I have been practicing yoga regularly for over 12 years and teaching for 6 years.Over this time I have evolved from a young to venturing towards middle age woman. And in this time my relationship towards my body has improved dramatically. I remember as a very young woman (late teens to early 20’s) I had very little confidence in my appearance. I nearly always had a boyfriend at this time so outside validation was not in short supply. And yet I always felt too pale, freckly and squishy. ( I was a totally healthy weight). However as a young woman I did not do anything to connect with my body. As a child and young teenager I danced but from mid teens until late 20’s I travelled, partied, drank wine and ate rich food. It wasn’t until my late 20’s that I reconnected with yoga….
Here are 5 ways that yoga has helped me with my body image over the years…..
1 A daily yoga practice connects me with my body
By stepping onto my mat daily I get to check in with how I’m doing physically AND emotionally. Its like a little daily service. I notice any aches and pains. Any highs or lows in my energy. Sometimes I feel heavy and slow. Other times light and strong. I get to observe all of this outside my daily routine. Over the years I have begun to understand what I need when I feel sluggish or tired. When to push myself and when to nurture myself. And when I just need a day off!
2 Listening to + loving my broken bits
When we take on a regular demanding Asana practice we are putting our bodies under various stresses and strains. This is generally a good thing. But sometimes we can take it a bit far, push a bit much and end up with an injury. I sustained a fairly significant injury a couple of years ago. I rejected that part of me as a response. I’d go so far as to say I hated that part of me that wasn’t ‘performing’ as I felt it should. Needing to master a specific pose was more important than having a pain free healthy body. I still do struggle with this at times. I want so much to have an advanced practice and yet I know now better for me, what my limits are. When my body tells me something like…er stop now please! I am much better at listening. Better….not perfect. In these times if I sustain an injury either through my yoga practice or getting hit by a car in Thailand (it happened!). I have got much better at accepting and loving my body.
3 Positive body talk
I have totally changed the language I use towards my own body, the injured bits, the softer bits, dimply bits. I hardly ever use language like….my bad back, dodgy knee, fat arse…chin…thighs…etc etc. And if I do I generally notice and correct myself. When I hear my students say something like…’this is my BAD side’. I try to suggest an alternative ‘this is my more challenging side’. Labelling our body parts ‘bad’ or ‘good’ is a habit many of us share, but if we can start to notice our negative language and change it I really believe we can begin to change our relationship with our bodies. My yoga practice helps me with this as I am constantly shown things I cannot do. Can I just notice that and be good with where I’m at is the challenge.
4 I am what I eat
This one took a loooonnnnnggg time! I did not just start practicing yoga and become vegan and only wear hemp! I ate meat up until 2 years ago and I only stopped because I just thought I’d try it out. I still eat fish a little dairy (I love cheese!) and I have a coffee a day….every day! However through a chronic health issue that ordered me to address my sugar loaded diet I have ditched some pretty unhealthy addictions and begun to understand how the food I eat affects the way I feel. The yoga practice is like a daily gauge to help me with this.
5 I can do more than I think I can
After over 10 years of regular practice there are many things I can do now that I could not before. I still often surprise myself. There are many things I have yet to master. Some postures I know are available to me if not now then one day and some probably not…ever. My little legs still don’t love going behind my head. My long spine is still very much challenged in deep backbending. But I am strong. I’m good at balancing. I can connect with deeper layers of my body now…which all feels awesome!