It’s almost a new year, and for many of us, this means setting fresh resolutions. Some of us will be reflecting on how successful our previous resolutions have been, and even evaluating the motivations underlying our past intentions. I know that since I began practicing yoga, I have naturally begun to question one particular goal that I once held steadfastly.
The resolve to lose weight.
Each year I have complied with the demands of a multi-million-dollar diet industry by promising to lose 10 pounds, or 20—as many as I could. I have dieted, fasted, and treadmilled. I have shamed myself regularly for never seeming to lose enough weight. I have too often traded in the unique pleasure of being for a harsher, more standardized operation of becoming. Becoming thinner, less desiring, less indulgent.
I wonder how many people can actually say—better yet, know on a fundamental level—that they are beautiful?
I also have the sense that I am not alone in this. Most of the women I know have had a disordered relationship with their bodies, and with food. I wonder how many people can actually say—better yet, know on a fundamental level—that they are beautiful? And as I sit here writing, I am also aware of the part of myself that actively still engages in diet-oriented thinking.
I know exactly how many steps I have taken today. I also have a rough estimate of how many calories I have eaten. But I wonder if any of this is consequential.
When I was 13, I was pretty certain that by my current age of 29, I’d be over this weight-loss thing. Besides, wars are waging, global warming is real, and politics are increasingly nationalistic, vulgar, and volatile. Still, this notion that we humans must manipulate ourselves into cultural standards of “worthiness” to love ourselves and be loved by others is a violence that lingers. And if you have a regular practice, you may well know that everything is visible on the yoga mat anyway—even “inconsequential” truths.
The first time I realized, nearly a decade ago, that I wanted nothing to do with the body I inhabit, was in fact the first time I stepped onto a yoga mat. To be quite frank, I'd never really connected to my physicality in a loving way. I don’t even think I realized what it meant to have arms and legs. I didn’t have a core—no center, no fire. All I had was a too-soft belly, too-plump thighs, and too-tight hips.
I had stuck places. Places that hurt. Parts of me that were too-much, and aspects of myself that seemed “wrong” and “bad.” A body I didn’t want, and a heart that didn’t know how to process that.
So I tried to never practice yoga again. And I managed not to for a while. But when my body felt so forgotten that it ached, I attempted to heal that forgottenness through prayer, a resource I have used since childhood. And those prayers led me to an ashram.
Within the presence of other spiritual seekers, or sangha, I learned that inner wholeness is the countercultural message of yoga. I began to unveil an aspect of myself that was underneath all of those stagnant, hard-to-reach “wrong” places—one that professed an inner sense of completeness, confirmed long before my birth.
Within the presence of other spiritual seekers, or sangha, I learned that inner wholeness is the countercultural message of yoga.
And while there were no yoga mats at this ashram, it did, in a roundabout way, lead me back to my body. I came home realizing the depth of yoga, and I wanted to begin a process of knowing it multidimensionally. So I stepped back onto my mat. I also inevitably began a process of attempting to reconnect to that place, that body—from which I’d always wanted to escape, to outrun, and to change.
Now, do these sorts of revelations mean that we should always feel secure in our bodies? Maybe not. Here I am, after all, measuring my own achievements today through calories burned and steps taken. Is it wrong to track calories and steps? Probably not. But if we do so out of a sense of not-enoughness, that’s worth examining.
Perhaps it’s a long shot to say that total self-acceptance is a goal we all must achieve. I’m actually not sold on the idea that I can love my body (or the rest of me) all of the time. But I am convinced that we can attempt to ground ourselves more deeply in the experience of being—an experience that, while rooted in a physical form, does not have to be ideal, perfect, or pretty.
Practicing asana is much like being in the presence of sangha. Our bodies are revealed as they’re held in space by a small, sticky, rubber spotlight. We are planted on this earth in real time, and every corner of our heart can be touched by the practice. We move, we breathe, we stretch—sometimes in complete silence—with nothing but feeling and sensation, guided by the breath.
Those stuck places will still call to us every once in awhile. Maybe they always will. But we can also begin to question whether or not they define us.
The external world will continue to preach something quite unbelievable; yet something that many of us, myself included, have believed for far too long: a cultural message of, “You are not inherently wonderful.”
Like me, you may not see each day that you are a miraculous being. But your worth is real, already present, and not conditional.
This is the promise of practice—of linking body and breath in the full light of awareness. No diet fad could ever outlive that truth.