On the yoga mat we train a lens on our bodies and this can be uncomfortable. In my years as a yoga studio owner and teacher, and simply a person in the world, I have come to understand how fraught our relationships with our bodies can be. To our many students who are working on body image I want to say, I hear you. I am listening, and you are not alone. While your body on the mat appears to me as divine beauty, my own body sometimes does not.
I’ve been pretty obsessed with food, my body, and health for most of my life. We don’t have to look too deeply to find out why. My mother had a magnet on the fridge with a picture of a pig on it that said “Those who indulge, bulge.” I have memories of her laid out on the couch feeling sick from taking too many diet pills. I have memories of my dad reminding me at most meals not to eat too much bread. It’s okay. We all have our stories. I’ve told this one before. They are just stories. My interest/obsession led me to a career in public health as an obesity prevention specialist, and then later into the yoga business. I’m observing the debate around the personal and societal danger of obesity vs. the body positivity movement with interest. I believe both sides have valid contributions and arguments to make. It’s a tough subject and a complex one. As with most issues, there is no such thing as black and white.
I’m glad I went into public health instead of becoming a dietician. Coming to understand the social and economic determinants of health was an awakening. I fully understand that the BS around weight that was served up to me as a kid came with a healthy and helpful portion of privilege.
Here's how I like to reframe the early programming I just described: On the whole, it’s served me well. What began as an unhealthy early obsession with weight and health led to some enduringly good things. A deep and real love for physical activity. The joy I find in movement of all kinds. A lifetime experimenting with different ways of eating has helped me to understand what types of foods keep me feeling great. I feel amazing in my body at 51 and that is a gift that I am so grateful for. I know that, like all things, this feeling is impermanent and never to be taken for granted. Every day I feel good is a precious gift.
I’ve paid for these gifts by having to do a whole lot of emotional work around body image. Do I still have work to do on the rumination, the negative self-talk, the shame? Yep. Can I still get obsessed? Yep. I have come to believe that self-love is the absolute bottom of the pyramid of healing, the foundation that is the basis for a healthy emotional and spiritual life. I will continue to work on loving myself and that includes my physical body. We can only love others as much as we love ourselves and I want to love with such depth and breadth that there is nothing else. Sometimes, I even get there.
I’d like to plug a workshop we have coming up. I’m going out on a limb and say this is among the most important offerings we’ve ever had at Yoga Garden. It’s called Body Mindfulness and it is being offered by therapist and expert on body image concerns, Michelle Moseley. Beautiful humans, the work we put into loving ourselves and making peace with ourselves is worth it, worth it, and worth it. You’re worth it. Do this work, whether you get help from this workshop or not. We can be healthy AND we can love ourselves. It’s Both, And. We are in this together. I love you.