My husband and I went on a vacation to the Pacific Northwest not too long ago. We were mostly out in remote areas with no cell service, which was such a refreshing change of pace.
In the past when we’ve been on vacation, it’s taken me several days to unwind enough to truly relax. It usually wasn’t until the last day that I’d feel my jaw unclench, that I could go with the flow and not be controlling about our plan for the day, or that I wouldn’t spend the majority of my time avoiding being seen in my bathing suit or finding reasons not to go for a walk because I hadn’t moved my body for fun in so long that I didn’t know what it would be like. Once I began to finally loosen up on things, I’d spend the rest of the trip mourning how it had taken me so long to do so and fearing how long it would be until I got to feel this good again.
This time, though, things were different. Around the second day, I noticed that I was already going with the flow, sleeping well, happy to traipse around wherever. And because it was so strange to me, my first thought wasn’t “How great!” Instead, it was “Am I doing this vacation right? How am I already so relaxed? What am I missing here?” And then it hit me: I was already relaxed because I had so much inner ease in my overall life. I didn’t have as far to come down on vacation as I had in the past, so I was free to just enjoy it.
When I had that insight, I smiled and proceeded to do just that. We spent the rest of the trip marveling at the beauty of where we were, going for lots of hikes, sleeping in, letting the day take us where it would, and just generally being happy to have time away and with each other.
During this trip, I didn’t obsess about my body—in a bad way or a good way. I wasn’t concerned with how many calories I consumed or didn’t consume at dinner, and I didn’t log my steps on our hikes as a way to secretly congratulate myself. In addition, I also didn’t spend any time running through fields exclaiming how much I love and am grateful for my body.
During this trip, I didn’t obsess about my body—in a bad way or a good way.
I simply lived, free from body hatred and free to soak up the sun, the rest, the beauty.
This is what I’d wanted all those years and thought I’d get from dieting but never did (because it doesn’t reside there): the ability to live life on my own terms and feel it all, absorbing the fullness of this always-short human life that is mine and mine alone.
It isn’t that I had one great epiphany and changed my life.
It’s more like I had 100,000 small insights, forgot most of them, and implemented a few in fits and starts (mostly fits).
There are always new layers to uncover in this process, such as when I recently injured my left achilles tendon and wasn’t able to hike or practice much yoga for a bit. I found myself being so hard on myself, feeling that if only I’d had a different body that never would have happened. But, of course, bodies get injured, no matter what their shape or size. And whether through injury, illness, aging, or some other change, there are always new components of this practice to work with—or revisit.
Was I not living and enjoying life sometimes when I was obsessed with my body, onto my next diet, caught in a seemingly unending shame spiral? Of course I was—at least some of the time. But my mind was so distracted by all those other preoccupations that very often I didn’t recognize it, much less remember it. I missed out on so many sweet experiences, conversations with friends and family, and time with myself by letting that inner critic in my head take control, giving far more attention to wondering if my friend was horrified by how I looked than listening carefully to what she had to say.
Before I started this journey, I spent so much time thinking about my body, and almost no time living in and enjoying and appreciating my body. The beauty of what this practice has brought to my life is that now those two are nearly reversed. Now, I spend much more time just living my life, moving and checking in with my body, and much less time thinking about it (especially all the things I don’t like about it, which used to occupy at least 95 percent of my brain at any given moment).
This is what I want for you, too. I want you to know in your bones that your body is worthy of your love right now. No exceptions. I want yoga to be a support and friend for you, a way to stay connected with yourself—especially when it feels impossible. I want you to free up your time, resources, mental energy, emotions, and anything else you have invested in hating your body and channel those into living and loving your life. As far as I know, this may be the only one we get—so let’s live it out to its edges, not measured out in half-cup and pound-by-pound increments.
I want yoga to be a support and friend for you, a way to stay connected with yourself—especially when it feels impossible.
Next Steps in Your Practice
As you move forward from here, remember that this is a new landscape. It isn’t what may be the familiar feeling of outsourcing your relationship with your body—of letting diet books, health “experts,” your cousin, or your partner tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. Instead, it’s the shoes-off, feet-in-the-dirt practice of feeling and noticing. Forgetting and remembering. Leaving yourself and coming back. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to come back, or how terrible you felt while you were away. All that matters is picking yourself up, not even beginning again, because coming back isn’t starting over. It’s a continuation of a long conversation with yourself.
The beginning of a yoga practice is mostly about figuring out where to put your feet and arms, and how to stay in alignment, and maybe how to breathe. This makes sense; it’s how we all are with something new. But once you have a better sense of how to move in your body, that doesn’t have to be the sole focus.
You can invite in more feeling.
So next time you’re on your mat, engage in the practice:
Where is my body right now? What am I in contact with?
What is happening in X part of my body? Or with my breath?
If negative or doubtful thoughts are arising, how can I challenge them?
Then let yourself be, affirming your body.
When you allow this practice to guide you, it will take you where you’re meant to go next on your path. After all, yoga isn’t about getting better at yoga poses. Nor is body acceptance about getting better at body acceptance.
Both are about living your life. And you can work with that process no matter what yoga pose you can or can’t do physically.
Here’s the truth that I hope you feel calling you through the beating of your own heart, no matter how far away the sound may seem in this moment: No one knows your own body better than you do. So when you hear something on TV about the latest diet/health trend, or read something about it in a magazine, or get caught up listening to the details of what your neighbor is doing with it, hold it all gently.
Start by noticing when your body may be sending you messages. Is this something that feels right to and for you? Do you find yourself going into hyperplanning mode, visualizing how perfect your life will be once you implement that plan exactly? Be on the lookout for times when that fantasy life presents itself, and get curious. Also, look underneath—what is it that you truly want from that “ideal” body? Is it more happiness or freedom, greater ease in your body? If so, see what you can do to start bringing those things into your life now. Pay attention to how you feel. Focus on bringing in more good and making your life fuller, not smaller. If you have questions, look for a body-affirming health professional or yoga teacher to consult.
As you go along with that, challenge whatever assumptions come up, because they always do. You will run into many things that tell you that you can’t be trusted, that your body can’t be trusted. When you do, take those as another opportunity to check in and ask yourself: “Is that true?” And “What if my body isn’t a problem?”
If you’re feeling stuck and unsure of which way to turn, let yoga be your companion in tuning in to yourself, however often you remember and need to do that. Yoga isn’t yet another thing to feel bad about—how you do it, not doing it enough, or whatever other strictures we like to set up for ourselves.
As your journey and life continue to unfold, keep kindness front and center, and keep coming back to your body again and again and again, affirming it.
What I really want you to know is that this practice is yours to make of it what you will. There’s no prescription here. There’s just practice, working its way down deep into your bones. This isn’t a lifestyle, but a way to be alive. It’s not a fix-yourself plan; it’s a know-and-support-yourself invitation.
This isn’t a lifestyle, but a way to be alive. It’s not a fix-yourself plan; it’s a know-and-support-yourself invitation.
I hope you carry this practice onto your yoga mat and let it grow from there into the rest of your life.
Make it yours.
I can’t wait to hear where it takes you.
Curvy Loving-Kindness Meditation
I’m going to close this the same way I close many of my yoga classes: with a loving-kindness meditation I wrote. You’re welcome to use this meditation any time you want, as often as you want. (And you can grab a recording of it on my website if you’d like.)
Take a deep breath to begin, then repeat these phrases to yourself:
May I greet my body with gentleness.
May I soften when life invites me to harden.
May I listen to my intuition with wisdom and trust it with ease.
May I appreciate my body a little more in this moment, just as it is.
The light in me honors the light in you.
Reprinted with permission from Curvy Yoga © 2017 by Anna Guest-Jelley, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.