I’m feeling a little bummed out because it is the end of January and I haven’t lost any weight yet.
Do I need to lose weight? With a BMI of 19.6, not by most standards. Have I been reducing my diet or increasing my activity? Actually, owing to bad weather and a busy schedule, I have been running and exercising less on roughly the same food intake. So why am I disappointed?
In this calorie-glutted country where approximately 2/3 of the population is overweight, the beginning of a new year—and with it a strong commitment to turning over a new leaf—we are sold the idea of losing weight and getting in shape. The only other time of year which brings such an intense edge to the mass desire for getting slimmer and fitter is the mid-late spring pre-bathing suit season. The messages are everywhere and for someone like myself who has had poor self-esteem and a poor body image since pre-teen years they are hard to tune out. I can’t escape this vague sense of failing at something I am supposed to be doing. I find myself looking down and noticing the girth of my thighs or the rolls in my belly as I sit, and I feel mildly disgusted with myself. I swear I see a double chin from some angles and during these moments I want to just separate from this body and float away. I remember to use my yoga training and let the thoughts go instead of allowing them to build hateful momentum.
I breathe and the moment passes, but I don’t want this to always be such a struggle.
I have a soon-to-be-11 year old daughter who I want to grow up loving and accepting herself and her body as the miracle of creation (which I helped create) that she is. Since she has developed a little of that pre-pubescent fullness, she jokes that she is fat. She laughs as she says it but her eyes look sad. Her brothers are lean and hyperkinetic and sometimes tease her. They love sports while she would rather sit and work on her art. My husband says we have to stop having desserts in the house (even though it is the skinny boys who eat the lion’s share of them) and he is breathing a sigh of relief now that she is back at the nearby school and is walking again instead of riding the bus. And I nag her about getting more physical activity. She was (is?) a gifted natural athlete but now she sits, stands and walks slumped over completely lacking body confidence and she avoids sports and exercise like they are horrifying diseases.
It is hard—I want to push, I don’t want to push. It breaks my heart to think that she might suffer some of the misery that I put myself through. I don’t really know the best things to say or do since I am still trying to heal myself. I let her sit, read and draw for hours because she loves it, she is good at it and it makes her happy. I get that because these things have always made me happy too. But I also love to run and practice yoga because it is when moving I can appreciate my body as a wonder of function. I hope that if she becomes more active and finds an activity she enjoys that she will see the body as more than just an image in a mirror or a designer rack on which to hang the trendiest fashions. She has been practicing some simple asanas and pranayama with me most evenings and we call it doing her stretches. I think she likes it simply because she gets one on one time. I want her to delight in using the body she was gifted with, and to be strong and agile but to also understand that she is always lovable no matter her shape or activity level. I want her to live in the moment.
I teach group yoga classes at several local studios. I get all ages, shapes, sizes and degrees of fitness as well as length and depth of yoga experience, and I have to give classes that will accommodate all the permutations. Naturally many people want to get leaner and fitter through yoga practice and I sometimes get asked for tips to achieve this. Sometimes I am even asked how to get leaner by someone (always female, usually young) already approaching zero body fat. Obviously, there is the straightforward “eat less” answer which I have actually given on occasion. However, I don’t feel comfortable fielding these questions and discussing this with people as I feel it is outside my scope and job. The purpose of yoga—even fast-moving “power” yoga—is not to lose weight, although weight loss or gain may happen as part of the journey if it is meant to happen.
Additionally (and perhaps because I have my own issues) I have received mixed messages from other yoga teachers about the proper attitude toward the body. Some treat it with reverence, something to be treated like a gleaming temple for the soul, while others are a little more indifferent, cursory attention to keep it from succumbing to ailments which impair enlightenment is sufficient. Naturally, I talk a lot about the body for the purpose of explaining the action of a pose. Some may potentially be loaded for hypersensitive ears such as “tighten your belly” (How? It’s fat!). Some of the postures can be challenging for those with ample girth or for those whose bones protrude a lot and while I am happy to offer any modifications and accommodations, I am hesitant on how to approach lest my words cause (more) distress. I know that a lot of the people, particularly women, that come to classes suffer from negative body self-talk.
I want to send the message that it is good and important to want to be healthier and fitter, but not at the expense of accepting oneself as-is.
I want to believe this myself.
I think we misdirect so much focus on weight because it is a substitute for dealing with pain and emotional baggage. Thin (but not too thin! The standard is quite rigid) is beautiful, pure, disciplined and happy. Weight loss is admittedly difficult, but it is still easier than addressing the deep dark memories and thoughts that haunt us and poison our lives. We cover the pain and hurt with blankets of fat and stuff the emptiness with an unhealthy focus on food. Then we try to lose weight so we can finally be happy. Well many times in my life I have lost those last five pounds. Many times my body has been an object of envy. Surely this is the pinnacle of self-satisfaction, right? Guess what? It didn’t solve all my problems. I didn’t become a better person or happier. Yet still…why not drop a few pounds?
I, like many women, have a conflict regarding my appearance. I resent being judged and reduced to an adjective or a typecast based on my looks. I am not interested in entertaining or pleasuring anyone with my appearance. Yet unfortunately I can’t seem to help but feel better about myself when I look “good” and poorly about myself when I look “bad.”
It is a life-long process of seeking peace that each individual must undertake, but in what ways can we create an environment more supportive of—pardon the pun—lightening the load?
Juli Jamison teaches yoga classes in suburban Maryland while raising 4 school age children. She has a plethora of hobbies (ranging from the athletic to the domestic to the artistic) which allow her to feel productive while she procrastinates.
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