“Being preoccupied with our self-image is like being deaf and blind. It’s like standing in the middle of a vast field of wildflowers with a black hood over our heads. It’s like coming upon a tree of singing birds while wearing earplugs.” ~ Pema Chödrön
Did you know that, on average, women have 13 negative body thoughts daily—nearly one for every waking hour?
Why do so many of us struggle? Why is this so hard?
I have been struggling with my own body image for as long as I can recall.
On a hot August day in 1982, in the middle of a cornfield, I discovered my first period had arrived. My family and I were away for our yearly vacation at a family resort in Upstate New York. It was one of those places where families gathered year after year to spend a week with one another in the middle of nowhere.
Then, while eating chocolate pudding in the middle of Ingleside’s dining room, surrounded by at least 50 other families who were devouring their food, it happened mid-spoonful.
With a big “Good afternoon, Inglesiders!” the owner of the resort began his afternoon announcements over the PA.
“We have some activities planned this afternoon for all of you. There will be hayride at 2:00, girls versus boys’ softball game at 4:00, and a dance tonight in the hall. We also have some fantastic news to share. It was brought to my attention that one fine young lady among us just got her period for the very first time. Congratulations, Annmarie. We are thrilled for you!”
The dining hall burst into applause. Mothers came up to give me kisses. Fathers tapped me on my head with nods of their approval and the other children looked at me, glad it wasn’t them, as I sunk deeper into my chair.
At the age of 12, I found myself wondering, “What does having a woman’s body mean anyway—why all the attention?” Having a woman’s body felt like a lot of pressure to identify with. The shame of getting my first period carried over into my body shame as I grew older.
Over the years, I’ve wrestled with feeling like a foreigner in my own skin—just as I did the day of my first period. I’ve eaten, binged, deprived, starved, over-exercised, lived in the state of f*ck its, got thin, then fat, then the middle of the road (you know that spot where you think, “this isn’t so bad”), only to swing between thin and fat for most of my life.
That’s a lot of energy and focus to spend on picking your body apart while trying to flee from it.
I see body issues happening everywhere, from friends who are in their 70s to little girls. We have become a society that uses face tune-up apps to fix how we look in our selfies before we post them.
Women today have been trained to believe that who we are isn’t enough. Billions of dollars are spent promoting the lie of what ideal beauty is. Media images are constructing our identities. In turn, women are spending billions of dollars in exchange for beautiful hair, luxurious eyelashes, and smooth, silky skin to become the “ideal.” Who are we trying to be?
I reached the final step regarding my own body shame not long ago—the one labeled “This sh*t has got to stop.” That’s when Yin yoga and its four principles came in. It has forever changed the way I relate to my body.
The Four Principles of Yin Yoga:
1. Find an appropriate edge.
2. Be still.
3. Hold for a while.
4. Release with care.
Yin yoga, in case you’ve never heard of it before, is a slow-paced style of yoga with postures that are held for longer periods of time—three to five minutes. Holding yin postures often requires a degree of physical effort, but it’s the mental work of long holds that is often the biggest challenge.
On the mat, all the messy stuff greets me. The little girl who wants me to pay attention to her treasured tragedies joins me there. The worry mind thrashes about as I observe the chatter of my fear (False Evidence Appearing Real) telling me:
>> I’m not good enough.
>> I’ll be rejected.
>> I’m a fraud, a fake, and a phony.
>> I don’t matter.
>> I’m unlovable.
>> I’m too thin.
>> I’m too fat.
>> I need to be perfect.
When the fear appears, I invite it in rather than try to shut it down. It is never about the feelings I’m having. It’s about my judgements for having the feelings to begin with.
As I go deeper into the yin poses, I choose to love my body and uncover the truth. I am learning to trade expectations for acceptance through the act of letting go. This is Yin yoga’s first principle: find an appropriate edge.
The resistance surfaces to greet me again within each new pose. I uncover a willingness that gives wings to a truth that I am perfectly imperfect, flawed, and still worthy of love in the middle of the challenge. I choose to stay rather than go.
Feeling my connective tissues stretching, I come to understand that the goal in life is not to become perfect, it’s to become whole. I unlock the prison of perfection and the trap of comparison. I begin to see my body from the inside out. This is Yin yoga’s second principle: be still.
I sink deeper, pushing beyond the limits in my mind that want me to distrust my inner whisper. I no longer desire to escape or flee the woman I am today. I am not the memories or generalizations my mind attaches to. I enter a state of fearless receptivity. A place where I am learning how to welcome everything and push away nothing. This is Yin yoga’s third principle: hold for a while.
Eventually, I’m forgetting about my body, moving beyond the noise, aches, and strains. I uncover the higher ground of me which has nothing to do with the size of my thighs, the gray hairs on my head, or my gently rounded belly. Nothing is broken that needs to be fixed.
As I gently release each pose, I am grounded, inspired, and content with all the parts of me. This is Yin yoga’s fourth principle: release with care.
Yin yoga offers me what I had been searching for in endless diets, and the compulsive next bites. It fills the hole of yearning to belong and longing for connection. I become free to relax with all of me.
Today, if someone wants to announce on the PA, “Annmarie is now going through menopause,” I would smile and say, “Yes I am” without shrinking in my chair. I have become acquainted with the not-so-big-deal version of me that I find on the mat. The place where finding an appropriate edge, being still, holding for a while, and releasing with care brings us to.
As I take what I learned off the mat and into my life, I hear the birds singing in the trees and see the wildflowers in the vast fields—openhearted, awake, and free.
Hope to see you at a Yin yoga class sometime.
“True yoga is not about the shape of you but the shape of your life. Yoga is not to be performed; yoga is to be lived. Yoga doesn’t care about what you have been; yoga cares about the person you are becoming.” ~ Aadil Palkhivala
Author: Annmarie Devlin
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy & Social Editor: Sara Kärpänen