In the beautiful book Yoga and Body Image, 25 contributors share personal stories about how yoga has helped them to accept their bodies and feel more comfortable in their own skin. They talk about how yoga has helped them to find their voice and express it.
This is so important, because we often forget what movement really is (and isn’t). Moving our bodies isn’t about punishing ourselves for eating something “naughty” or “sinful.” It isn’t about checking off a chore on our to-do list. It isn’t about “no pain, no gain.” It has nothing to do with being miserable or being bored.
Movement, exercise, whatever you call it, can be so much more. It can be a powerful vehicle for reconnecting with ourselves and others; for practicing self-compassion; for shattering old, tired, assumptions and beliefs; for enjoying ourselves; for savoring our incredible abilities and for savoring our lives; for feeling alive. Movement can even be a tool for learning about ourselves and confronting oppression.
Today, I’m sharing excerpts from three essays from Yoga and Body Image, co-edited by Melanie Klein and Anna Guest-Jelley, because they illustrate the profound effects of yoga (and movement overall, I believe).
Rosie Molinary writes:
What yoga did was connect my whole body, helping me reimagine myself so that I was no longer the disparate parts of a body and a soul. Yoga served as a catalyst toward personal unity for me. It taught me to not be afraid of any sensation, that I could breathe through it all and get to the other side, that I have everything I need inside of me. I had never been afraid to do the mental and emotional work before but had always been afraid of feeling the sensation of anything. Yoga taught me that sometimes inviting the sensation is the best thing you can do for yourself. All you need to do is connect with your soul and breathe, because you already have everything you need deep within.
Chelsea Jackson, writes:
…My yoga practice teaches me acceptance in that my body is not an inconvenience or a burden, but rather an opportunity to reclaim my position in any space I choose to occupy.
I never imagined that my yoga practice could be used as a tool for resistance. For many, it may seem contradictory to view a practice typically associated with peace and solace as a tool to confront racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression. My yoga practice makes me more aware and pushes me to ask why people who have been traditionally marginalized across multiple communities remain invisible throughout the pages of international yoga magazines. My yoga practice pushes me to resist the urge to make myself small as a black woman when I get flak for calling out racism. My yoga practice strengthens my ability to see myself in others and know that the same insecurities I had as a little black girl may resonate with the white guy next to me in class who has struggled with an eating disorder too. Yoga teaches me oneness and acceptance, not just within myself, but in ways that connect me to others as well.
Claire Mysko writes:
Prenatal yoga was never a solitary practice for me. It was about connection, with the women around me and with my child. The ever-present messages about molding and shaping our bodies to meet some manufactured ideal are effectively disconnecting us from what really matters about pregnancy and motherhood. They disconnect us from each other too, keeping us far from the conversations that will move us to healthier place. Imagine if instead of “You look great! You barely look pregnant! I wish I could have had such a cute little bump,” we started with a simple “How are you?” That question framed my prenatal yoga experience. It was verbalized. It was internalized. It was practice.
For me yoga helps me be with my body. It helps me to slow down, to pause and listen. To be patient and understanding. To practice kindness when it’s really hard.
I also love strength training and bootcamp-style workouts because they empower me. Because they chisel away my rock solid beliefs that I am not an athlete, that I am not strong enough, that I can’t do certain things, that I shouldn’t be doing these things, that I don’t belong in a gym or using weights. These workouts teach me self-trust.
The stories in Yoga and Body Image remind me that movement is multi-layered. It is powerful in so many ways. The key is to define movement in our own terms, in any ways we like.
Because ultimately, the physical activities you choose to try and practice are about supporting you. Because exercise isn’t a chore, a task, a nuisance or a punishment. Exercise can be powerful and meaningful. It can be whatever it is we want it to be.
What do you want movement to look like in your life? How do you want movement to make you feel? What types of movement might do that? What are your favorite ways to move your body? Why?