Practicing yoga changed my relationship with my body
I’ve hated my body for most of my life. "Hate" is an awful word, and one I really try not to use, but I can’t think of one more appropriate. I used to think of my body as something big that didn’t fit. It was too big to fit in the clothes I liked. It didn’t fit comfortably into far too many spaces. It didn’t fit the acceptable image that I was told it should fit. My goal was always to lose enough weight to finally, maybe, love my body, but even at my thinnest and most fit, I didn’t achieve that goal.
Hating my body was a problem on many levels. I tried through the years to diet, exercise, and otherwise take care of my body, but my successes were never very successful. I tried again and again, and had small victories interspersed with seasons of defeat and sabotage, not understanding how difficult it is to take good care of something you dislike. Also, as someone who believes that God created my body, hating it was a source of pretty major conflict. It was difficult to fully embrace God’s love for me, while being so disgusted by something He gave me to care for.
I resisted the idea of trying yoga for more than a year because I didn’t think I would fit. People who do yoga are thin, flexible, confident, and strong - everything I was not. I finally decided to try, but only because my first teacher was somebody I knew and trusted. Something incredible happened during my initial weeks of yoga practice that no previous diet, exercise, makeup, or clothing had ever been able to do.
Paying attention to the length and shape of my spine in every posture began to change the way I carried myself from day to day. Learning to notice my breath and whether my shoulders were hunched up toward my ears or relaxed made a difference in dealing with stress. Finally holding downward dog for more than 10 seconds, then 30 seconds, then a minute… made me feel unbelievably strong. Learning to notice my alignment and find steadiness in poses began to fill me with a sense of confidence in my body I didn’t recognize. My perception of my body started to shift, and I began to recognize it for the amazingly complex and incredible creation it is.
The dream to teach
Even with a teacher I trusted, my very first yoga class was almost my last, because I felt completely defeated by something called child’s pose. It was offered as the simple pose to return to if I needed a rest, and I couldn’t do it. That posture, in its “traditional” form, was completely inaccessible to me because my belly, breasts, and thighs were all in competition for the same limited space. I remember thinking “If I can’t even do this, what makes me think I can do yoga?” Thankfully, my teacher showed me that the solution to child’s pose was as easy as separating my knees to make room for the rest of my body. During those first few weeks, I discovered that most poses can be modified, giving me the confidence to continue my exploration of yoga while learning to take care of myself.
My first teacher provided a safe place for me to begin a yoga practice. She didn’t have first-hand experience with many of the things that I found challenging, but she had plenty of empathy and the desire for me to have a positive experience. Unfortunately, she stopped teaching regularly less than six months after I got started. As I looked for another class, I discovered that some teachers didn’t feel as safe. I really believe that most teachers want to make yoga accessible, but many don’t understand how disheartening it can be when your body’s shape or limitations create obstacles you can’t control. I had a couple of experiences during that season that almost made me quit practicing. Instead, I began to dream of teaching. Now, my desire as a teacher is to provide a safe space, like the one I was given, for my students to explore the many benefits of yoga.