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One Yoga Teacher’s Changing Body Image

Updated: Sep 23, 2022

Chapter 1: My Story, My Body, and ME

I can remember the sweet and tender moments when I had healed from an illness or injury, slid comfortably into a challenging yoga posture, held my husband close, made the final descent off a particularly difficult mountain, when I would whisper softly to my body, "I love you, thank you, I love you! You're always there for me when I need you."

I can also remember the times when I stepped onto a scale, tried and failed to muscle my way into my favorite pants, clutched at my abdomen as waves of agonizing pain and nausea incapacitated me, sprained my ankle for the 100th time, couldn't eat gluten, cheese, eggs, pineapple, broccoli, and more for years, and I lashed out in anger and despair, "why do you make everything so hard? Why can't it be easier for me like (insert the name of someone who I presumed - probably falsely - had it easier than me)?"

Based on conversations I've had, I know I’m not alone in having this kind of tumultuous relationship with my body. If my body and I were just dating, I would hope my body would bolt for the door after the ways I have thought about it and treated it. Sometimes it felt like my body had abandoned me, it never did though, it never does. We are in this together for life, and by the way, we two are just one ME.

That's the lesson I didn't learn until I started embracing yoga and meditation beyond the physical benefits of the practice. It took me a long time and a lot of suffering in body and mind, before I discovered the truth of our union, the physical body and the narrator of my story. “Yoga” in Sanskrit means "to yoke" or bring together, to unify. I suddenly saw this so clearly, I couldn't believe how I had been living in the dark, lonely and separate from my most fervent ally, the truth obscured while I searched outside of myself for the answers. I languished for so long for no reason.

When you are a child there is no question that you are this ONE thing, physical and mental, capable of anything. When did that start to disintegrate, adolescence? Suddenly the body starts changing and it’s scary to acknowledge that the voice narrating our story is not in control. The control that we seek is a fallacy that helps us feel safe but provides no safety, just vapor. WE are ME. The voice that I hear in my mind is like a radio that picks up signals from within, I just needed to learn how to tune it to my body to hear a more complete message of who I am and what I need. We are one, no separation except the thin veil of illusion that enables the mind to ignore and mistreat the body.

I won't keep going here into this philosophy or the myriad ways it changed my life; that can be for another day. What I will say is that when I came to this realization, I experienced a transformation and a shift in worldview so profound that it would be impossible to go back and see things as they appeared before. My teacher Michael Lee would say that there is no undoing this kind of transformation, it is complete.

After that I changed the way I treated my body. The concept of moderation and choice were not foreign or a struggle, I was fluent in their language and they came easy. I wasn't perfect with my choices or perfect with my unconditional love of my body – surely not every moment was unified bliss – but I was completely accepting of my journey and forgiving of my shortfalls so that it made it exponentially easier to make the next right choice out of love and not out of fear of punishing myself.

This sense of love and ease filled me with such gratitude for my body, for my life experience, and for the practices and teachers who enabled me to undergo this transformation. That might be partly why I decided to start my own yoga business.

Chapter 2: Plot Twist. Business Owner. Who Am I Now?

I worked until 2 AM and 4 AM and woke at 4:50 AM to teach my 5:30 AM class. I practiced and meditated less. I did everything I could to try to serve more and reach people where they were. I spoke messages of moderation, love, and forgiveness. However, I was not filling my cup, it was bone dry. I had forgotten the language of choice as I unconsciously switched into an old form of autopilot. I was less comfortable in some of my favorite postures and I put on weight. When I looked at my body it didn't look like the ME I had come to know, it didn't feel the same either. I didn't like the look and feel as much. I still loved my body and appreciated it. However, as it changed, the voice in my mind started seeing itself as separate from my body more and more; gradually WE and US replaced ME. My body did everything it could to support me at all times, it was my inattention and old habits that brought this upon us.

I tell my students love your body as it is. Appreciate your body for never giving up on you when you have wanted to give up on IT so many times in your life. Now I was wondering, how do I hold these truths and still look at my body and want to transform it? What does that mean? Am I not being authentic when I speak these things to others? They still feel true at my core, they feel like they come from a place of love and wisdom. Why do I want to change ME?

I struggled with this question and honestly, still do. My reconciliation of my desire for change and my love for myself is like a cloud, sometimes I see it clearly, sometimes it dumps cold water on my head, and sometimes it evaporates right before my eyes. How can I love that which I also want to transform? I don't want my students to feel or think that they aren't perfect just as they are. If they are healthy and happy, it doesn't matter what they look like or what their scale says, just buy your jeans the next size up if you have to and rock them!

When I ask myself “why,” this is the answer that feels true to me now (I hereby grant myself license to learn and grow and change my mind later on). I want my body to transform, not because I don't love it and appreciate it, but because I do! I know it is capable of more and a body in motion and expression is one that is free. It's not my body I want to change anyway, it's my choices that result in added weight and less practice that slowly disable me from doing and feeling the things that I love. My choices align less with the needs and desires of my body as we drift slowly apart.

Yes, I also want to look a little different. When I feel heavier and I look in the mirror, it doesn't look like ME, and while that reflection is still valid and worthy of love, I don’t recognize it as the ME I am trying to be in the world. The weight isn’t just on my body, it weighs down my energy, shifts my focus and interests, I am more sedentary, less motivated, less confident and apt to stand up as a leader. The ME I most relate to can easily bag a 4000-footer, jog because I want to, do yoga for days, and play all day.

I want to create space to hold people who are ready to love themselves just as they are, and also those who would like to make changes to feel like the THEM that they want to be. They can still love, nourish, nurture, and appreciate their bodies along the way. It's not for me to judge where a person should start or stop on their journey, that's between them and a healthcare professional. I just beg you to be mindful about your choices to protect the one living vessel you've been given to make it through this life. Stay true to yourself in the moment, let go of old ideas and attachments and avoid projecting too far into the future so that you don’t miss the bliss of the present moment. It’s not often we get to be a fire burning! If you feel like a caterpillar and you know you are meant to be a butterfly or moth, a cougar or even a blazing fire.... that doesn't mean you don't love yourself; it means you love yourself enough to risk the change.

Once you realize that you and your body are ONE, they are YOU, you will make the journey to physical manifestation of the true YOU with love, kindness, humility, forgiveness, and hopefully a little humor. I hold space for YOU and I hope you hold space for ME as we make our way through this quandary of love and change. Are you on this journey? Does this resonate with you? Please share your thoughts in the comments below! Let’s have a conversation. Please share this with anyone you think it might benefit.


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