May 3, 2011

Does My Inner Goddess Look Fat In These Jeans?

Using the yoga yamas and niyamas to learn self acceptance.

I’ve never been on the fat girls team. Then again, I’ve always been on the outer edges of the skinny girls team.

I’m the girl who has been called thick, big boned, muscular, athletic. I’ve never been called waify, dainty, delicate or petite. Through sheer determination, very strict food rules and fear of what others think of me, I’ve managed to keep my place on the skinny side.

And then I got kicked off the team.

I gained one pants size.  The equivalent of about 10 pounds. There are reasons I gained the weight, but those reasons are irrelevant. I’m a yoga teacher / personal trainer and in an industry where looks matter, what matters is the 10 pound gain.

“Why would you hire her? She’s too fat to be a personal trainer”.

Apparently when you gain 10 pounds you suddenly go deaf and can’t hear what’s being said about you, to your own client, that you are standing less than five feet away from at that moment.

A 10-pound gain also must mean my qualifications, education and intelligence got lost somewhere deep down in my fat cells and I no longer am capable of understanding the needs of a young woman with an ACL injury and therefore have no idea how to modify her physical activity.

I’m very grateful to my client for defending my skills, and my size, yet it sent me flying to a place of self-doubt, insecurity and self-loathing.

We live in a society where according to a poll by Fitness magazine, 51% of women would rather be skinny than sexually satisfied.  And Kirstie Alley goes on Oprah to announce she is losing weight because she doesn’t want to have “fat sex.”

What the hell is wrong with us women? We value skinny over smart and satisfied? Thin is in. And no one gives a shit about smart. Are we really willing to throw away our infinite potential for skinny jeans?

I began my career in the fitness field teaching high impact cardio classes. I wrongly believed I had to be pounding my joints, even if it meant causing stress fractures in my foot, to be healthy and fit.

Eventually I found my way to yoga and I got smart.  The yoga asanas provided me with the physical workout to help keep my body on the skinny team. The yoga meditation and pranyama gave me the self-esteem to realize that up 10 pounds or down 10 pounds, my body was the outer shell for my real self inside.

“It is through your body that you realize you are a spark of divinity.”  — BKS Iyengar

Through yoga I’ve learned I may feel temporarily good about myself when I hold urdvha danurasana longer than the person on the next mat, but I love myself even more for laughing when I fall out of bakasana.

As a yoga teacher studying yoga therapy, I feel smart and confident assessing a client and prescribing a program to heal an injury or relieve chronic symptoms. I’m rocking my brain not my body. And I feel pretty damn sexy doing it too.

I like being thin and fit and wearing cute yoga clothes. But, I want to be known for being intelligent and kind. Call me fat and I’ll sulk for a little while. Call me stupid and you’ll get a lesson in feminine empowerment.

So if I want to be known for being an educated, strong woman, why does image bother me more than intelligence? Why did one comment,  from someone who doesn’t even know me, set me into such a tailspin?

Even at my thinnest I don’t fit the image of a stereotypical yoga teacher or personal trainer. At 5”9’ I’m a pretty standard size 10 jeans. Not fat by any standards, but not Shape cover model size either.

The irony is, 99% of the time I’m ok with that. I’ve made my peace with the fact that Yoga Journal isn’t going to come calling for a photo shoot. I’ve worked hard to get to where I am in this industry. I’ve studied and educated myself to a level beyond many of my peers in my area.

I’m a damn good yoga teacher and I’m proud of it. I’m a damn good personal trainer too. I approach my personal training sessions with the yoga yamas and niyamas in mind –  ahimsa (nonviolence), Satya (truthfulness) and santosha (contentment):

  • Don’t harm your body with unhealthy diets or inappropriate exercise.
  • Be truthful with yourself about your motives and desires.
  • Embrace yourself with love exactly where you are.

When meeting for the first time with a new client I begin with an approach of you are perfect exactly the way you are. Now where would you like to go from here? And together we plot the path to get you there.

For a brief moment I forgot to apply those principles to myself. I forgot I am perfect exactly the way I am now.

Ten pounds be damned. Inside me is a spark of the divine.

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