Today is International No Diet Day. I wasn't sure what I wanted to say, here, about it just yet. And then I read this post by Medicinal Marzipan, which made me cry - and made me think. I can see so much of myself and my experiences in her words.
We are surrounded by a societal standard that makes it crystal clear that if we have bodies that are "different", that we are unacceptable and must change ourselves to fit the stereotype. It's the square peg, round hole problem on an international scale. We certainly don't expect that people to conform to a single eye colour (quick, get colour contacts, the societal 'norm' is brown eyes! not blue! brown!). We don't expect people to be the same height (how would you fix that anyway? stilts? surgery to remove pieces of bone to make you shorter?). We, as a society, accept that some people will have dark hair and some light - and we even (mostly) get radical hair (Pink, Purple, Mohawks - whatever - it's just a form of "self-expression") and tattoos. We are a society that is clearly perfectly capable of understanding and sometimes appreciating nonconformity. But this just doesn't seem to extend to body shape and fatness, or differently abled bodies.
Our society assumes that fat as a "problem" that must be fixed. Those of us who are fat are subject to either scorn and ridicule or, at best, people trying to "help" you "fix" your "problem". It is rarely assumed that we are healthy. It is rarely assumed that we could be content in our bodies or accept ourselves as we are. Yet, if we were simply blue eyed instead of brown, few people would feel it was appropriate or helpful (or anything but rude!) to give us their opiion on our eye colour or try to convince us that it was in our best interest to change it.
What it seems to come down to, in my opinion, is fear. If you haven't BEEN the fat kid being teased or bullied, you have SEEN a fat kid being teased or bullied. No one wants to be teased or bullied. From childhood, we carry this "fear". We want to escape our time "being" that outsider. Or we want to avoid "becoming" that outsider. And yet, it never seems to occur to us that if we, as a society, could shift our perceptions and accompanying behaviours - being fat wouldn't have to automatically mean being an outsider in the first place. And then we would have nothing to be afraid of. Because here's the problem: We're passing on this fear to our children. And they will pass it on to their children. And so on. We're breeding fear and there is not nearly enough awareness that this is the REAL problem.
Imagine how would the world, and your life, be different if...
~ No one had ever told you that you weren't good enough because something about your body was different?
~ You were taught as a child to eat when you were hungry, until you felt satisfied (regardless of the time of day or what was "planned" for meals) - instead of told to finish what was on your plate or eat "just one more bite" of mashed potatoes or told you must wait until dinner so you don't 'ruin your appetite'?
~ You had never experienced (or seen) someone being made fun of, or bullied for being fat?
~ You understood that when your body feels sluggish and slows down, it is conserving energy and what you need is to pay closer attention when you're hungry to what your body needs, and get more sleep - not beat yourself up for being "lazy"?
~ Your doctor had told you that being fat is not a death sentence, that being fat doesn't mean you will automatically get diabetes and develop high blood pressure - that fat people can actually live very long, healthy lives?
~ You knew that when you are hyper and have lots of energy, and can't seem to sit still, that your body is telling you to move more because it has more energy than it needs in that given moment?
~ Someone had told you, when you were very young, that what your body LOOKS like is not an indicator of what your body FEELS like, or how healthy you are or aren't, or how valuable you are as a human being?
~ You could look in a mirror and see and accept yourself exactly as you are, beause no one has ever told you that you're not good enough because you don't look like them?
~ You felt confident wearing clothes that fit properly because there's no reason to think that the curve of your belly, or the extra softness in your waist or hips were unattractive and must be hidden behind baggy clothes?
~ You felt just as valuable, loveable, and worthy as everyone else - and found that walking through the world with your head held high, ready to meet anyone's gaze - was the easiest and most natural thing in the world?
How would the world, and your life, be different if you knew - and had always known - that you are just as worthy of love, respect, kindness, consideration, and happiness as anyone else - no matter what you look like?
Take these questions into your day. Pay it forward. Give a little extra kindness to other people who aren't like you. And give a whole lot of extra kindness to yourself. You deserve it. You are worthy of it.
YOU are beautiful ... right now... in this moment... exactly as you are.
Today, I spent half of my practice in meditation and deep breathing and the other half in gentle seated and supine postures designed to relax and open my back, shoulders, neck, and hips. It was truly a practice of self-nurturing and self-care. It was exactly what I needed, today. It got me thinking about a valuable lesson that Yoga has for all of us.
In so many things we seek to do in life, there are prerequisites. Some of them are obvious, spoken right up front. Some of them are subtle or assumed. In almost every endeavor, there is a list of requirements we must (or think we must) meet before we begin. Whether it's a new job, a hobby, or a creative project. We must acquire the tools, or skills, respect, admiration of others, or even just the courage to begin. There is an expectation of how someone who does that job or that hobby must behave.
If you want be a public speaker, for example, there is an expectation of a certain amount of poise and grace under pressure, not to mention experience. If you want to paint portraits, it is expected that you have a steady hand, an eye for detail. If you want to be a bartender, it is assumed that you will be gregarious and outgoing, and have a good memory for drink recipes.
But here's the amazing thing about Yoga - there are no prerequisites. There may be some stereotypes, but yoga accepts you whatever your skill-set, flexibility, intelligence, level of ability, emotional state, strength, or personality. You may not know that about Yoga.... but it's absolutely true.
People are not simple creatures. How we feel and what feels best to us today may be different than how we feel and what feels best to us tomorrow. Our physical and emotional needs are in a state of constant flux. But with Yoga, it doesn't matter. All that matters, is that you bring YOU to your practice. What is important is taking the time to tune in to yourself and your own needs. One day, you might come to the mat ready to take on the world and find yourself doing things you never dreamed you would be capable of. And other days, it will be an enormous accomplishment just getting on your mat at all - and once there, you might need simply to sit, and breathe, and be. You can come to the mat feeling strong and open, or feeling sad and closed down. And no matter what state you are in before you begin your practice, you will leave transformed in some small way. What a magical experience this can be.
In a world chock full of assumptions and expectations, what a blessing it is that Yoga asks only one thing of us and that is to, simply, come as we are.
Lately, circumstances have offered me significant opportunities to do what I have committed to do: listen to my body. And WOW - what a difference it makes when I do! In fact, the more that I give myself permission to honour myself, my body, and what I need in my yoga practice, the easier it becomes.
It may seem surprising, but when I find where my "edge" is, and back off just slightly - to say 90-95%, I find what is essentially the sweet spot. And it is sweet. Maybe my back knee is down instead of up in the low lunge that everyone is doing, and maybe I'm using a strap to pull my knee in tighter to my chest during a hip opener. No matter what the action is, or how different it looks from what everyone else in the class is doing - I find MORE expansiveness, MORE freedom, and MORE buoyancy in my body following the practice where I've been true to myself. I come away from each series of postures feeling stronger and more confident. This is what I have always done in my personal practice, I suppose I just needed to remind myself that being in a class doesn't change the fact that this is still my personal practice. That's what I tell anyone else - so I needed to give myself a little nudge to get back on track with walking the talk.
This IS the Yoga that I want to teach. This is what I want to share with people. Doing something different from others isn't always about laziness or avoiding something difficult. It can and should be about learning to listen to your body and doing what is right for you IN THIS MOMENT. Some days, you might lift easily into that back bend while holding your own weight up - and other days you might need to slip some blankets, a brick, or a bolster underneath you to support the opening you seek. What we really need to do is understand that just like our hearts, and our minds - our bodies needs vary from moment to moment.
Do you crave the exact same foods every day? Do you crave the exact same conversations? Of course not. Humans are a species of wild diversity and so doesn't it make sense that this diversity and craving for different and varied experiences would be present in our bodies as well?
Now, each time I come to the mat, I promise myself that today, I will act upon what my body needs without judgement, but with gratitude. My practice is just one of the ways I can honour the amazing gift of this body that allows me to do and experience so many wonderful things, and so I'm doing just that.
How about you