Having a body can be challenging for many reasons. First, the body has basic needs: sleep, food, water, exercise, sex, shelter, clothing. On top of that, the world tells us all sorts of things that our body “should” be: bigger, smaller, faster, smarter, thinner, more muscular, bigger chest, smaller waist…the list goes on. It can be really hard to love your body when there are all these messages telling you that you are not enough. Or that you are too much. Really, just the wrong amount.
I’m going to tell you a secret: you are enough, just as you are. Whether your body is big or small, you are enough and you matter. No matter how big or small your butt is, you are enough and you matter. Whether you are loud or quiet, or how big or small your anything is, you are enough and you matter. Period.
You might not believe me. Here is where yoga comes in.
Despite all of the photos of skinny, white, young, female models with their feet behind their heads, yoga is a practice of Self-Love and Acceptance. Yoga is a practice for all people in all types of bodies. There are many styles of yoga to accommodate the many types of people on this planet. There is Chair Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Aerial Yoga, Yin Yoga, Svaroopa Yoga, and others, each offering something different to students. What they have in common, however, is the practice of presence. When you are in the present moment, all the “criticism noise” goes away. It’s just you and your mat.
1. Yoga brings you into the present.
Yoga brings you into this moment, as it is, and as you are. You meet yourself where you are on the mat. You might be exhausted from a long day and need a quiet, mindful practice. Maybe you are antsy and just need to move your body. Perhaps you are at work and need a 10 minute break to “uncomputer” your body. There is a yoga practice for all of these situations. And more. Stress and anxiety live in the future; regret and shame live in the past. In the present, there is only peace, gratitude, and love.
The more you move on your mat, the easier it is to move. Your body becomes stronger, more mobile, and you develop better balance. Moving through the world becomes easier too. You might notice less pain while walking, or you might sleep better which puts you in a better mood. The better your body feels, the less focused you are on what’s “wrong” with it.
But what does that have to do with loving your body?
2. Yoga teaches you to accept yourself.
Learning to meet yourself as you are teaches you to accept yourself as you are. You accept your energy level, your endurance, your time. You feel into the body that you have and do poses accordingly. There is no judgment on the yoga mat, only acceptance. If something feels too challenging, you modify and back off. If something feels too easy, you can make it more challenging, or be with the ease. When you have an injury, you adjust your practice to work around it, honoring the injury and not ignoring it. “No pain, no gain” is NOT a yoga mantra. Ahimsa, a yoga principle, means “non-harming” through thought or action. This applies to other people, but also to ourselves. Yoga teaches us to be kind and gentle toward ourselves.
3. Through acceptance you learn self-love.
The kinder you are to yourself, the more generous you become with yourself. What you previously viewed as flaws might become lovable quirks in your eyes. Something that makes you special, rather than something that makes you unacceptable. The deeper your level of Self-Acceptance, the easier it will be to love yourself. This is not about “yoga will make me skinny and then I will love and accept myself.” Yoga teaches you to be in the body you have and love it. Whatever age, whatever size, whatever condition. It’s unconditional love and acceptance for yourself. It’s loving your stretch marks, your feet, your abdominals covered by “insulation.” Loving your body for all that it does for you in a day, everything that it takes care of while you are busy living your life. Loving. It. All.
So how do we move from Self-Loathing to Self-Loving?
It takes practice. Start by noticing the thoughts that are going on in your head, the ones that tell you how unworthy you are. Ask yourself, “are these thoughts actually true?” and “are these even my thoughts or someone else’s that I have chosen to believe?” We often have a lot of false beliefs that we hold as truths in our minds. Things that people have told us in the past that we now believe about ourselves. Moving the body then coming to stillness, which we do when practicing yoga, allows us to get out of our way. We start to see our own strength and our own value. We accept ourselves as we are and choose not to harm ourselves with our thoughts (Ahimsa). When you can love yourself on the inside, it’s easier to love yourself on the outside too.
In that stillness, called Savasana (Corpse pose), we notice the thoughts in our heads. We notice without attachment, like an outside observer. Stepping back to witness the thoughts gives us the space we need to see our thoughts critically. We can then decide if they are actually necessary, or even true. So much wisdom and knowledge about myself has bubbled up, over the years, during and after my yoga practices. I have let go of so many beliefs about my lack of worthiness, that I need to be perfect or no one will love me. I can’t show who I really am, because that person is flawed, and fat, and too loud, with too many feelings. And not good enough. Yoga has taught me to love myself, imperfections, stretch-marks, feelings, and all. And it can do that for you too.
All you need to do is step on your mat and meet yourself where you are. You are worth loving. Give it a try. If I can do it, so can you.
A Little Inspiration:
Check out my online yoga classes at www.purpleroomyoga.com/classes. Purple Room Yoga is a judgment-free zone. Come as you are!
If you want to stay up to date on my classes, courses, retreats, and more, click here!