For decades, people across the world have spent their days fretting over how they look. Many hours have been wasted in front of the mirror while we pinch, pull, twist and mentally chide ourselves for not looking a certain way. This way of thinking is a disease and it has taken over the world.
How many hours a day do we spend thinking about what we would change in our appearance? How much of it do we share with others? How often do we hear ourselves or others say that we would trade bodies or body parts with this person or that? How often do we say these things in front of our kids with out even thinking about the effect our words and actions are having on them? How often do we hate that which in truth is magnificent and perfect just the way it is?
I would love to say that what prompted me to share my experience of healing through yoga came from my personal journey (which I will share a small piece of shortly) and although this is a tremendous influence in the way I approach my practice and the relationship to the self, what actually made me want to create a space for men and women to talk about and begin the healing process, were the powerful words that came out of my 6 year old niece’s mouth one sunny afternoon. “I need to go on a diet. I’m too fat”
Those words were a slap in the face for me. My blood turned to ice and I can still feel the tingling sensation crawling up my spine, as though a monster had crept up behind me and was getting ready to eat me alive.
How did this happen? Where did she even hear these words? How did she come to feel this way at such a young age? Was it me? Was it all the years I spent fighting my own demons? Was it the way I counted calories or deemed food evil or semi-acceptable or even the way I argued I wasn’t hungry and needed to be left alone? But no, that was before her time, wasn’t it? Did I accidentally create a karmic deluge of insecurities that somehow landed on her little soul?
It broke me in half. The idea that after so many years of battling an eating disorder, I would have to somehow help my little niece fight the same battle at an even younger age. And what was worse was the realization that so many people felt this way.
I could see it while shopping at the mall or even waiting in line at the grocery store. I could hear it while watching ridiculous “fashion” TV shows and “reality” TV. I could read about it on magazines and online articles and be inundated with these demons at they gym where I used to teach, where every calorie counts and every second not spent in a perpetual fight with the scale is a moment lost or hated.
The illness had polluted the minds and souls of so many and yet, this sickness was being accepted, ignored, minimized, praised and sometimes worshiped by so many people! How did we get here? How did we allow our shame and fear to destroy all that is important in life? How did we give this demon wings instead of chopping its head off and feeding it to the eternal fires of a cleansed soul?
Many blame the media, some blame men (but there are many demons men have to fight as well, so it would be incorrect to say that this is a female sickness alone) some people chuck it up to pure insecurity and lack of self-love or respect. But I believe it is not as simple as all that. I believe the shame we have built into our insecurities has more to do with a lack of self-awareness and presence of mind than anything else.
Because, how could I possibly hate anything about myself if I know that everything about me is a miracle? How can I hate this body part or that when I know that each cell in my body is meant for greatness? How can I hate what I am present with moment to moment? It is impossible. One cannot hate the space one inhabits unless one’s perspective is askew or distorted by a fake reality.
This, in my opinion, is one of the reasons yoga can be such a tremendous tool in healing our hearts, minds and souls. Yoga demands that we remain vulnerable and open to every moment, whether it is intense, painful and challenging or sweet, tender and comfortable.
Yoga asks that we be truthful in every moment and that we take a good look at what life is really like. Yoga is our portal through the looking glass and yoga is the door to our very essence; the way through which we can finally see things as they are and not be pulled in a false direction by an untruthful interpretation of life itself. This is why the yoga sutras state: yogaś-citta-vrtti-nirodhaḥ ||2|| - "yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind."
The practice of yoga demands that we be grounded and present moment to moment. This awareness and presence of mind helps us to dissipate or remove the veil that obscures and distorts our perception and it is in this freedom that we posses the ability to shift our perspectives and heal all that needs to be infused with new life.
This may sound foreign to you but I can tell you that as someone who spent years feeling unworthy and less than, this shift in perspective has changed my life in a drastic manner. For years, my internal struggle with weight stemmed from the “story” (the veil) that I was only worth loving if I was thin.
This horrid lie (because it was a lie no matter how much I tried to convince myself that it was a fact of life) stemmed from a desire to be accepted and loved. Which is ridiculous because my entire family loved me and showed me that love every single day. I was just focusing on the wrong things.
I was putting all my attention in the way people treated kids who were thinner than me (thinner kids, in my eyes, were always treated with more respect than I). I was mulling over the words of people who had told me I needed to stop eating this or that because I really needed to start losing weight or the taunts of people who said I was chunky or had big cheeks or a big belly. I was looking at the world around me through the veil of persecution and rejection and I wanted no more of it.
And yet, in spite of the pain and the realization that I was the only chubby kid in ballet or gymnastics (both activities which I quit in part because I felt inadequately over weight and also because I just hated being dainty and delicate in ballet and hated being yelled at in gymnastics) I knew that I was a loving kid who loved to act, sing, read, write, watch old Hollywood movies and to play pretend. I was the kind of kid who loved everyone around me unconditionally and who was also afraid of everything; especially bugs or roller-coaters.
So, I knew who I was and I even loved myself in a way that only a kid can truly love him or her self, but I was still very keenly submerged in the story that fat girls are not truly deserving of love and even though I didn’t know this; this story was corroding my soul.
As the years wore on, I continued to unconsciously build the case around the fat little girl being rejected, bullied and unloved but I didn’t truly understand the “importance” of being thin until one fateful year, when all the family had gathered for Christmas and I fell ill.
This year, I fell pray to 2 different types of salmonella. I remember getting ill and being rushed to the nearest E.R. I was feverish, dehydrated and in a critical state, according to the doctors. I was immediately hospitalized and for a little while kept falling in and out of consciousness.
That whole time is a bit of a blur. I recall the nurse who took care of me being really sweet and patient. I remember the whole family assembled in the room, looking over me and looking concerned. I remember the cold liquid they were pumping into my veins and the fear to sleep because I thought the needles in my arms would come our or cause major damage to my veins and arms.
I remember darkness and cold and also love. Love emanating from my family and their words; words I could not fully comprehend in my stupor. I remember feeling weak and helpless and scared and I remember being told I was going to go home. That was the best Christmas present I had received. I was so excited to be able to go home and see the snow and be with my family that I wanted to bound off the uncomfortable hospital bed and run until my lungs burned but I was too weak and I was no longer that fat little girl.
The shock was almost palpable. My family’s face when I stood up and the way that I felt in my own body – a foreign body – was truly intense and it is something I will never forget. I had been so ill that all my weight had virtually vanished in a matter of hours and days. I was skin and bones and I loved it.
I realize how strange that may sound but I was so thrilled to finally be rid of the “fat girl suit” that I was truly joyful to finally be worthy of love and attention and respect. I was thin! I was thin and I was never going back because this thinness that I was experiencing was too sweet, too intoxicating. We spent the rest of the holidays playing in the snow and enjoying our family time and it is still one of the best memories I have of Christmas.
When the holidays ended and life went back to normal I was both thrilled and a little scared to go back to school. On one hand, I still felt and thought like that little fat girl used to; after all, I was still me. But on the other hand, I wanted to see how people would react to my new skin and the reactions I received left a deep impression in my mind for a very long time.
As soon as I set foot in the school, everyone started to treat me differently. The people who had bullied me were now talking to me and trying to be friendly, the “cool girls” were including me and bringing me into their words a little more and a few of the boys asked me to go steady. My whole world had changed, and in my mind; through my “vrittis” one “fact” became crystal clear; being thin was the most important thing in the world and I must do everything in my power to remain thin forever.
This was my story for years and through this veil of lies, I created a world of strain, self-hatred, vanity, ego and fear for myself. I had become detached from the awareness of who I truly was and I had permitted my stories to run amok and keep me as a slave for many, many years.
Adding to this distorted way of seeing things, I had been told that to model or act I needed to look a certain way and I spent much of my time looking at magazines, TV shows, online articles and a myriad of stimuli constantly bombarding me with the need to look thin and be perfect. I think this is an experience we can all relate to and I believe it is corrosive and dangerous to all of us.
It wasn’t until I began my practice and had a trusted friend literally grab me and hold me in front of a mirror for what seemed like hours, until I could see how beautiful I truly was that I was able to let go and begin my journey to healing and self-love.
I learned that I was precious and worthy of love. I learned that my entire being is a radiant light, worthy of love, kindness, awareness and renewal. I learned that I am perfectly imperfect and that this is exactly the way I need to be. I was able to remove the veil and shift my perspective in order to finally be free from the oppression of that old story I had created.
So what would happen if we were all able to take the “veil” of societal (and self inflicted) expectations regarding appearances off and found a way to see the world as it truly is? What would change? How would we speak to others and to ourselves? What would a conversation sound like between friends, family members and even strangers regarding true beauty?
I firmly believe we can all find our way back home, into our trues selves and we can all heal little by little. But we need to find the courage to be present, open to grace and ready to dramatically shift our perspectives in order for this to happen and I believe yoga is a powerful tool in this search for healing and renewal.
Yoga is the practice of self-seeking. It is a practice that allows each of us to come face to face with who we truly are and it helps us to accept, love and cultivate all of who we are. It takes our apparent “imperfections” and “darkness” and brings them to the forefront so that we may see how lovely, powerful and unique they are. It allows us to be exactly as we are in every moment with out needing to change a single thing about our selves.
Yes, we live in a culture that demands perfection and yes, we have been lied to and oppressed and discriminated against but we are so much more than we realize. We are beings of light and energy filled by the same vibration that generated the universe. We are all the same vibration, the same matter, the same light, the same energy and even the same DNA and we are all perfectly imperfect.
Rejection of the self leads to rejection of life and this can only bring further turmoil and pain into the universe. We need to gently dissipate the veil of judgmental perception that has been affecting our relationship with our selves and the universe in order to see things clearly and yoga helps us to do just that.
So next time you are on your mat, take some time to meditate and be brutally honest with yourself. Be honest about what makes you feel alive and what makes you feel trapped or constricted. Think about the words you use on a daily basis to refer to yourself, your body and your life. Are these words positive, powerful and radiant words? Or are they heavy, negative and murderous words?
Can you take a good look at yourself and either write down or name (speak) every single thing that you love about yourself? Can you keep adding to the list until you realize that every single thing about you is amazing? Can you let go of judgment and surrender to love? Can you shift your perspective and create a new life for yourself? A life where you can see, feel and embody your radiance and vibrational power.
A life where those who surround you can feel free to love and be loved by you, just as you are able to love and be loved. A life where there are no judgments, resentments or shame. A life where you are truly aware, present and open to grace. This is the life we are meant for; this is the life we can embody if we are willing to shed our veil and become grounded and open. This is what yoga helps us achieve.
“Be easy, take your time. You are coming home to yourself.”
“There is nothing more beautiful than a warrior woman standing in her power, courage, and confidence. From this place of strength, she is capable of loving the world in a way that transforms pain into promise…and hell into heaven.”~ Debbie Ford
“The only person who can pull me down is myself, and I'm not going to let myself pull me down anymore.” ― C. JoyBell C.
“You can be the most beautiful person in the world and everybody sees light and rainbows when they look at you, but if you yourself don't know it, all of that doesn't even matter. Every second that you spend on doubting your worth, every moment that you use to criticize yourself; is a second of your life wasted, is a moment of your life thrown away. It's not like you have forever, so don't waste any of your seconds, don't throw even one of your moments away.” ― C. JoyBell C.