Do you feel comfortable in your body? Culturally speaking, the emphasis on being thin can take its toll on our feelings of self-worth. Years ago (before turning 40), I was at a low point in life. My marriage was falling apart. I was putting everyone else’s needs ahead of my own. I was always tired and overwhelmed, borderline depressed. Then I discovered hot yoga, and became addicted.
Fortunately, the yoga studio was very close to my house! My friends teased me that I had to make it easy to do something so hard. It took me several more years before I had my life changing epiphany that life doesn’t have to be hard, it can be fun. I enjoyed the hot yoga. My life changed (leaving my husband and all the craziness that goes with this type of life shift), and after a while, I stopped going to my favorite form of exercise.
It took courage to go back. My body remembered the moves. However, I felt shame over how curvey I had become. Can yoga help you shift how you see yourself?
I am here. Good for me!
I am here. Good for me!
I’ve found the mirror in my yoga class that I believe makes me look good, vs. the ones that seem to have warps (you know what that’s like when you’re in a store’s dressing room! A good mirror can make all the difference in purchasing or not). The instructors usually tell students to focus on your eyes. Focus with “a soft gaze” which translates to me as “don’t scrutinize yourself harshly” or be critical of what you see.
Bikram aka Hot Yoga
Bikram, the type of yoga I do, is the hot yoga. 90 minutes of doing 26 Hatha poses two times each in 105-110 degrees. Recently, because Mr. Bikram turned out to have some pretty big moral flaws, studios have changed from using his name and emphasize the heat and 26 poses. I still refer to it as Bikram, as I do not have a strong association of this class with the man.
Even if you just lay there the whole class, you work up a sweat. The classes follow the same format no matter where in the world you take it. The rooms usually have at least one or more walls of mirrors as many of the poses require you focusing on your eyes (or tips of fingers or the standing leg) for balance. (I know I hit my “meditative state” when the only thoughts running through my head are “don’t fall over.”) Bikram is not a competitive yoga, nor is it filled with spiritual messages. I’ve tried other yoga practices, and find this is that one that suits me best.
“You know your body best.” “It’s about where you’re at today, and every day is different.”
These two phrases, uttered by hot yoga instructors everywhere, motivate me on many levels. Not just to get through a class when I’d rather be taking it easy.
When I first started going to Bikram yoga about 17 years ago, I was in full working-mom-erratic-end-of-marriage-crisis-reactive chaos mode. I put everyone else first. I was overweight. Life felt crazy and I understood the phrase “monkey brain” as I couldn’t turn off the internal chatter. “You know your body best” was a shock for me. Yet it was a start of learning self-care (without knowing the phrase “self-care”).
I learned how yoga can help heal old wounds. The torn ankle muscle (from my high school soccer days) started to re-open and re-heal…this time it healed properly (and I could wear high heels again without fear of my “trick ankle”). Other old wounds include emotional scars. Memories and feelings can be stored in your muscles (called “cellular memory” and is usually a response to experiences, usually of a level that causes the “fight or flight” response). You probably notice how stress gives you pain in the neck… Yoga stretches and moves muscles. This sometimes can release past issues.
Years ago, during a stressful time, I was in a class where I moved into a pose and suddenly started crying (and not due to physical pain). I quickly left the room and did what I could to stuff down whatever emotion was trying to come out. I remember not feeling “normal” for my outburst, but the lesson of paying attention to what my body is telling me (“you know your body best”) stuck with me.
The interpretations of the other phrase depend on what mood I’m in when I hear it. In class when instructors say “it’s all about where you are today” they often say it so you don’t compare yourself to others in class. This is partly safety – if you see someone bending over backwards and think you “should” or could too, but you aren’t as bendy a person – you can really hurt yourself. Bikram is not a competitive sport. During classes I know that “every day is different” and to remain “present” so that I am okay with maybe not going as deep into a pose as I did the previous time.
This phrase is also about suspending judgement. Of others. Of yourself.
Suspending judgement of myself took a lot more inner work than just listening to this phrase in classes. However, one has to start somewhere. With a society that puts so much emphasis on looks, it’s a battle to accept oneself “where you are today.” All these years later, even with all the adventures I’ve had to shift my perspectives, I still do battle with my inner critic, judging and shaming myself about the curves of my body.
I stood in the class last night, in front of the mirror that I believe makes me look better. At the beginning of class I noticed, and not with a “soft gaze,” every lump, roll and ache. By the end of class I still noticed my lumps, rolls and aches. I noticed them differently. I was accepting of them as part of where I am today. My inner critic quieted and my inner cheerleader showed up, shouting gratitudes.
I am here. Good for me.
How do you feel about your body? What exercise do you find fun? Yoga? Or maybe trying something that reminds you of the joy and wonder from your childhood – like hula hooping? Follow your curiosity and take a first step. Your adventure to self-care through movement will find you saying “I am here. Good for me!” too!