I've been spending a lot of time exploring the body-positive, fat-positive, and alternative bodied yoga communities lately and I have to say that it is so incredibly empowering. Between that and studying Dr. Linda Bacon's book: Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, I am having all kinds of revelations. It's pretty incredible, actually.
I thought I was in a great place about my body, and I was. But every day, I am reaching an even more self-empowered, self-loving place and it's due in large part to the inspiration all around me.
I originally started reading about the HAES method so that I could support my future students with methods supported by an already well-established body-positive community. I thought I understood it pretty well, but digging deeper into the science behind it has been really inspiring and eye-opening.
Yoga allowed me to feel comfortable in my skin and connected to my body. Every time I step on the mat, I become more familiar with how my bones support me, how my joints move, how my muscles feel when they are working to support me in a pose, or lengthening and releasing in an opener. I play with sensation all of the time, but it seems that with all this attention I'd been giving to the inner workings of my body, I've also been ignoring the visual representation of self that I show the world. How much attention have I really been giving to how my body LOOKS, rather than only how it feels.
I used to believe that it was really important for full figured yoginis to avoid mirrors in their yoga practice. Now, this wasn't a shame based belief, but rather my own experience which had told me that what I feel in my body when I'm properly aligned in a pose, may not look in the mirror, the way it looks in my mind. I found mirrors to be distracting for this reason. Because my body doesn't look like what I pictured a pose should look like, I found them to draw my focus in a negative way. But, what I've learned is that it isn't the mirror that is the problem - it's the idea that a different body doing yoga is so distracting. The reality is that EVERY body looks different, doing yoga or anything else, so what better way to honour the unique shape of my body than to see it with a clear, non-critical eye?
This morning, after my morning shower, I stood in front of a mirror, naked and looked at myself - really looked. I looked at the bulges above and below my waist, my "fat rolls". I looked down at my thighs and the way they wiggle. I lifted my arms out to my sides like I do in Warrior II and really looked at the parts that hang down, my "wings". I looked at every tiny wrinkle that I could see, and I felt my belly.
And then, it occurred to me to ask myself one very simple question - "Who decided that any of these things about a body were 'unattractive'? The infamous they? What exactly is unattractive about a wrinkle? What quality does a fat roll have that could possibly cause it to be seen as ugly?" I engaged every part of my logical brain, actively TRYING to come up with a reason to dislike any single part of my body. And the most amazing thing happened! Nothing. That's right. I couldn't think of ANY reason to see these parts of my body as unattractive - by anyone's standards.
When I really stopped to think about all of these things that society calls imperfections or even flaws, all I could see was parts of the body I inhabit, the body that I love. I just couldn't think of a single logical reason why any part of me should be considered unattractive. What an epiphany! They are wrong. Whoever they are. Just because they think these things about my body are unattractive and just because there are societal misconceptions about beauty, doesn't mean I am obligated to agree with them, does it? Definitely NOT!!
So with this new awareness, I realized, looking in the mirror, that I LIKE all the parts of my body, not just the ones accepted by them. And if they don't, then it's their loss.
My belly gives me softness and cuddliness. My thighs hold me and support me and give me a comfy place to sit down when I'm on a hard surface. My skin and many parts of me are super-soft. I think that's pretty cool. So... to them, I say...
"Bulging Bellies and Jiggly Thighs For The Win!"
So here I am, exposing myself in every way imaginable to the world. If that isn't a lesson in courage, then I don't know what is. If someone had told me even three years ago that I would someday be taking steps to become a Certified Yoga Teacher and posting pictures of myself in body-hugging yoga clothing on a web site and Facebook page - well, I would have told them that they were nuts.
And yet... here I am doing the very thing that I should be most afraid of doing, and instead of feeling scared and vulnerable, I feel confident. I believe in myself. Before Yoga, that would never have been possible.
You see, it seems that every mirror I had ever looked into before I began practicing Yoga - had lied to me. From the time I was a young girl, I believed that fat was bad. Fat people were slow, lazy, ugly, worthless, and certainly not graceful. I felt ashamed of my body and awkward moving it. My body and me were completely at odds. I resented the body that I had been raised to believe was to blame for every problem I had socially, physically, or psychologically. I punished it, by denying it any of my attention. I ignored it. I ignored me.
I stumbled on yoga mostly by accident, as I've said before. I needed a low impact (read: no impact) activity to do because I was once again on a weight loss kick. But, what I found, was so much more.
I still remember laying on my back in Savasana at the beginning of a relaxation sequence I was doing along to a Yoga video. It was only my second week of using the video, and as I laid there with one hand on my belly, focusing on my deep abdominal breathing, I had an epiphany. I liked feeling the way my belly moved. My body felt like a part of me, for the first time in what felt like forever. The coming weeks and months doing yoga in my living room brought more and more of this new connection to me. Every pose, I learned something new about my body and how it moved. I noticed how muscles felt when they activated, or the soft surrender of a deep stretch as each exhale allows the muscle to soften and then lengthen. I started to notice how it felt to hold my knees directly over my ankles or my head balanced evenly over my spine.
Instead of hunching forward, protectively, I began to walk taller.
Every time I step onto the mat, I make a commitment to myself to listen to and honor my body. In a way, my Yoga practice is also the practice of paying homage to every action my body does every day. The gift of breath. The gift of movement. The gift of softness and surrender. The gift of strength. My body and I, we get along well now. We're tight. I know my body and respect it. And, in return, my body supports me in everything I do. It's a great arrangement. Win, win, you might say.
As my wife snapped photos of me in a variety of poses, I felt amazing. I wasn't afraid of my belly roll showing or the angle of my chin. I was just excited to show off this big body doing some kick-ass yoga! And when I reviewed the photos, I noticed for the first time in a long time all of the rolls and curves, the places where my body seems loose or wiggly... and I was able to see all of this from the place of simple, non-judgmental observance. I know how my body feels in that Ustrasana and it feels FANTASTIC. When I'm in that pose, and my heart is open and my head is falling down my back, I'm not thinking about how exposed my belly is or whether my thighs look too chunky - I'm just feeling bliss. Pure bliss.
Starting Curvaceous Woman Yoga™ has shown me that the greatest gift of my Yoga practice is the way it allows me to see myself, exactly as I am, and feel grateful and blessed for being me.
Still walking tall,