The Body

I love that my body has remained neutral through every step. It never sought revenge for all the negative abuse I gave it. All those awful words and feelings I threw at it throughout the years. The weight may have piled on, but still my body continued to work for me. It moved and healed and did all I asked of it.

When I was ready to be kind, to appreciate it for the extraordinary thing that it is, it was ready to respond. I think perhaps it was eager  –  chomping at the bit  –  so ready to get going!! The results came quickly and continued. Even as I had my doubts and slips back into old habits throughout the year, it kept on going.

Have you ever stopped to think about how much your body does? In every moment of every day, it is accomplishing all kinds of feats from behind the scenes. Inside us, there is a veritable symphony of workings going on. Do you ever stop to thank your body for all the things it does without ever being asked?

I never did. Until I became pregnant. During my two pregnancies, my perspective on my body shifted drastically.

The first thing that happened was that I no longer hated my belly. I always carried my weight in my stomach. How many times I would try on clothes and think, “Nope. Can’t buy that. It makes me look pregnant.” But, ta-dah! I actually was pregnant. My body was supposed to look like that! For the first time in my life, I felt beautiful from head to toe. It was thrilling!

So with my first pregnancy, I began to really appreciate my body from the outside. With my second pregnancy, I turned inward. I began to have a stronger awareness of all those wondrous things the body just does. All on its own. It just knows what to do. A life was growing inside of me. My body grew a whole new organ to support that little life. It’s extraordinary when you really stop to think about it.

So if my body could do all that, surely it could change on a cellular level. I could retrain it to slim down.

For me, losing weight was not just about food. It wasn’t about calories in and out. It wasn’t about exercise. Yes, all of those things were a part of it, but it has been vastly bigger than all that. First, I needed to change how I thought about my body. I needed to appreciate it. I needed to be grateful for it. And I needed to be kind to it.

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One Year Ago

It was one year ago today when I decided I’d had enough. And what a year it’s been! There have been plenty of ups and downs. As the year was coming to an end, I even faced a great deal of fear: What if it doesn’t last? What if I revert to old patterns? What if I gain back the weight?

I believe I am finally over that hump. I know there will be further obstacles for me to overcome, but at least there, I think I can finally move forward with confidence again.

I know now how important it is to be kind to myself. Every time I say … think … feel a negative thought about myself  –  about my body  –  I take a deep breath, let it out, and replace it with a positive thought of appreciation. At least, I try to. It isn’t always easy. But what a difference it makes.

I also know that I have done so much of the emotional work. It wasn’t just physical weight I was carrying around with me all these years. It was the emotional weight that had to go before I could begin to lose the physical weight. I believe that has been the real key to my success.

Finally, I have my supports in place. My chiropractor, my acupuncturist, my Pilates instructor, my massage therapist. These people do much more than just physical work with me. They are my confidantes. I can call on them for help when I need support, encouragement, or deeper help with my emotional issues. I have family and friends I can turn to as well. And most importantly: I’m no longer afraid to reach out for help when I need it. I know that I am not alone. I know that these people are not here to judge me or put me down. They love me. They support me. And they want to see me happy, just as I want to see them happy.

Most of all, I am grateful. I have such a rich life, I am sometimes reduced to tears of overwhelming gratitude just to think of it all. And I am grateful for this extraordinary body that I have. I love the way it feels now. (I was recently on an airplane in the middle seat, and I actually did not feel self-conscious about being too big and accidentally spilling over into the seat next to me!) I love the confidence I have gained in this new body. I could go on and on! But it is late. And I also know that I need my sleep 🙂

The Magic of Yoga

Almost six years ago, I started practicing yoga. At first, I went to relieve muscles that were tight from so much time spent in front of a computer and hunched over books. I had no idea at the time that yoga would propel me down a life-changing path.

In the beginning, I felt awkward and conspicuous. But it felt good, so I kept at it.

My yoga studio is really special. Each 90-minute class begins with a short lecture on various aspects of yoga history, culture, and philosophy. Then there is focus on the breath and encouragement to set an intention for the class. It offers a beautifully supportive environment and encourages students to be true to themselves and listen to their bodies.

Two years later, I happened upon a special edition of Yoga Journal magazine that focused on weight loss. Every single article in the magazine spoke to me. I knew yoga would play a significant role in my journey.

This journey of change still had to wait a bit, as I was about to become pregnant with my second child. Through both of my pregnancies, I continued my yoga practice in a prenatal class. Not only was it beneficial to my physical self, but the groups were so supportive and provided a wonderful space to exchange information and make friends. Knowing there was a little life growing inside of me also helped me listen more carefully to my body and not push myself beyond my limits merely for the sake of keeping up with my neighbor.

What have I learned in yoga?

Throughout my years of practice, I have grown stronger and more flexible. I can now do poses that I thought I would never get into. My heels touch the ground in downward dog (well, most of the time!). I never thought my tight shoulders would allow me to get into eagle arms, but not too long ago I tried again and was thrilled to find I could twist my arms into the previously impossible pose! Hurrah! Ooooh, it feels so good to see and feel the progress! Does it matter that it’s take 5 years to get there? No way! If I’d never tried, I never would have gotten there.

But the benefits have been far more than physical. I have learned  –  and continue to learn  –  to focus on my own body and not compare myself to others in the class. My teachers always encourage this mindset of non-judgment. “Listen to your own body before you listen to me,” one says. As I practice the skill of non-judgement, I have become more accepting of my body. And in turn, I have come to appreciate my body more and more. Look at what it can do! And the more I appreciate my body, the more it is capable of doing.

Yes, I have become stronger and more flexible. But even from the very beginning, there were poses I could easily slip in to. I not only felt strong and flexible in these poses: I felt graceful … even beautiful at times. Focusing on these positive feelings inspires me to continue my practice. And I was further able to take these feelings of grace and beauty with me off the mat and into my daily life.

I learned that I have strengths and weaknesses. And both can always be improved upon. I know that my body still has certain physical weaknesses, including a back left sore from my pregnancies and childbirth. So instead of trying to force myself into backbends and further injuring my low back, I lie face-down on the mat and simply breathe. Sometimes I still have to talk myself out of my fears of judgment from others: even if someone is looking at me (which they probably are not, as they are focused on their own poses), there is no reason for anyone to judge. Remember? We all have strengths and weakness, and we need to honor our bodies for where they are in that moment.

I will admit to a moment of comparison. It was a moment of great revelation for me. A young man accompanied his mother to class one day. He looked to be about college-age and very athletic  –  maybe a baseball player. I had never considered myself to be athletic. Although I had played a variety of sports as a kid, I always felt inferior  –  largely due to the feeling of being overweight. It didn’t help that gym teachers never encouraged me or made me feel that I was capable of improving. So there I sat in my yoga class with this young man a few mats over from me in the back row of class. The old feelings of inferiority crept in. But as I caught sight of him out of the corner of my eye, I was astonished to see how much difficulty he had with the poses  –  poses that I easily got into! What? Could this be? This comparison, however, was not one of self-deprecation and was by no means a feeling of superiority over this young man. It was, as I said, a revelation. It may sound obvious, but in that moment I realized that “being athletic” had a thousand different interpretations. It did not simply mean one was good at sports. I finally realized that I, too, was athletic in my yogi way!

It was a huge moment for me. I was no longer that big girl, so horribly self-conscious. Through my yoga class, the awkward, bruised little girl in me, who had felt so inadequate for so long, finally began to feel soothed. My confidence began to grow more and more. And as it did, so did my appreciation and love for my body.

It felt amazing.

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I was inspired to finally write this post in part by an article I just read in the latest issue of Yoga Journal about the Yoga and Body Image Coalition and their efforts to raise awareness of yoga as a practice that embraces and can be embraced by every body. (See Yoga Journal, February 2015, p. 50) You can read more about the coalition here.