A few months ago, I discovered the Yoga & Body Image Coalition – a kick butt and take names organization dedicated to making yoga a body-positive experience. For everybody. No exceptions.
Although the Coalition hadn’t revealed itself to the public at the time I was in yoga teacher training its work is exactly why I became a yoga teacher. Because the yoga industry has, in large part, become b.s. And someone needs to do something about that. I’m truly grateful this group has formed and I’m going to do my damndest to support its work.
Like millions of others, negative body image and I have history. I’ve mostly healed, but these messages from my childhood still pop up from time to time:
- “If you keep eating like that, you’re going to be as big as a house.” (My father when I was eating an after school snack.)
- “You look like a pig.” (My mother when I bought a new swimsuit.)
- “I think we have something to fit you in pretty-plus.” (Sales person at Sears during school shopping.)
After years of not wanting to look in a mirror below my neck, something kicked in and I slowly started to accept my appearance. I can’t tie this to a specific event – maybe just a combination of my defiant personality and exhaustion around the self-loathing. I reached a level of acceptance but not appreciation.
Enter yoga. A friend invited me to a class at our neighborhood YWCA. I was paralyzed by the same thoughts many of my students share with me. “I’m too fat for yoga.” “I’m not flexible.” “I’ll be bad at it.”
The teacher was kind, gentle and encouraging – so much so that I signed up for the 8-week session. And then another and another until I found myself feeling strong and more confident. I even took the occasional peek at myself in the mirror during class. Then health problems hit and I spent most of two years in bed. The end result, a hysterectomy, left me with a body I didn’t recognize. My middle was thicker. My muscle tone was gone. I was a middle-aged menopausal woman. I thought of getting back on my mat, but couldn’t bear what I looked like in my yoga clothes.
One day, in a moment of bravery, I accepted the invitation of a friend. We went to a class together. I spent most of the time in Child’s Pose. Nobody told me to get up. Nobody commented on my belly roll. My friend hugged me after class and said, “It’s good to have you back.” It was good to be back.
That was two years ago. Since then, I’ve continued my practice, completed yoga teacher training and started teaching people who want to feel better about themselves. Yoga is my joy. It’s my solace. It’s my strength.
I have a thick middle, round thighs and big arms. Most likely, I always will. So be it. I’m strong and healthy and have a lot more mental and spiritual energy when my head’s not clogged up with negative messaging.
If you struggle with your body image, I’m here to tell you that you can feel better. Yoga can help you get there. As my friends at the Coalition like to say, YOU and I are #WhatAYogiLooksLike.