This is a guest post by the darling Jen at Yoga-Moods.com. Jen and I have connected deeply on our mutual love of yoga and the body. On her highly informative, wonderful, and serene blog, she writes about the precious gift that is yoga and how it is helping her and others live richer, fuller lives. So, my BBB friends, let’s show Jen some love for so bravely exploring her transformation from body-hater to body-lover.
Hello! I’m so honored that Liz invited me to write a post for Big Body Beautiful! I hope that my words resonate with you and perhaps help someone who is searching for a way to deep self-love.
For many years, I struggled with self-hate. I didn’t realize that’s what it was at the time. It was more a feeling of the world being against me. I see it clearly now, though. I didn’t love myself enough. I was painfully shy as a kid and I felt inferior to my peers. I remember the first day of kindergarten feeling so overwhelmed by everyone around me. I felt different from the rest of them. While they laughed and chatted freely with each other, I shrank into the background, feeling as if I didn’t fit in. My red hair and freckles set me apart. I felt ugly and cursed my uniqueness. I was uncomfortable when called on in class. I surely couldn’t have anything valuable to contribute. Anxiety exuded from me and others felt it, too. This exacerbated the problem. Kids teased me, bullied me, and sometimes simply ignored me. I felt left out and diminished. I truly believed there was something wrong with me – and it started with my looks. Thankfully, I was blessed with real friends who accepted me and celebrated my individuality. But, that wasn’t enough to change my opinion of myself. I cringe to think how much easier things could have been had I discovered then what I know now: self-love is necessary for happiness! Cultivating self-love is crucial in order to serve your purpose and live your dreams.
I remember as a second-grader sizing myself up in a full-length mirror. My body is OK, I thought, but my face and hair? Terrible! When I was 12, a family member asked me why my belly wasn’t flat like my friend’s after a day at the beach. I often heard this person bemoaning her own “thunder thighs,” saying I was lucky that I took after Dad. She often talked about how many of the women in her own family thought of themselves as ugly, though most of them were quite beautiful in reality. Still, the message was that my stomach was “too flabby” at age 12. I wish I could have ignored this comment, but it cut me to the core. For years, I focused so much on that belly wishing it would shrink. I starved myself. I berated myself. I did sit-ups and crunches like there was no tomorrow! My family then worried that I was getting “too thin.”
Despite having boyfriends who were clearly attracted to me, I still compared myself to models. I was unhappy with my face, my hair, my breasts, my butt…. One time, a boyfriend remarked how sexy my “potbelly” was, and instead of taking it as a compliment, I fell further into self-destruction. Strict diets, outrageous exercise routines, and constant self-criticism ruled my life. It didn’t get me anywhere except unhealthy. Not to mention, I was thin – talk about body dysmorphic disorder. And, I was so focused on myself I couldn’t possibly serve others, which was always my life’s goal.
And then, something miraculous happened. I discovered yoga! It was, quite literally, as if a light shone down from the heavens! I felt as if I had found the key to life. Yoga has healed me in so many ways; I’d need to write an entire book to scratch the surface. But, the most important way yoga healed me was in allowing me to cultivate true self-love and acceptance. I got physically healthy in a gentle way, pushing myself to my limits but being kind to myself when I needed rest. I gained strength, which led to confidence. I had found a refuge – my yoga mat or my meditation cushion – where I could put everything else aside for a while and just be. All of this led to a profound self-love, which continues to grow and enhance my life today.
Years of asana practice helped me tune in to my body’s capabilities, strengths, and needs. I discovered I could do things I never would’ve believed. When I mastered a new pose, it was an instant confidence boost. Yoga helped me finally come to peace with my body, and to actually develop that more toned stomach I always yearned for. It helped me begin to make healthier choices in my diet, my lifestyle, and with whom I surrounded myself. It helped me to accept that, as a woman, my body is constantly changing. My weight will fluctuate, I will experience break-outs, I may not always feel energized, and that’s all OK. Under it all, I am a beautiful soul, perfect and complete. When I focus on this, and my “connectedness” with others (which yoga also encourages), I am much more happy and productive. Every day I practice asana. Whether it’s a 90-minute class, a few sun salutations, or a quick break at work, it is a part of my life. If, for some reason, I can’t do my asana practice, though, I don’t worry about it. It’s not a chore; it’s a joy. I do it because I love it, and I do it for the continual benefits it brings.
Asana practice alone, however, I’m not sure would’ve done the trick. Dedicated meditation practice (also a major part of yoga, though we often think of yoga as physical) was also essential. Meditation took me to the depths of my soul and back. It was difficult, and I encountered things I’d have preferred to keep hidden. I emerged from meditation in tears on more than one occasion, but it was worth the effort. Over time, a deep, profound love developed inside of me. Love filled my entire being and overflowed into the world. Love sustains me every day and has enhanced my relationships. I confronted my deepest fears and allowed things to arise in my consciousness that I wasn’t fully aware were affecting my daily life. My self-limiting beliefs became very clear and I started working on changing them.
Regular meditation practice and checking in with myself, with love, keeps me steady, confident, and calm. As much as possible, I wake up every day and meditate for 20 minutes. I try to do the same when I come home from work. If I miss a day, I don’t fret, I just continue the following day. I take the meditation off the cushion, as well, engaging in mindful walks, eating, listening to music, creating art, making love….The list goes on. Just being present wherever I am. Meditation gives the gift of mindfulness that seeps into all areas of life. It trains us to bring ourselves into the present moment, the only moment during which we can act. This precludes worry and anxiety and allows us to truly enjoy living! Namaste, my friends!