The yoga butt is often the stereotypical reason why most Westerners come into a yoga studio—you want one or want to look at some.
An anomaly, I did not enter the yoga studio to obtain a “yoga butt.” I stepped in to rid myself of one. I wanted to look like the fashion models who claimed that all they did was yoga. In truth, I was really looking for skeletor.
Oh, did I happen to mention that I have body dysmorphic disorder?
My first concrete memory of my obsession was when I was seven years old, staring at myself in the bathroom. Wearing hot pink shorts and a hot pink tank top, all I saw was thighs.
Eighth grade was when I first played around with diet pills and laxatives.
After my first year of college, I was technically anorexic with bulimic tendencies (I starved myself and if I did eat I purged). I still abused diet pills even after overdosing and collapsing numerous times. I tampered down to only abusing whatever “fat cure” they sold over the counter.
I did the “master cleanse” for a month at a time, because it was a socially acceptable way for me to stop eating. I stopped with the pills and crash diets when I was pregnant.
After the birth of my son, I allowed myself to consume only 1,500 calories a day because that was the bare minimum for producing breast milk. After I stopped breastfeeding, it became 1,000 calories. Not satisfied with my results, I started yoga to lose 20 more pounds.
Let me clear up one thing: I was never obese. In fact, I was a bit gangly as a kid. Also, by the time my son was eight months old, I had lost 70 of the 80 pounds I gained with pregnancy, but this disorder distorts all truths.
When I first started yoga, I spent a lot of my time comparing my body to others. Then one day, a year or so down the line, I told my teacher that my son weighed over eight pounds when he was born. She was shocked that I could carry a child that big.
When I got home, I looked in the mirror and thought: maybe I’m not as big as I think. Six more months down the path of yoga, I was in shoulder stand with nowhere to look but my thighs—why I often had to use the restroom during this pose—I looked up and…wow, my thighs aren’t that fat.
Oh, and I never lost any weight in yoga; in fact, I gained 20 pounds, an estimation since I only get weighed once a year at the physician’s (I cannot own a scale).
Energetically, shoulder stand sends prana (energy) to the throat chakra, the house of truth in the body. When in that pose, I finally saw the truth behind my perception—there is a fat wolf and a thin wolf that live inside me. I get to see whoever I feed more. The more negativity, the insecurity I feel, the more the fat wolf rolls out of the den. The more positivity, the more light I feed myself, the more I see the thin wolf in the mirror. In truth, we all have fat and thin wolves.
My lovely Indian friend once said to me that I have this beautiful white wall, and all I see is the black speck, hiding. Sometimes, I have a black wall and in the center there is a white speck, but I am blind to the light. This reminded me of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra I.36: viśokā vā jyotișmatī (concentration on the inner light can bring one out of a state of suffering). This condition (this black wall) is something I may very well have for the rest of my life. Healing does not translate into disappearing.
Healing is accepting my condition so that the wolves can frolic together—white specks and black walls and vice versa.
I cannot resist the painful stuff, but I cannot dwell on it either. Some weeks (sometimes months) all I see is the black wall: every photo, image and reflection curdles inside me, but somewhere within my black wall, I will find the white speck.
Meditate on that light within to draw out of suffering.
It would be silly of me to say, yoga has fixed my body image problem. It hasn’t. I still have days that I hate myself. Who knows if down further down this path is redemption, but maybe, just maybe, this is redemption. Me sharing this. Me knowing that distorted image will be the rest of this lifetime; I am okay with that.
Rumi says, “Close your eyes, to see with your other eye.” Yoga gave me that other eye. Yoga enlightens. The word guru in Sanskrit is derived from the syllables gu and ru, meaning darkness and light. This yoga practice is my own guru, the one whom takes me out of the darkness and into the light.
A friend of mine asked me why I practice yoga. I said, “Because I know what happens to me when I don’t.” Yoga doesn’t make us lose weight. It allows us to see clearly. A clear mind wants a healthy body; maybe that means losing weight, maybe gaining.
I am grateful for my body dysmorphic disorder; it got me through the doors of my first yoga studio. I am grateful for the “yoga butt” for getting my students through the front door. Who cares how we get here, because once that light is turned on there is no stopping us.
Melanie Kim Summers writes, learns, teaches and, well, breathes her yoga practice. A published poet and fiction writer, she is dipping her toes in the world of yoga writing. She is a student of JJ Gormley-Etchells and the Surya Chandra method of yoga therapy, and teaches at Navarre Living Yoga in Navarre, Florida. But her most important teacher and student is her son. Contact Melanie at email@example.com or follow Melanie Summers Yoga on facebook.
Editor: Carolyn Gilligan