5.8
January 16, 2012

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

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

Erica Mather

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