How I came to love my body–just the way it is.

Via on Jan 16, 2012

That Equinox video has certainly created a lot of hubbub. All the men I polled said, “what’s the big deal?” many women were disturbed. I am on the fence. One of my students wrote a great response piece, pointing up the ways the video plays on women’s insecurity about themselves and their bodies. I agree on that count.

But more my concern about the video was for all the people who might like to try yoga and would see that video and go “I can’t do that–ever!” or for new students who might  see the video and think that they are not doing yoga because of what they saw, or for any of my older students, overweight students, male students, inflexible students, etc etc etc. who might not see themselves as “doing yoga” because the aren’t doing “that.”  The video was marketing, not art. Let’s be clear about that.

Were I a different woman with a different history, I too might have felt intimidated by the video.  There was a time when I hated my body. As a child athlete, my body was strong–not the image of beauty prevalent in the 80s. I entered puberty early, towering above my classmates and even some teachers. My breasts were a subject of taunting (by boys) and an object of envy for girls. Suffice it to say that these factors did not lead me to a profound love of my mature and womanly form, nor did they contribute to solid self-esteem.

As most early-developers do, I had a very poor self-image and considered myself fat. I heard that eating meat made you fat, so as a teenager I rejected my mother’s amazing and healthy home-cooking and became a (junk food) vegetarian. I worked out obsessively seven days a week, seeking to tame the curves, the breasts, the disgusting jiggle and puckering cellulite.

It didn’t work.

After a ten years of competitive swimming, I picked up rowing in college. I heard it was really hard. Dawn practices on the water, lifting weights to failure, running “stadiums,” hills, and half-marathons for practice was inciting to my self-loathing version of me.

Rowing actually brought me to my heaviest weight ever.

After one year of rowing I stopped, and finally recognizing my approach to exercise for what it was–self abuse–I stopped exercising entirely. Cold turkey. Nothing. For years. My will and desire to love myself and be free overcame my self hatred. There had to be another way to live.

I relaxed. Ate what I wanted. Drank wine. And lost weight.

Of course I was encouraged, and delighted. But being thin does not necessarily mean that you truly love yourself. It is a conditional love–if I’m thin, I love me. If I’m fat, I don’t. That’s not love.  Underneath the joy from being thin was a fear of being “fat” again. This too was no way to live. It was merely a different kind of prison.

When I was twenty-six, a health problem led me to yoga. There I was introduced to a totally new approach to relating to the body. There the body had innate wisdom and intelligence. At yoga there were no mirrors–no opportunity to examine and judge my form as ugly, lumpy, inadequate. There, being alive meant feeling into the body, and being present for those experiences. There existed the potential to heal, by befriending the body and listening deeply for its messages.

Yoga began my body-image and self-esteem rehab.

Since then there have been a number of ups and downs both in my weight and in my loving attitude towards my body.

But the pivotal battle occurred two years ago when for some reason I gained twenty pounds. I was perplexed and unhappy. My friends seemed not to notice, and when I mentioned it, one asked if I had gained all twenty pounds in my breasts alone. No, not really.  I deliberated what to do. Change my diet? Exercise more? I’d been down those paths numerous times before. I knew where they led–misery, hunger, self-mutilating internal dialog, nit-picking at every part of my body, envy of those I considered thinner and happier.

Then, I recall thinking about what I’ve learned in yoga both about happiness, and the body. These two lessons came to mind.

Happiness is now.

Your body possesses  its own innate wisdom.

So I made a choice: instead of being unhappy, I decided to love and clothe well my body just as it was. And by that means, honor and respect whatever mysterious thing it was up to. For some reason, it needed to be heavier. I decided to let that play itself out and see what happened.

This decision has been pivotal in my in my world-view. It’s like some chain deep in my soul has been broken and the lead weight attached to it released.

These days I’m still twenty pounds heavier than I was at my lightest weight. I don’t care. The sense of internal freedom is far lighter than the absence of those physical pounds.

I’m so glad I’m not involved in the weight loss industry. You will NEVER find me touting the weight-loss benefits of yoga. How horrible is it to look at a person and be thinking about how they could lose weight, or that you could make some money by playing on people’s sense of inadequacy (yes I’m well-aware many billions of dollars have been made this way). What I realized is, that the “you could lose some weight” thought was and is an expression of an interior self-doubt. What most people, of all shapes and sizes need, more than a diet, or weight loss strategy, or “body sculpting” regime, is someone saying, “Hey! I think the content of your character is far more important than the rotting meat suit it’s housed in.” Yes, yes, your body is your temple, but you are not your body. Yoga teaches us that. The gifts that yoga gives are more vast than shedding some pounds, or being “hot.”

Every time I see a yoga instructor pushing the weight loss benefits of yoga, I cringe. Every time I see a “fitness industry” leader like Equinox put out an advertisement that is marketing masquerading as art, and somehow playing on the insecurities of women, I cringe. To them, and to everyone who I teach I say: your body is an expression of Divinity, now. Treat it as such, now, not later when you deem it worthy. Persist in doing so, because you will slip back into your “happiness when I’m thinner/stronger/more flexible/can do a handstand” tendencies. That is hell. Choose heaven, now. Love your life, and your body, the way they are today, now.

Photo credits:  www.tumblr.com

About Erica Mather

Erica Mather, M.A., E-RYT 200, is a lifelong teacher. She has been teaching yoga in New York City since 2006. Erica created "Adore Your Body," a Signature System for addressing body image challenges, and is the Founder of The Yoga Clinic NYC. Check out her website and follow her on Twitter.

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44 Responses to “How I came to love my body–just the way it is.”

  1. yogini says:

    Thank you Erica for sharing. As a yoyo dieter & former fitness freak I too have put my body through extremes just so I could be thin in the hopes that this will bring me peace and happiness. Now years later as a yoga teacher myself I am still struggling sometimes with acceptance but it has gotten much easier and in the end the practice of ahimsa & satya wins.

  2. junojas says:

    Thank you Erica for sharing. As a yoyo dieter & former fitness freak I too have put my body through extremes just so I could be thin in the hopes that this will bring me peace and happiness. Now years later as a yoga teacher myself I am still struggling sometimes with acceptance but it has gotten much easier and in the end the practice of ahimsa & satya wins.
    Love, love from Germany…
    PS: we met a long time ago when I was teaching at exhale at CPS in NYC ;-) jasmine

  3. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the brand new Elephant Health & Wellness homepage.

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    Yoga Demystified
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  4. Annie Ory says:

    How do "your body is an expression of divinity" and "rotting meat suit" go hand in hand?
    I find the latter a disgusting disassociation from the beauty and wonder of human existence in a body. My body is alive and thriving and it is NOT "meat" nor is it a "suit" of any kind. It is my vessel and it is a gift from the Universe, a ship for me to navigate the amazing sea of life.

    • Erica Mather says:

      They go hand-in-hand via a world view that sees and acknowledges death and decay as part of life, and O.K., and something to embrace. It's only a "slam" on your body if you're not "at peace" with that aspect of life.

  5. [...] As I paid for my lovely bit of bright pink sunshine, I was drawn back to an important thought, “Be You“. [...]

  6. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  7. Vision_Quest2 says:

    Thank you for saving me from another one of my famous lettuce binges!

  8. Rachel Brathen Rachel says:

    Beautifully written. Thank you!

  9. Erica Mather says:

    Thanks for the props. :) E

  10. catnipkiss says:

    It's nice to hear such a fresh and positive (except the rotting meat suit, hereafter referred to as the RMS…..thing ;) Sometimes yoga makes your body less thin as you build muscle. I try not to hate on my extra pounds when they are there (but I do love it when they go away) and instead look at the various incarnations of my body with wonder. Pre-babies, post-babies, pre and post yoga, and oooh, look what happens when we do yoga every day! I look forward to the next round of whatever changes are coming, and I thank god-Buddha-baby Jesus, etc. that I am healthy and strong. Oh, yeah, and gorgeous!!! Alexa Maxwell

  11. single much says:

    A genuinely inspiring post. Thank you Erica. I'm getting my ass back to yoga!

  12. [...] do we do this? Isn’t the point to embrace that we are all beautiful? The first time I saw read about the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty a few years ago, I thought it was [...]

  13. [...] recently read this article in Elephant Journal in which a yoga instructor discusses her path toward learning to accept [...]

  14. Dearbhla Kelly Dearbhla says:

    Beautiful article. Thanks for this Erica.

  15. [...] recently read this article in Elephant Journal in which a yoga instructor discusses her path toward learning to accept [...]

  16. Phoenix says:

    Reading this blog made ME cringe. An article this riddled with such over-arching righteousness and scathing judgment belies your assertion that you have found heaven in your body, or anywhere else for that matter. The woman in the video you decry had for years fought her own battles with anorexia and bulimia, and I salute her for being able to embrace her body and share her practice. As to your assertion that the video may prove a deterrent to yogis or yoginis unable to execute the asanas Briohny demonstrates, I would respond, to you as well as them, that this is where one gets the wonderful opportunity to practice "santosha" – sanskrit for contentment. Inversions have never been, and may well never be, my forte, but I am always inspired to see others perform them. Not only is their enthusiasm and spirit contagious, but I know that what enters through the eye gate impacts one deeply, and I am grateful to Equinox (whatever their marketing motivations) for facilitating such an experience of beauty.

    • I tend to agree with your assessment of the referral to the video as a "deterrent." Perhaps some people need to do yoga to curb their envy, discontent, and restless minds. How is doing yoga for 22 years, like Briohny has done, a "deterrent?" Only if you want to be like her in 2 weeks, then it could be something of a "deterrent," but only to the ego….not a deterrent to anything of value….

      • Erica Mather says:

        Dearies…I never personally attacked Briohny. Most people who are beginning yoga or even are a few years in have no idea about "santosha." Some people see inspiration. Some people see a bar set very high. It takes a long time to encourage beginners to understand that the bar *is not* set high, and that things like her lovely inversion practice are inspirational.

        The intent of the article was not to judge the talent personally, which I never did, but to seek to create a space for ALL people to feel comfortable doing yoga. Weather they look great in their lacy underwear or not.

        E

  17. btw, I got the "22 yrs" reference from her interview with someone…although Briohny is only mid-twenties, she's done yoga since she was little and took it up seriously at a very young age. That body of hers didn't happen by accident, nor did her ability appear overnight, nor did she suddenly wake up able to do asanas. Mostly a lifetime of conscious effort….

  18. [...] I love my body for granting me the freedom to experience life. I have climbed up mountains, skied down mountains, sailed the seas, traveled across the world, ran hundreds of miles, dove meters under the ocean and danced for hours on end. I can stand on my hands, my head and my feet with ease. [...]

  19. [...] in a different venue. It has become very clear to me that part of my mission in this lifetime is to liberate myself from these lofty ideals that cause me great [...]

  20. [...] But in the back of my mind, I knew that starving it wouldn’t help. In fact, the harder I pushed it down, the harder it smacked me in the face the moment my attention drifted elsewhere. I had to confront it head on. So I left the marriage and decided I would do whatever it took to recover from anorexia. [...]

  21. deb says:

    if it were truly good marketing it would sell and appeal to ALL women

  22. [...] to connect with our glorious bodies, to listen to our breath and to simply be present. We begin to love our bodies again or for many, to begin to love our bodies for the first time in our [...]

  23. [...] it seems the dominant paradigm is reflected by what yogini and blogger, Erica Mather wrote last January for Elephant Journal, “I think the content of your character is far more [...]

  24. [...] I have the kind of beautiful, round, bubble butt that just barely squeezes into jeans only to create the must-wear-a-belt gaping hole around the waistband. My bubble butt and I have traveled together for almost 30 years and we’re well-acquainted with the all of the joys (feeling like a sexy, curvaceous goddess) and miseries (um… do you have jeans that fit a 28-inch waist and 38-inch hips?) that come from carrying lots of junk in the trunk. [...]

  25. Eric Lawrence says:

    Great article.

    My two cents:

    It’s a misconception that this is a women’s only issue. Men face the same body image issues but are less inclined to speak about it.

    Many people are simply not interested in loving their bodies. For some, being shown an article like this is perceived as an attack or threat to their happiness. Hating their body is their dysfunctional means of motivating themselves to not hate their body. Any threat to what they think is the hallmark of their motivation, this self-hatred, is harshly rejected. To love their body is to be defeated by what they view as the cause of their unhappiness.

    There is a lot of money to be made in self-hatred.

    Individuals and companies will exploit this self-hatred by disguising it as a positive product called “motivation”. This type of motivation is like an Aspirin, it only helps for a short amount of time before the cycle repeats. Long term motivation is achieved by surrendering to what you cannot control.

    Any educated fitness professional knows that your genetics largely determines how your physical appearance will respond to exercise. I am a prime example of this. As a long distance runner, cyclist, and advanced yoga practitioner, my physical appearance remains average despite my above average level of fitness. It should be noted however that I’m also not interested in spending large amounts of time trying to achieve unnecessarily low body fat or unneeded muscle size. I’d rather spend that time reading or making funny faces at my daughter.

    Often times people will “love their bodies” as an excuse to maintain a sedentary lifestyle. This is also wrong.

    Our bodies are designed to move often, to work often, and to be adequately strong. This more positive approach to fitness in combination with a beneficial diet allows your body to shape itself into what your genetic makeup has already predetermined.

    This is always the message in my classes and sessions. We work, we move, we get strong, and if your belly still hangs a bit over your waistline, SO BE IT.

  26. Erica Mather Erica Mather says:

    Eric–thank you for this comment. I'm completely aware that men are subjected to mental lacerations of a similar/dissimilar variety. My analysis is that the conversation about it is more open for women because we have a habit of saying things like "do I look fat in this?" It's a sick, horrible opening, but it does at least create a space for a person to insert an intervention. My best understanding from talking to my men friends about it, is that there IS no opening for conversation, healthy, or twisted.

    I agreed that "loving your body" is no excuse to just sit on the couch and eat bon-bons, but I urge us to complicate–as you have suggested here–that a healthy body can look any number of ways, and this includes even having love handles.

    many blessings,

    Erica

  27. Sara says:

    "I decided to let that play itself out and see what happened." See that there? Maturity and wisdom :) We're all learning, and thank you for sharing your process with us. By the way, I agree with you totally about yoga and body image/wisdom. It's not an instant thing but for lasting self love, it's totally the way to go :)

  28. Erica MAther says:

    Sara, Thank you! xoxox

  29. Zinta says:

    It is all about being healthy and feeling comfortable in your skin, obesity is not healthy nor is anorexia. It is al well and good to be happy with what you look like if you are extremely over or under weight, but keep in mind the impact your eating habits have on your organs and blood pressure. And let's be honest if you don't eat healthy or exercise one is prone to feel a little depressed, your hair loses its shine and your skin breaks out (especially if you are a woman). Just saying.

  30. Erica MAther says:

    Zinta, thank you for your comment. Yes, eating well is really important–I've been studying how to eat better for more than a decade! But, even though eating better helped me lose weight, cleared up my skin, and lifted my depression (all things you mention!), it didn't help me to stop hating on my body. It's a partial truth to think that if we change our outsides we'll change our insides. To change our insides, we have to change our insides. big love, Erica

  31. Erica Mather says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Braja. Aging is a sort of decay. Technically, after twenty-six your body is in steady decine. That is, of course, unless you have a rockin' yoga practice. :)

  32. Vision_Quest2 says:

    … plus cardio, plus strength training, plus nutrition, plus REAL relaxation. We're talking about the BODY, right?

    Of course, modern medicine has a hand in this, too …

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