You’ve heard all the good ideas: change your attitude, don’t compare yourself, accept yourself as you are, be friendly toward your body. But really, when you wake up in this body with all its pains and flaws, dress it in whatever’s clean, feed it whatever’s in the fridge, trim its nails, and clean its skin and furry places, how exactly do you love your body?
Do yoga. If you want to love your body, roll out your mat and say hello to your downward facing dog. It doesn’t matter why you think you’re there… to get a hot ass, pacify your anxiety, relearn to touch your toes, or meet the cute yogi who lives next door.
I once heard Ana Forrest describe yoga as having “coyote wisdom”--- whatever reason brings you through the door, the deeper wisdom of yoga always sneaks in close behind.
Years ago, I arrived at my first yoga class in pain: desperately hoping to diminish my too-large posterior and looking for relief from disparity between my heavy baby and my back’s ability to carry him. The long-term emotional pain of disliking my body was no less frustrating than the more recent agonizing back spasms.
I hoped yoga would both heal my back and miraculously change my body into something I could love. Instead, while healing my back, it turned me into someone who could love her body.
What I discovered in standing poses was a new appreciation for my body, for its strength and its ability to heal itself. In arm balances I was amazed by my body’s ability to find leverage and lift with muscles I didn’t even know I had. Inversions literally turned my world upside down, broadening my self-perception from beyond my life roles to see myself as whole and good. In backbends I found myself able to soften, expand, and open my heart to myself and others more deeply than I had ever imagined. In forward bends I learned to look inward for answers and to trust the wisdom that bubbled up from within my heart.
Yoga laid me open emotionally, nourished me spiritually, and challenged me to find and respect my edge physically.
I remember lying on my mat one day during a training with Anusara Yoga founder John Friend and hearing the words: “Look for the good. See first what’s good and right in a pose and in your students.” For a moment I despaired: how could I see what’s good and right in my students if I couldn’t even see it in myself? John’s words challenged me to see what was good about my body, good about my practice, good about my life.
Is it true the good has been hiding in plain sight all along, but I’ve been too focused on what’s wrong to see it?
Could my too-big posterior actually be just right? Having mostly recovered from anorexia many years before, I still treated my body like a vehicle I was embarrassed to be seen driving. After having loathed my body for decades, could yoga help me learn to respect it, enjoy it, even love it, just as it is?
The answer is yes. Slowly, as the ability to listen to my body and the sense of my own worthiness as independent of my appearance took root and grew in my awareness, my desire to wish away my hips into nothingness began to dissolve. Why should I wish away these perfectly good hips? They are mine. I choose them.
I choose this body to love and cherish, ‘til death do we part.
It’s possible that Tai Chi, hula hooping, or belly dancing could have had the same effect… but yoga is what did it for me. A physical practice that teaches self-awareness, self-worth, self-acceptance, and self-compassion could take many forms, but yoga’s particular combined outlook and approach offer the chance to embody all of these benefits fully.
One person’s experience, even my own, proves little; but a study done by University of California San Francisco psychologist Jennifer Daubenmier showed that women participating in yoga classes showed less “self-objectification” after the series than before-- a small but significant shift that could lead to a more positive relationship with one’s body. In Daubenmier’s words,
“There is some evidence that poor awareness of one’s inner thoughts, feelings and body sensations has been linked to eating disorders….I had started yoga classes myself and had taken classes in Buddhist psychology. I thought yoga fostered a greater mind-body connection, an awareness of physical sensation in the body, and a greater ability to respond to those sensations appropriately.”
Through your yoga practice you can let your body teach you to love it. Let yourself be inspired by your body; let your mat be home---where you and your body replenish and reconnect.
Keep coming back to your mat, and let yourself fall in love with your body.