This is What I Look Like. ~ Amy Jirsa

Via elephant journal
on Apr 13, 2012
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Photo: D Sharon Pruitt

When I got into yoga, all those years ago, I really thought that this would be the answer to my (embarrassed pause)…body issues.

It’s an old story (and an all too common one)–obsession, eating disorders, anxiety, self-hatred, despair. I don’t think I’ve met any women (or many men, for that matter) who haven’t suffered in one way or another from body image anxiety. So when I saw all these yogis, so much at peace, and heard them talk about this new love and respect for their bodies, I thought: this is it. This is the answer.

Yeah. Not so much. I mean it helps. Don’t get me wrong. I respect and am grateful to this body, which can support me in these postures, which goes through the enormous work of holding me up and keeping me alive every day. That’s definitely new and I’m indebted to yoga for the insight (though I’m embarrassed to admit that eating disorders continued to plague me even while I preached love and acceptance from the mat). I’m also grateful for the enormous strength in body and mind I’ve gained from my daily practice, from getting on the mat even when it’s cold and dark, and from teaching even when I’d rather couch it with reruns of Friends.

But body image? Nope. That still eludes me. I still have more days than I’d like when I wake up and look at myself in disgust, wondering why this or that part is not as toned as this other part, despite the hours of work and careful diet. It’s a slippery slope, it’s that kind of obsession—as I’m sure so many can attest to. Meditation helps—going within and getting to the root of those issues; but it’s not a panacea, at least, not for me. It works for a while; I find that peace, but then the obsessions slowly creep back in. More meditation? Yes. That’s probably the answer in the long run, but here is my recent revelation.

Despairingly, I’d come to the conclusion that yoga would not change this body image issue and its accompanying, various illnesses. But you know I finally realized I’d been looking at this problem in the wrong way. I’d been attacking it from within when I should have been looking outside myself.

Let me explain: I’m a teacher and I teach almost every single day. When I’m not teaching, I still keep that teacher hat crammed firmly on my head—so much so that I forget to be a student. This is the revelation of yoga: you do not have all the answers. Even yoga and meditation do not give you all the answers. But yoga does prepare you to be a student because teachers are everywhere. And guess what? They have all the answers.

Here’s a recent example. A new acquaintance, who is fast becoming one of the greatest teachers I’ve encountered, was talking about her take on women, community, bodies and men. This woman is enviably fearless and authentic and what she said blew this whole issue open for me: “This is what I look like. What are you going to do about it?”

I mean, come on! Of course! This isn’t my problem. The problem is out there. That’s why going within was so frustrating. I was trying to change myself instead of, metaphorically speaking, buying a new mirror.

So, yeah, I don’t think yoga is supposed to change your self-image from within. It first changes the way you see the world and then, only after that transformation, changes the way you see yourself.

And what is the way to come to these gorgeous and life-changing revelations? Shut up that inner expert and go about life with a beginner’s mind, a student’s mind. Everyone is a teacher—children, the elderly, the homeless, the wealthy, your kid sister, that annoying co-worker, the person who serves your coffee every morning. As soon as you stop labeling the people in your life (giving them a label you chose, by the way), then this world of teachers opens up. And let me tell you, we have a lot to learn.

Read more:

Our Great Sage: 3 Reasons Why Stephen Fry May Be the Greatest Yogi Never to Have Practiced Yoga.

Do What Your Teacher Tells You.

Get Out & Do Something That Scares You.

Amy Jirsa is a writer, wanderer, yoga instructor and master herbalist. She makes her home at her studio, Quiet Earth Yoga, in Lincoln, Nebraska and on her blog. And if that’s not enough, you can also find her at Twitter @QuietEarthYoga or on Facebook (Quiet Earth Yoga). 









Editor:  Tanya L. Markul

Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook.


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19 Responses to “This is What I Look Like. ~ Amy Jirsa”

  1. jamesvincentknowles says:

    Sometimes i notice the process of learning is actually the process of growing in a most beautiful way. Thank you for teaching and thank you for learning. A most lovely journey shared is the prettiest thing. namaste

  2. […] This is What I Look Like […]

  3. Anonymous says:

    Wow thank you for writing this inspiring article! I suffer with body image issues and though I'm healthy at the moment I've struggled with anorexia, which I'm still trying to combat. I don't look at yoga as a solution to my problem, but the meditation, acceptance and strength has helped me to live a more balanced lifestyle. Needless to say I'm happier now than I was when I was really stuck in my eating disorder. I'm still working on my body image and perfectionism and looking for new ways to approach it.

  4. jean says:

    Thank you thank you thank you…I think many of us who teach yoga forget that teaching is much different than being a student…when we teach we are there for others – even if its benefiting us in some ways – we are there for the students. When we forget to take the time to be a student we deny ourselves the ability to allow someone to be there for us – to teach us and to begin to work on those darker parts of ourselves. I didn't realize this until I became so busy teaching I had no time to be a student…all my little issues crept back in. So now I'm working once again on being a student! Love your article – thank you!

  5. reflectionsmassage says:

    "But yoga does prepare you to be a student because teachers are everywhere" – YES!
    Thank you for this! I'm fresh out of a particularly challenging class in which this was super up for me. Beautiful timing and beautifully articulated.

  6. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Posted to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
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  7. Savitri says:

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful insights. Sometimes it can be humbling for teachers to be students. But good teachers were good students and learning is a lifelong process, so it is natural to "play" these "roles" intermittently or simultaneously. When I graduated from a 2-year Yoga teacher training many years ago, one of the teaching faculty asked us to keep a beginner's mind by learning a new thing once in awhile and to allow time for integration. Since our teaching reflects our life and practice, maturation is a process that cannot be bypassed.

  8. Josh says:

    Wnat to get rid of fat on your body? Answer: stop eating fat. proven by the masses….

  9. […] This is What I Look Like. ~ Amy Jirsa […]

  10. chad henry says:

    Yoga just doesn't produce the body beautiful, despite what the avalanche of literature says. You'd do better off with Pilates or weight training if you really want to transform. And diet. So many people find that exercise alone doesn't take care of excess weight. Yoga is about something else, don't ask me what, though I've done it for years and I'm still 40 lbs overweight.

  11. Beth O'Neall says:

    Josh & Chad — wtf? The writer didn't say she was fat. She didn't say she thought yoga would help her lose weight. She didn't say she has a poor diet. She said she struggles with body image issues. She didn't want yoga to give her a beautiful body. She'd hoped yoga would help her love her body, unconditionally, and even after years of practice, she's, well, still practicing. It's not about being thin or not thin. It's not about having a beautiful body. It's that no matter how thin or how beautiful, many women continue to focus on and magnify whatever we have decided is not quite right on our bodies — wrinkles, curves, veins. Our legs are too short, our hips too broad, our breasts too small, all measured in comparison to an ideal. This ideal is often pieced together — that woman's legs, the other one's breasts — and our dissatisfaction is that not every piece of our bodies meets the ideal. Women's bodies are real, not ideal, and they are changing. Falling in love with being in our bodies is a practice, and we can choose yoga, or Nia, or running, or weights, or meditation as the path on which we learn how to love ourselves. Amy realized yoga wouldn't change her because yoga is the path, not the change agent. She's the one who changes, and she is, she is changing, and it's a slow, long, lovely, aching journey.

  12. quietearthyoga says:

    Thank you!

  13. quietearthyoga says:

    Thank YOU! 🙂

  14. quietearthyoga says:

    Thank you for that! 🙂

  15. quietearthyoga says:

    Many thanks! 🙂

  16. […] Eventually how you feel about yourself—your capacities and vulnerabilities and your body—becomes…People start yoga for various reasons and all are valid whether it is to relieve stress or get the same sculpted upper body that Madonna has. […]

  17. […] am a yoga teacher with body image issues. (Shhh! Don’t tell […]

  18. […] found yoga and, long story short, I found a (healthy) outlet for my discipline. That was 10 years ago. Did it suck at the beginning? Hell, yes. Dragging […]