I do not look like your typical power yoga teacher/fitness professional. There is no one that knows that more than me. I put off taking a teacher training for years because I was waiting for the day when my body looked acceptable enough. I waited for the day when I would feel comfortable wearing spandex in front of people, the day when I looked like the ladies in yoga magazines. That day never came…not exactly.
I took the training anyway. I thought that it would have me doing so many Chaturangas the extra weight would go away. That didn’t happen either…not exactly.
My weight has always been in the forefront of my mind since the second grade. It was the indicator of my worth. It was my litmus test for beauty. It was everything. I could be riding a unicorn over a rainbow with a million dollars cash in hand, but if that scale said the wrong thing, my life was nothing.
Yoga has helped me greatly with this struggle. For a time, I stopped weighing myself, crash dieting, bingeing, eating mindlessly, and I actually lost some weight. It was slow, and it wasn’t an exact science. Making friends with my body was more successful than any previous self-deprecation ever was.
Around three months ago, that cruel self-judgment about my body came back. I was back to dieting, bingeing, compulsively weighing, looking in the mirror obsessively searching for a sign that I was okay, worthy of existing, or worthy of connection. It took me by surprise. I thought this was a battle that I had won. I thought I had dug the last grave and buried the last corpse in the war of self-acceptance, and here it was again.
There’s a part of Robert L. Leahy’s book, “The Worry Cure,” that talks about how worry can serve as a distraction for our own strong emotions. My own worry and obsession about my appearance was not actually the problem. It was a distraction from what I was really feeling. The obsession itself was pretty distressing so the fact that my brain would find it to be a pleasant diversion from my actual emotions seemed mortifying.
When I try to discover what was underlying my renewed appearance obsession, there was a lot: remaining grief from my father’s death and recently uncovered childhood memories. Underlying it all was fear. Fear that I was deeply flawed (not just physically), fear that I was unacceptable, unlovable, and alone. When faced with all of those fears, yeah, who wouldn’t want to take a break with thinking about your next diet?
My self-judgment about my body is like an old, ratty sweater. It’s ugly and not all that practical, but God it’s warm and comfortable. I made a decision: The sweater needed to be put away. It served a purpose for a time. It actually protected me in the moments when I needed it most, when the weight of my struggles were too much to bear.
I decided to put it down, to be courageous, to hear every judgment, give ear to every distraction, and then I breathed and I stayed. There even is a part of me that can love those worries for their protection and distraction from the fears that pain me the most. This courage to face your fears has a direct relationship with love for yourself and others. In the words of Swami Rama, “When love became the Lord of my life, I became fearless.”
Self-love isn’t this self-aggrandizing, “I’m good enough, smart enough,” attitude. Self-love is courage. It’s standing in the dark night of the soul and holding your own hand. It’s not abandoning yourself when you need you the most. Radical self-love is not your new diet or exercise plan. It’s wrapping your arms around that reflection in the mirror to show yourself that no matter who stays or goes, no matter what you look like, no matter what you do, you will never leave yourself.