Namaste Fat Girl. ~ Anne Falkowski

Via on Jun 28, 2012

I am a yoga teacher with body image issues. (Shhh! Don’t tell anyone.)

An unwritten rule for a yoga teacher is that before we sit down all lotus-like in front of our students, waving incense like magic wands, we should have at least worked out our own issues. The authentic and effective yoga teacher, whose job is to guide her students intelligently and respectfully through challenging poses should, at the very least, treat her own body with the same level of care.

Since the first day I tried a yoga class and landed on my back in a long holding of bridge pose, where my thighs burned like in giving birth, I realized I had a serious problem. I hated myself. Every other thought I had was about my body. No matter what else was going on around me. The sun could be rising over the ocean, a child kissing my nose, or a friend offering me a warm cup of tea, and all I could think of was how my body was not measuring up.

My belly is so big and gross. I wish I could afford a tummy tuck. Maybe I shouldn’t have had butter on my popcorn last night. I should put my sneakers on and go for a five mile run and burn off the butter. Can I get away with inhaling the whole pint of left-over pork fried rice in the refrigerator even though it is only ten in the morning and I already had breakfast?

Inside I felt worthless, greedy, hungry, empty, disgusting, obsessed and miserable. On the outside, I was just an ordinary woman in a bridge pose. But somehow in that first yoga class and somewhere between an inhale and an exhale, I made the decision to wake up and face whatever the fuck it was that had gotten a hold of me so strongly that I was now suffocating.

For the next fifteen years, I worked on my body image issues like a dog with a bone. Each will never completely wear the other down. I did the work of self-acceptance and ridding myself of shame in a therapist’s office. I call that the work of my head. The rest of my work was done on a yoga mat.

Every day when I began my own practice, I set my intention to be open to healing and love. This meant loving myself and practicing self-observation without judging. Sun Salutations were my mala beads. I longed to hold each pose sacred between my fingers and feel their bumpy surface. Each back bend was an opportunity to open up and trust that things are exactly as they should be, each downward dog a doorway into what lies beneath the surface.

Sometimes the poses in Sun Salutation felt lousy. A plank was too hard. I felt wooden and wanted to collapse onto the floor. Walk away from the practice. What’s the point? When shame, repulsion and apathy revealed themselves while I moved from one pose to the next, I let them rage and fight inside of me. I didn’t try to deny or change these feelings but instead let them burn like fire, fade away or move on. Let them get buried in the ground. This is the work of my heart.

One thing about a body image or eating disorder is that it can disappear only to resurface during times of stress or uncertainty. It’s a good friend that way.

One evening at my yoga studio, during a period where I was trying to become more assertive with my studio staff but not quite succeeding, I sat on my mat and faced the doorway as students arrived. I was about to teach a vigorous yoga class.

The heat was blowing out of five standing heaters placed strategically around the room. The temperature was already up to 90 degrees. My plan was to work the 20 or so students who regularly attended my class hard with vinyasa flow coupled with long holdings of postures that required stamina, sensitivity, and focus. They would be expected to stay in the poses until every muscle in their body shook with aliveness.

When the body fatigues, the ego lets down its hair. The body and mind falls apart on the yoga mat and comes back together in a new and different way. As class came to an end, the hard would be followed by soft. I would guide supported poses such as reclining bound angle and happy baby. Surrender is essential for wholeness.

That night, every one that walked in the door was fit and beautiful and it occurred to me that I was the fattest girl in the class and I was the one teaching it.

What was wrong with these people?

Didn’t they see the fat girl at the front of the room?

My cheeks burned. I felt naked and wanted to disappear. Once everyone finally settled in onto their yoga mats, I began the class. I closed my eyes and silently asked no one in particular that I lead this practice from a place of openness and let my story of the fat girl go.

Within ten deep breaths, I forgot my self-hate and all was right in the world. The imaginary mala beads were back in my fingers. My whole being was immersed in the art of teaching and the fat girl story book closed itself shut.

Namaste fat girl. The light in me honors the light in you. The fact that I can release my negative thoughts while I teach lets me know I have done a lot of healing.

This is the work of my heart. I continue to do the work because once an obsession, compulsion or addiction gets a hold of us, it can make a groove across our entire being.

Before yoga I was unable to see my groove. Now I see it and feel it. It is no longer as deep. It is not completely gone but when the groove of self-hatred does show up, like when I am teaching yoga, I choose to walk around it, jump over it, or go another way.

I am no longer afraid of it and it cannot claim me. My therapist tells me I have come a long way baby. I believe him.

 

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Editor: Seychelles Pitton

About Anne Falkowski

Anne Falkowski has been teaching yoga for fifteen years and has taught yoga to over thousands of students from all walks of life. In addition to teaching yoga, yoga teacher training and owning a yoga studio- Anne has published many articles on yoga. She is currently working on a non-fiction book. . Anne also unschools her two teenagers and snuggles with her six year old. Contact her at director@samadhiyogastudio.com

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48 Responses to “Namaste Fat Girl. ~ Anne Falkowski”

  1. Anne Falkowski Anne says:

    Is the photo here of a fat girl? Hmm???

    • Star says:

      I actually did not intend to post a picture of a fat girl for this piece. I decided to choose a classic female nude with epic curves and a face looking directly at the viewer, so this was the one. The title is "Truth (La Vérité)," by Jules Lefebvre so I thought it was just perfect and pertained to the message of the article, which I think is about the truth. The truth being that once you surrender to it, you see that everybody is a magnificent being and everything is perfect. I'm sure that everyone has dealt with body issues at some point in their life, no matter what. Whether they're fat or thin, fair or dark, tall or short, healthy or unhealthy. We can all relate. After all, we're all one; we feel each others' pain and joy – we can all relate. Underneath it all is the truth, and that is what brings our connection to the surface. Thank you.

      • Anne Falkowski Anne says:

        Thanks Star. I did not know that about the photo but I love it. I think she is beautiful and strong. I just wanted to start the conversation. I appreciate the thoughtfulness you put into the photo and I learned something new. Hope I did not offend. Thanks again. Anne

    • John says:

      I'd bone.

    • @MsKaaren says:

      Yah my thoughts exactly. While I love the intention of the article, the photos attached only cause me to think "If that is self-loathing inspiring fat….my goodness…my physique may cause her to end it all."

  2. Genna says:

    I agree, Anne! I love your article. Love your honesty and your journey – which I relate to deeply. But then, in this beautiful story, there’s a photo of another skinny girl pulling up her shirt to show the world her gorgeous flat abs… and the shame comes back. The message is clear. Sex and sexy girls and sexy boys sell. We are not valued the same as those younger (for me) and attractive people. Sigh. But, to you Anne – thank you for giving me a voice on this issue today. Thank you.

  3. Anne Falkowski Anne says:

    Genna, Thanks for the affirming comments. I found the photos that the ej editors chose interesting. However, it did make me think that the actual size of our body is not what is the issue here, it is how we perceive it. I have been 260 pounds and 130. I was harder on myself and unhappier at 130 until I started to deal with that unhappiness. But the messages about body and and what is sexy or considered healthy/attractive/ etc. play a big role in damaging us and creating shame when we do not meet the ideal. I would love to say f that to society and their messed up standards but it is not that easy. This stuff is deeply ingrained.

  4. Linda Abt says:

    Thanks for sharing a bit of your soul and journey. Namaste says it all – it ain't about the body we wear but about the myriad of magical qualities on the inside that make up who we truly are.

  5. cathywaveyoga says:

    Thank you for the article. I was worried about the title when I began reading.
    I appreciate your words and sharing an internal journey.

    I would also suggest that maybe, just maybe besides head issues about fat, etc.. you might have a thyroid problem. One of the most common signs and symptom is the inability to lose weight! Diet changes and a small thyroid supplement might make a huge difference which no psychologist can make the same way.

    Also yoga will not always make people lose weight. high cardio and weightlifting as well as very highly active sports like hiking, vigorous sailing etc.. may make a difference. Its a total package- types of exercise, mind, food, sustainability and good self esteem.

    • Ellen says:

      Geeze you can't ever escape the weight loss advice!

      • cathywaveyoga says:

        ummmm, the author wrote about being fat and not being able to make changes. She also talked about self-hate.

        I took time to give information.. you can take it as fat girl advice in a bad way or you or another may see that I took time to shed light which may not yet have shown.

        Please deal with your own issues of negativity towards others. Those may be more difficult to shed than fat..

      • __MikeG__ says:

        Nowhere in the are article is any weight loss advice given. Is this the contribution you really want to make? Making a nonsensical statement about a subject that does not appear in the article?

        • cathywaveyoga says:

          " my belly i so big and gross" that is about personal judgments or fear or worry about beign too big or likely overweight
          Please have a good day.

          • lisa says:

            actually, someone who makes a judgmental statement (out loud or internally), when facing body image issues, is not necessarily seeing the "real" picture nor does that make them more likely to be overweight. this is coming from someone who has similar issues (me!)..or at least has had them…and i know that for the most part, "fat" was a feeling..NOT a fact. I've had "broken eyes" when it has come to the way i viewed my body…luckily, they've been fixed. at least most of the time.

    • Lisa says:

      I think you have completely missed the point!

  6. Heather M. says:

    Your words have been in my head for years. Your comment to Genna is interesting. I have been 170lbs and 120lbs. I too was still unhappy at 120lb. It was very stressfull being skinny. I was always afraid of putting on weight and people judging me for getting fat again. Thanks to a very wise yoga teacher (you), I have learned that my body might not be perfect but on the mat it never lets me down. It took me 10 years of yoga to realize that being skinner won't make me a better wife, mother or person. I still struggle daily with my body but every day it gets alittle easier.

  7. Beautiful penetrating honesty. I loved this piece!

  8. Anne Falkowski Anne says:

    I think it is important that yoga teachers share the struggles of the body in a real and honest way to help others. I hope I am doing that plus I think there is so much body image/eating disorder out there that is not identified. Guised under normal healthy behviors. I purposely did not list my size in this articel becasue body image/eating disorder strikes all sizes. But I do believe that once a person identifies it, then a person can begin to do the work of change, self-acceptance and healing.

    • cathywaveyoga says:

      well identifying an issue is good, but as I mentioned about thyroid dysfunction, that is a silent difficulty which can create a head issue which the head can not heal or change. Health, diet, supplements and hormones may make a huge difference. Please dont think everyone who struggles with weight has to have the same struggle.

      • Anne Falkowski Anne says:

        Thanks. I agree that information is very important. I also think diet and exercise is extremely important to our health. In this essay, I purposely did not say my size because it wasn't my size that was the actual issue- it was how I felt about myself. When I was in the throes of my stuff back then, I used to ask my physician and naturopath to test my thyroid all the time. It always came back normal. But I don't want to discount throid dysfunction-it is very real and I personally know someone whose life changed quite a bit for the better when she started to treat her thyroid. T

  9. Kaye says:

    Love this more than words can say. Thank you.

  10. catnipkiss says:

    Body image is a real bitch to get over. And then, when we start getting the hang of that, suddenly there is the whole "aging" issue….. I might be worse than some others because I was a stripper for many years in my former life, and I think you never quite get over that mind set. Yoga helps, though, doesn't it? Keep fighting that dragon!! – Alexa Maxwell

  11. Priscilla says:

    Wow!!! I always feel like the fat inadequate girl at yoga class. Your article really struck a nerve, but in the most powerful way. Thank you!

  12. pranalisa says:

    as usual, anne pegs my thoughts…thanks for this anne! i remember entering the world of yoga through bikram classes and speaking horribly to myself as i was forced (yes, forced..verbally) to stare into my eyes. i hated what i saw…and each day was a challenge but eventually, what i saw changed and my broken eyes began to heal as my heart healed. it's always an inside job. and yes, i lost a few lbs and looked better on the outside..but only because i was working on the insides.

  13. Noelle says:

    Yes, yoga makes you face yourself, doesn’t it? Even if you think you are over self-reproach it creeps up on you sometimes, like in savasana when you are supposed to be resting. This is why yoga is a PRACTICE. Namaste!

  14. JoeC2K says:

    Thanks for the great article :-)

  15. Alesha Kolstad says:

    I precisely had to say thanks all over again. I am not sure what I could possibly have accomplished in the absence of these points documented by you about this subject matter. Previously it was the frustrating concern in my position, but looking at the specialized technique you managed it forced me to leap with gladness. Now i am thankful for the guidance and then pray you recognize what a powerful job you have been carrying out educating many people through the use of your webblog. I am certain you’ve never encountered any of us.

  16. Loris Kramarczyk says:

    This was worth whatever they paid for it!

  17. katie says:

    thank you for sharing :) xx

  18. [...] Namaste Fat Girl. ~ Anne Falkowski [...]

  19. val says:

    beautiful. thank you for your honest voice.

  20. Noreen says:

    Sigh. Seems like my entire life focused on food and wanting someone else's body. I, too, did some healing the mental stuff with therapy, but it wasn't until I found sanctuary on a mat (your studio, btw) that I learned the witnessing technique that allows me to continue to work on the remaining thoughts that still try to feed on my sense of whole-ness, and even worse, bounce back at me as I make judgements about others. I applaud your honesty and courage as you shed light on your own, and undeniably others' struggle to be rid of this itchy and bothersome cloak of twisted body image that so many of our generation and culture wear.

  21. [...] to the breasts and butt of Sadie Nardini (his favorite target) was, I think, trying to compare body image with weightloss, saying they are the same and that by advertising “yoga for weightloss,” it is just as [...]

  22. yoga bear says:

    Fat girl? where? you crazy ladies-when are you going to embrace your bodies.

  23. lisa cohen says:

    for me, "fat girl" means the state of mind many are stuck…I grew up feeling huge…it was about my own body image and broken eyes..the messages i heard, the relationship with food and my body I adopted from an early age. As an adult looking at old pictures of me as a 4, 5, 7 yr old..etc…was when i could be objective, now as a parent myself, and see this cute, healthy, little girl. I've felt fat when I was painfully thin, appearing anorexic and I've felt beautiful and perfect as a near 200 lb about-to-deliver-a-child pregnant woman. being a fat girl for me has rarely coincided with the reality of my actual size. When I am taking care of my insides…doing what I need to do to cultivate vitality and to honor my emotional, physical, and spiritual needs, my eyes are no longer broken and I no longer only see imperfections. I speak for myself; though from experience, many of my friends have had similar experiences. I am so grateful for Anne's post…it's good to know I am not alone….thanks Anne.

  24. [...] When I peer in, there is black night which is scary but if I look closer there are also stars that shine down and luminous planets. Body image is my uncertain path to self-acceptance. I did not pick this path. It found me. [...]

  25. Gabrel says:

    Back then, that was the norm figure for women. Through today's standards, those are considered plump and fat. botox new york alongside liposuction can help if such figure is a problem.

  26. Leslie says:

    Beautiful! As I begin my teacher training with some of the same issues, looking around at the super-fit and wondering how I will ever be able to be at the front of the classes, this hits home. Thank you so much~

  27. This is an excellent article I really needed to read. As a yoga teacher myself I have gained weight this year. Not only is it physically uncomfortable for me, but I also feel like "oh no I'm the fattest girl in the room", causing me to question myself, my teaching and my validity as a yoga teacher. Like you, I need to let it go.

  28. prAna says:

    Beautiful…

  29. Lisa says:

    Beautiful piece of writing. It really touched me. Thank you.

  30. fragginfraggin says:

    Thanks for sharing your inner most feelings. Body image issues suck. But, I did peep your public images. Your body is delectable and your smile, uplifting.

  31. Shannon says:

    Thank you. This is beautiful, poetic and refreshingly honest.

  32. Cara says:

    Loved this ! And I can totally relate . So noce of you to share ! I needed this reminder

  33. Danny Shearer says:

    Wow. I just saw this article on Facebook. As a guy, I too battle with these issues. My weight tends to fluctuate throughout the year. And when I teach yoga, I sometimes go through self-loathing thoughts, “why are all these skinny people allowing this fat old Mexican teach them yoga?” For me, I know I’m really experiencing spiritual bankruptcy and need to get to a yoga class for myself. I loved this article.

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