Not long ago the pilates and yoga revolution began. Long, lean, devotees of the Reformer, Barre, and Bikram, made headlines with sudden transformations that made people sit up and take notice. They touted the benefits of vegan, raw, macronutrient diets, cleanses, and seemingly extreme exercise regimens.
Thankfully, the pendulum has swung back towards the center–at least slightly. I emphasize that word because it’s not totally there yet. Sure you can still find thin, gorgeous, buxom, or built models and fitness instructors, with massive followings on social media like Instagram or Facebook. When they come to your town, you can take a class with them and see how they “really” are in real life. When they come to your town you can see what it really takes to get into that kind of shape. You can see what it takes to become what I call, an Insta-Yogi.
But how does that translate to you and your own self image? What do you take away from it when you look at someone who is “better, thinner, stronger, smaller, faster…” etc. than you are? Where does that leave you in the world of yoga and exercise?
I was doing a bit of digging on the idea of body positivity and came across this passage from a blog that one of my yoga teachers, (she’s my “Yoga Grandmother,” and taught my teacher) Christina Sell, wrote. I think it still holds true for our self perception, particularly when we come to our own mats to practice.
“…as sincere as we may be about wanting to transform and shift our reference points through asana practice, the negative self-talk of shame-based criticism commonly comes to the forefront of our experience, drowning out any attempt we might make to be breath-focused, attentive to alignment or aware of ourselves energetically. And, perhaps even more unfortunately, these negative thoughts do not come in, waving a flag of objective warning, and tell us, “For the next sixty minutes, I am going to give you a run for your money to see if you really can break free of your patterns and conditioning like you say you want to. Get ready-it is going to be rough, but you can do it.”
Instead, self-hatred and self-criticism—be they internalized messages of childhood, culture or both— come in riding our emotions, so that we feel ashamed, ugly, unloveable, different and bad. Like a toxic miasma of self-loathing, these messages come to us from inside our own emotional body, making it very difficult to gain clarity and perspective about what is happening, why we feel so bad and what to do about the situation in which we unfortunately find ourselves. While the yoga class or practice may have outside triggers— such as an instructor who uses body-shaming language, an overwhelming culture of body-centered narcissism and even a room full of people who appear un-phased by the issues with which we are grappling, the fact that the negative feelings and thoughts are arising within us gives us a clue as to where the solution for moving beyond them lies—inside our own hearts and minds.”
So in the coming days and weeks, I invite you to open yourself a bit. Be aware of how you judge those around you, because you are judging yourself in the same way. You are using the same hurtful language. If you wouldn’t describe your best friend or loved one in the way you describe some stranger, then simply hold that fact in your awareness and see what you want to do with it.
It takes work to see yourself in a different light. To embrace the wrinkles and the folds. To admire the passage of time in your body. There are a few out there who are starting to move the needle back towards body acceptance but, it’s going to take time, work, and self-awareness on a grand scale.