This coming Wednesday is Love Your Body Day! Amazingly,, this will be its 15th year!! How awesome is that?
While I encourage you to love your body every single day of your life - it often is helpful to have a special reminder that you are perfect just the way you are., and that the advertising and representations seen in popular media are not at all a true reflection of what your body should be.
Loving your body, in a society that trains us to think of our bodies as never good enough, is hard work! It isn't usually something that you just flip the switch on and suddenly start thinking "I'm FABULOUS" every time you see your reflection in the mirror. Usually. I'm sure it happens for some people, I'm just throwing it out there that for most of us, it's a practice. And it takes commitment.
To illustrate this, I wanted to share something that I experienced recently that reminded me that this is a journey - every single day.
I recently had two new yoga experiences, both of which I had been avoiding to a certain degree for some time: hot yoga and an intermediate detox flow class that one of my favourite teachers offers several times a year. In both cases, I had been intimidated on several levels by the idea of going. On some level, I'm sure I was afraid I wouldn't be able to keep up, and on another level it is always scary going into a "new" yoga environment as I once again walk into the class as (usually) the only fat yogini in the room. I tend to be cautious, dipping my toe into new experiences a bit at a time.
The reality is, that I am almost always pleasantly surprised by my experiences. I just sometimes need a little nudge to get me there.
With the hot yoga, it was one of my Bear students who provided the nudge. He was going and offered me a free pass to check it out with him. We made arrangements to meet up for a hot yin yoga class, which felt accessible to me.
With the detox flow class, I knew it was going to be challenging, but my instructor, Ariel, was very encouraging and told me I could totally handle it. She nudged.
I was surprised by both of these experiences.
At hot yoga, I discovered that while the heat was intimidating when I first stepped into the studio, that I found it pretty soothing once we got into the poses. And, I didn't feel self concious about sweating because everyone was sweating or expected to sweat in hot yoga. I had borrowed a yoga mat towel and found that because I wans't worrying about sweat making my mat slippery (or the ick factor of dripping all over everything), that I relaxed about the sweating and actually enjoyed it. Who knew!?
I decided to try using the yoga towel when I went to the detox flow class as well, and found that, once again - I was way less "stressed" about sweating. Another thing I learned at the detox class was that I don't give myself nearly enough credit for my capabilities sometimes! Yes, I was the only fat yogini in the room. But, I also noticed that when I had to modify something it was not because I was not capable or strong or flexible, but because my body just isn't shaped the same. So, my thighs hit my belly sooner than for someone else because I have more thigh and more belly. So what? When I skipped a down dog or did knees down for plank, was I getting a less effective or less meaningful experience than my down doggin', plankin' classmates? Of course not! My abs were working hard, my arms and shoulders were working hard, and I was squeezing and twisting and getting all the same actions in my body.
In both of these experiences, though, I learned something mind-blowing.
I learned that it's okay to sweat. Maybe people don't realize this, but there is a lot of imagery and jokes out there making fun of the fat person working out that picture them just sweating buckets. I know very few bigger-bodied people that are not self-conscious about their sweat. I imagine it's for the same reason that those same people may feel self conscious wearing sweats in public or not having makeup on or eating any food in public that could possibly be construed as "unhealthy": it's because we try so hard to avoid looking like the stereotype, so that we can avoid being judged.
And really, it's bullshit. Everyone eats. Everyone sweats. Everyone likes to be comfortable. So yeah, sometimes I'm going to be kickin' it in some sweatpants, or enjoying a hot dog outside at the beach, or sweating when I work out - just like any other person. It doesn't make me a "bad fatty". But it can be hard to overcome that mental patterning.
So what if I sweated it out more than anyone else in the room? Maybe I did... maybe I didn't. I felt like I was just drenched from head to toe. So what? All that I can control is how I view myself and how I treat my body. And my body LOVED the sweating.
The more I sweated it out, the more liberated I felt. I was sweating! Buckets! In PUBLIC! And it felt great. I felt empowered.
Yeah yeah, you say. It's just sweat.
No, my friends. It's not just sweat. It's freedom! Just like it's freedom to wear what you want, dress how you want, eat based on the choices you make (not the choices made for you), and live your life with utter and complete abandon.
And this is why I practice yoga.
Every time I get on my mat, it is an opportunity for me to check in with my body, and how I feel about my body. Do I feel frustrated with my body or its abilities? Do I feel solid and supported? Do I feel embarrassed or unstable? When I begin my yoga practice, I become one with my body - with everything I am feeling physically and with my thoughts about my body as they pass by. It's an important touchstone. It helps me to be aware, and to adjust as I need to - whether that adjustment is needed in the pose I'm holding or the mental patterns I'm stuck on.
Over this past week, I realized I was stuck on my own issues and hangups and fears about sweating. I broke free from that mental pattern. Another little victory.
But the work isn't finished. It continues every moment of every day, with every breath I take and every single time I step on my mat.
It's a hard and beautiful journey to love your body. Journeys are better with good company. Travel with me. We'll do this thing - together.
I had a difficult day on Saturday.
The responsibility for having such a difficult day lies fully with me, however I like to see days like this as opportunities for growth; to learn even more about myself and how to better care for my body and spirit through the practice of Yoga.
I've been offered some amazing opportunities, recently, to attend development workshops designed for Yoga Teachers to expand their knowledge and improve their offerings to their students at an affordable rate that makes these opportunities for expanded learning accessible to many. These workshops are led by highly respected Yoga Instructors in the local community.
These workshops have been an amazing blessing in my life. I generally get to attend at least two each month and I always seem to take away something really valuable from them. Some of the recent workshops I've attended have focused on topics like Mantras, Important Muscles in Yoga (like the pit of the abdomen, and the Serratus Anterior), the Sacrum, Yoga Mythology, and more.
This last Saturday, the workshop I was attending focused on some intersections between Buddhist philosophy and Yoga, particularly with relation to the Subtle Body. I had been particularly excited about this workshop because it sounded like it was going to get into some areas that I haven't had much exposure to, yet.
The topic of the workshop was fascinating. The instructor shared his views on the buddhist philosophies surrounding the Subtle Body, and how the energy channels that run through the body can be accessed through a practice of Yoga Postures. He spent over an hour on the lecture portion of the workshop and then began to lead us in a Yoga Posture sequence designed to help us light up these areas of our Subtle Body.
I'd had a gradually worsening headache throughout the first portion of the class. I had tried to ignore it so that I could pay attention to the instructor. But when the physical portion of the practice began, I became immediately discouraged when I realized that even down-dog was causing me pain. But, instead of listening to my body, I was listening to my mind telling me to do whate everyone else was doing. To not draw attention to myself by doing something different. Then the instructor began to lead a series of very advanced postures that were beyond my capabilities to do safely: advanced twists, arm balances, and inversions.
And that is when, emotionally, I just sort of shut down. I had been struggling with the warm-up portion of the practice already because of my headache. But as he began leading everyone in Tree Pose with half-lotus, followed by Warrior III, followed by a series of advanced seated twists, advanced Bridge variations and more... I was forced to face the fact that the entire sequence of postures he was teaching were too advanced for me to participate safely.
Normally, in the interest of self-care, I would modify each pose so that I could access the same intentions/energies of the practice through poses designed for my body. But my head was pounding I was so distracted by my discomfort that I was unable to come up with alternatives for most of them. So, I tried to do a few of them anyway, hurting myself in the process until finally - I just stopped. I did a few gentle twists, and squats, and rested, but all the while I was feeling sorry for myself and embarassed at my inability to "keep up".
While the instructor led the class in Shoulderstand and several variations, followed by plow pose, I rested in Legs-Up-The-Wall and tried not to cry from frustration. I hadn't been able to connect to my subtle body because I was focusing all my energy on how I wasn't doing what everyone else was doing. I felt embarassed and stuck. I had essentially trapped myself with my thoughts. By the time we got to Savasana, I was mentally, emotionally, and physically tense. I just couldn't let go.
After the workshop, I realized how much pressure I had been putting on myself at every single one of these workshops to "keep up". I was putting myself in the position of being the "spokesperson" for fat health. I was so committed to making sure I could "prove" that Fat Yogis could still be awesome Yogis that I had become totally disconnected with the entire reason I practice and teach Yoga in the first place: to experience (and share with others) the profound transformation that can take place when you accept yourself, and love your body.
Knowing that compassion for myself is what my Yoga Practice is all about doesn't always make it easier to put into practice. And in these moments, when I want so desperately to be a wonderful example of a Fat Yoga Teacher who can keep up with all the other Yoga Teachers, it can FEEL impossible.
This was a necessary lesson for me. In my excitement to be among my Yoga Teacher Peers, I forgot the most important thing about my Yoga: Acceptance and Care of my Self. I failed to care for myself when I got caught up in ego and competition and "trying to prove I could keep up" instead of doing what my body needed in the moment: which was truly to just sit.
It can take a great deal of courage to do your yoga differently in a class environment. I remind my students many times in each class I teach that it's OKAY if their yoga looks different. It's OKAY if they are resting during a pose that is not right for them that day and it's OKAY if they do a completely different pose if that is what they are called to do. It is easy to be compassionate with others. It is easy for me to remind my students to treat their body with care and listen to what their body needs. But compassion and care for self is something I find much more challenging than compassion and care for others.
Body acceptance, and body positivity are not something attained in the blink of an eye - if they are ever fully attained at all. Rather, this self-love is work. Hard work. Learning to truly accept and love and care for yourself, properly, all the time takes constant attention and diligence.
In retrospect, I learned a lot this weekend about how I have been approaching these Yoga Teacher development workshops. I'd been approaching them with a sense of pride and ego and "I can do what you can do". I learned that I need to leave that at the door if I am to get the most out of these experiences. I need to work even harder to listen to my own body - even more than I listen to the instructor at times. I need to self-care and ensure my body has what it needs to practice safely.
Most of all: I need to remember that my Yoga will always look different. Because I am different. Not better than. Not less than. Just different. That is what is so beautiful and inspiring and empowering about Yoga - that it is different for everybody and every BODY.
“As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” Nelson Mandela
I know I haven't posted in a while, I've been busy studying like a good Yoga Teacher in Training! But, what better excuse for a new post than one in honour of Love Your Body Day (October 19th) and End Fat Talk Week (October 16-22nd)!!
If you've read my previous posts in this blog, then you are already well aware that I am a very body-positive kind of gal. But that doesn't mean that I still don't struggle. It is difficult to be body-positive in a not-very-body-positive sort of world.
Every single day, I am bombarded with messages that fat is bad and thin is in. I am surrounded by people who use self-deprecating talk. Nothing is more demoralizing than being in a room filled with women who all talk about how they hate their bodies, and that is my every day reality. Making comments about hating your hips, your muffin-top, your thighs, your hair, your nose, your whatever - seems to be a socially acceptable way for women to bond with each other. By choosing to love my body, I am forever excluded from that club. Not being a member is okay with me, but it doesn't change the fact that the constant message surrounding me is that the majority of women behave this way, so I should too.
I get funny looks and arched eyebrows when everyone in the room (most of them quite slender) are talking about their diets and I am just sipping my coffee and keeping my mouth shut. After all, as the fat girl in the room, I should be right there on the bandwagon with them, right? Except that I'm not.
I don't want to feel obligated to make some socially acceptable comment about feeling guilty about that brownie I'm about to eat. I'd rather eat the brownie, enjoy it, and move on with my day rather than spend more time feeling guilty about the indulgence than finding pleasure in it. In my opinion, I have two choices: eat the brownie, or don't eat the brownie. If I CHOOSE to eat the brownie, than I'm going to pay attention and enjoy it. If I choose NOT to eat the brownie, it's going to be because I'm not hungry, it doesn't sound appetizing, and I don't want to - not because I feel guilty or have outlawed brownies.
Being body-positive is a challenge. It makes me unpopular at times. That's hard. We are, after all, social creatures and most of us spend our lives craving the acceptance of others. But it's a lifestyle I am committed to living. It makes me happy. It makes me feel like I can do anything. EVERYONE deserves to feel that way.
Have you ever seen the movie Mean Girls? In one scene, all the "popular" girls pose in front of the mirror declaring something they hate about themselves while the others offer insincere pity and nods of understanding. The heroine of the tale, having been homeschooled and not exposed to this odd 'game' can't figure out what to say she hates about her body - so she tries and ends up confessing that she has really bad breath in the morning. The thing is, having not been exposed to peer pressure her whole life, she had no concept of why she even *should* dislike anything about her body. So, when pressured to come up with something - she couldn't. It's a playful and glaring example of the ways that body-hate is "popular" and body-love is not understood or accepted in a general way.
When a fat girl says "I love my body exactly how it is", she risks being met with shock, disgust, pity, or even outrage. How dare I, as a fat person, choose to stay fat? The very idea! It's completely unrelatable to most.
Maybe it's unrealistic to expect that people would nod approvingly at this declaration, the same as they would if I said "Wow, I hate being fat, I need to go on a diet!". But it's what needs to start happening. We need to start recognizing that how someone chooses to occupy their body is their choice and to live your life accepting yourself is a pretty big accomplishment. Let's start acknowledging it as such!
We all need to look at the message we send to our friends, our coworkers, our family members, and even strangers when we withhold our approval, affection, or encouragement from those who seem happy with themselves or refuse to engage in fat talk or self-deprecating behaviours.
Why is it easier to encourage someone on a diet "You can do it!" "I'm so proud of you", than it is to offer approval over loving their body and feeling confident "It's so great that you are comfortable in your body, how awesome!".
The bottom line is, that it doesn't matter what colour your skin is, where you come from, how tall, short, fat, thin, muscled, scrawny, non-stereotypical, feminine, non-feminine, masculine, non-masculine, curvy, straight, bendy, pimpled, bald, furry, or unusual your appearance is because...
"You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection" ~ Buddha
This post is part of the 2011 Love Your Body Day Blog Carnival
For more information about Love Your Body Day, Body-Positivity, or the fight to end Fat Talk, I would encourage you to visit these fantastic sites for more information, resources, and general fabulousness:
NOW Foundation's Love Your Body Day
Take the pledge to End Fat Talk
The Body Positive
Because... that's what I am, silly!
Obviously, that's not all I have to say on the matter, of course - otherwise, why a whole new post about it? But, that's really the bottom line, isn't it?
I was a very thin child, constantly underweight for my age even, until I hit puberty. From puberty onward, my body and me started getting curves! And maybe that wouldn't have been so bad - except that, at that age, it sure feels like everyone had an opinion about the shape of my body (including myself). What hurt me most was not the extra pounds I carried, but the way I felt shamed and ostracized because of it.
When I tried to participate in sports in PE, or on the track and field team - not because I wanted to lose weight, but because at that young age it didn't occur to me that people might think me incapable since I was fatter than them - I found that I was passed over again and again or picked last for teams. I was an unpopular girl in school. I wasn't noticed, and when I was - it wasn't positive. I was bullied, teased, and ridiculed. If I wasn't being picked on for being "fat" (looking back, I was a size 9 but felt/perceived as fat compared to my peers), I was being picked on for being smart. After all, reading wasn't cool at that age, rock bands, concerts, and dance were.
A natural introvert, I was never destined to be popular, but I'll never forget the way it felt to be bullied for being fat. As a teenager, to be called "fat" was gut-wrenchingly painful. It meant "not good enough", "ugly", "unworthy", "gross", "lazy" and dozens of other things... and those other things were often shouted with just as much vigor as "fat" in my direction.
My mother was a chronic dieter for most of my life. So, naturally, when my self-esteem drooped, I would try "dieting" too. I would make up my own diets by mimicking my mother. And, because she tried them all - I had access to most of it. From meal cards to replacement smoothie mixes to meal replacement bars and drinks that tasted like chocolate flavoured dirt. No matter which one I tried, I saw little results but when I did I would get compliments from family and friends for "trying to do something about it".
The message was clear. It was only okay to be fat if I was actively trying to make the fat go away.
When I wasn't actively trying to lose weight, friends and family would make comments trying to "encourage" me to see the error of my ways. My older sister was constantly trying to make me prettier according to her standards. She never understood my lack of interest in makeup or in spending hours in front of the mirror "playing" with my hair and she sure as heck didn't understand why being fat didn't freak me out the way it apparently did her. I'll never forget the day she pointed at a picture of the two of us, when I was around 10 and said "Look how skinny you are in that picture, you were so cute then!". She was quick to offer a follow-up "...not that you're not cute now" but I heard the "..." and I've never forgotten the way it made me feel.
Everyone in my life made it glaringly obvious to me that FAT = BAD.
I really have to wonder if, without all of these outside influences, I would have ever hated my body the way I learned to in my teenage years. I had no reason, otherwise, to think my body was bad. I had tons of energy, was not shy about playing outside, running, biking, skating, or playing in sports. I particularly loved softball and had aspirations to join a team. But the more people treated me as "less than" "incapable" "lazy" "ugly" and "unworthy", the more I started to feel all of those things about myself and my body. I spiraled into self-hatred and the more I hated my body, the more I mistreated it.
Until, finally, I reached my breaking point. I was just tired of hating myself. I decided I wouldn't be held back by fear and so I started trying new things. I trained for a 5k charity walk/jog. I started riding a bicycle, or skating. I played Dance Dance Revolution with my Playstation in my living room. And, I began practicing Yoga.
Now, fast forward to today. After many years of yoga, meditation, hard spiritual work, and learning to let go and PLAY, what do I know now?
Today, I know that I am a valuable person - in fact, I am just as valuable (no more, no less) than any other person on the planet.
Today, I know that health is a direct reflection on the way I treat my body.
Today, I know that I am far healthier now as a fat woman who loves her body, than I ever was as a chubby girl who hated herself.
Today, I no longer assume that my size determines my level of ability. If I want to learn to do something new and active and fun - I try it. If I like doing it, I keep doing it, no matter what anyone else thinks.
Today, I know just because society seems to be so desperately afraid of fatness , that they now describe it as if it were an infectious disease (read: epidemic), that does not mean I need to be afraid of my fatness.
Today, I know that FAT is just a word to describe the shape of my body and does not inform the actual state of my health or level of ability.
Today, I know that there are fat women out there doing things that some people might think we couldn't or shouldn't, because of our size. With one look at my twitter feed, I can see that there are fat dancers, activists, writers, nutrition professors and nutritionists, hoopers, derby girls, fashion models, successful actresses, body-positive artists, athletes, personal trainers, and of course Yoga Teachers out there challenging stereotypes and shaking things up.
Today, I'm proud of myself and what my body can do and fat is not a dirty word to me anymore. Quite the opposite, I am empowered by my fatness.
Yeah, that's right, I said I feel empowered by being fat!
If you're asking why, the answer is simple: going through the world as a fat woman has taught me that no one else can limit me. Their assumptions can't limit me. Their fears can't limit me. The only person with the power to limit me is me!
Sure, society has a long way to go. I might get passed up for promotions to thinner, more socially acceptable-looking women or treated disdainfully by a stranger, a colleague, family member, or friend. However, the same might happen to me for being queer, and I don't plan to divorce my wife just to make other people more comfortable, so why should I try to be thin just to make other people more comfortable?
The reality is that people are going to judge me. That's life - and a sign that the world still has a lot of growing up to do. But the the valuable lesson that I've learned is that, these experiences don't have to stop me - unless I let them. So I don't. And, more importantly, by not letting them stop me - I'm helping make the changes I want to see in the world.
So I call myself a fat yogini, because that's what I am. It is a mantra of sorts, a symbol of my choice to accept and love myself, embrace life with joy, and live with passion.
What do you choose?