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.
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
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