“The whole world seems like waves or ripples on the surface of a vast and deep ocean. You are that ocean and, of course, you are also a ripple, but a ripple that has realized its true identity as the ocean, and compared to that vastness and depth, the world of waves and ripples is not all that important.” – Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
When I graduated from yoga teacher training, my teacher advised, “Remember, as a teacher, all eyes are on you. People will even peer in your grocery cart to see what you’ve got in there.” Like it or not, as yoga teachers, we are in the spotlight; in fact, in many eyes, whether we want it or not, we are even on a pedestal. We are supposed to be calm, positive, stress free, un-materialistic, happy and – in America at least – fit. That is, we should be fit, but we better not let on that we care about looking fit. We better be thrilled with the miracle of our bodies every single day.
This pressure is not just present for yoga teachers; it is the new “norm” in body image. Over the last few decades, we have realized wanting to be skinny can lead to unhealthy habits. So, now we tell everyone (at least every women), “Love your body!” Just search any yoga site, even this one, and you will be flooded with messages about how yoga can finally get you to that place where you don’t care about the dimples in your thighs!
While the message is great, I often feel it has become just another way we pressure ourselves about body image. What if I wake up and just feel fat? Do I now have a problem, because I don’t “love my body” today? What if I still really hate that dimple?
As a yoga teacher and a soccer coach – two positions in which I want to be a positive role model – I often end up feeling like a failure if I look in the mirror and think, “Eh.” I know I should embrace what I see, love every inch of myself, and feel like a success regardless of the number on the scale. But I don’t. At least, not some days.
Here’s the good news: If you don’t fully embrace your body, you are not a failure. You are normal. Body image is extremely complicated on a psychological, emotional and very personal level. There are factors at play every day that can make you feel great in your body or, especially as a woman and especially on certain days of the month, really terrible in your body.
I have practiced yoga for many years now, and I truly live my practice. I meditate. I eat vegetarian. I’m even sober. I go to bed early and wake up before sunrise. I try to breathe deeply into life’s challenges. I aim to live a simple life. But, I still struggle with body image. I still have days when I want to lose weight, even if I rationally realize I don’t need to. And here, friends, is where yoga actually helps.
The tendency to struggle with body image is going to happen. The tendency to act on this struggle can be avoided. I may feel fat, ugly, bloated or ready to scream at the scale. But, thankfully, I don’t take the next step. I don’t crash diet. I don’t stop eating carbs for three weeks. I don’t throw up my dinner. (If these are issues you struggle with, my heart goes out to you, and I hope you find a resource for help.)
Instead, I just accept – or do my best that day to accept – the way I’m feeling. Maybe someone else would tell me it’s not “okay” to feel this way. But, I’ve always believed yoga is about feeling what you feel; feel it fully, completely and without judgment. It is only in being present with the emotion that you can acknowledge it, then let it pass. Maybe you’ll love your body tomorrow.
And, if you’re a yoga teacher, a yogi or a person in a position where you are expected to always be even-keeled, consider this advice:
It is perfectly possible to feel a storm on the surface yet at the same time peace within.
Body image issues will not go away with yoga. If they do for you, then fill me in on your secret! But, if they don’t, it’s okay. They are but ripples – or maybe even tiny storms – on the surface of a vast ocean. Only you know what lies beneath the surface.