As a woman who is out of the high school phase, I am well aware of how petty and cruel body shaming can be, especially when it is directed towards someone who hasn’t even grown up yet. But somehow, despite knowing this perfectly well, I have come to the realization that even I am a body shaming bully – passing judgement and making cruel comments – and hating on the person I should love most – myself.
Why is it that we are always the hardest on ourselves?
I have spent a good chunk of my childhood and the whole of my teenage years, right through my twenties feeling ashamed every time I looked in the mirror and realized I didn’t have the body I wanted. There were many times where I even felt disgust when I looked at my thick thighs and flabby belly. No one should have to feel disgusted by their own body, especially when someone is so young but that is how I felt for most of my life and rather than talking about it and trying to lose weight in a healthy way, I would try to forget about this shame and disgust by binging on more food.
It took me 27 years, countless crazy diets and nights of binging, one moment of epiphany and 50 yoga classes (and counting) to control my body shaming ways and turn the page to a healthier state of mind. Over the last year I have been asking myself many questions and trying to figure out why I do certain things that are detrimental to my state of mind and my mood. Why do I have to starve myself for hours and then binge the night away? Why is it that being skinny is the only form of beauty in my eyes? Why do I put off doing so many incredible things until I lose the extra weight? There are so many ways that yoga is healthy for you.
I don’t have all the answers to these difficult questions but I have been getting better in trying to fix these bad habits without using food. Due to this new way of dealing with my problems, it has been an emotional year with a lot of tears but one of self-discovery. Although I am nowhere near a perfect state of mind when it comes to body shaming, I have found yoga to be more than a mere weight loss tool but one that has helped me to cultivate a healthier state of mind. There are so many well-written articles out there about the number of benefits that come with practicing yoga but today, I want to share my own reasons why yoga can be crucial to helping us conquer body shaming.
More awareness of ourselves
It’s not like I never worked out before – I ran four days a week, went on hikes, danced and even swam, but yoga has taught me how to stop and question how I am feeling today and why I do certain things. Ever since I started practicing yoga I feel that I am less mindless about my life and I see the patterns that lead me to use food as a form of protection, like a day at the beach or a stressful day at work. With this exercise encouraging a connection between our mind − through proper breathing − and our body − through the poses − yoga has helped me to concentrate on the present and bring awareness to how I am feeling now − not yesterday or how we think we will feel tomorrow.
Moreover, thanks to its meditative nature, I have become more in tune with my emotions even when I am out of the yoga studio and now I am more inclined to question my behavior before indulging completely in my habits. When I am more aware of how I am behaving, then it makes it easier for me to understand why I was body shaming myself in the mirror or why I had to eat so much food to feel better during lunch.
Appreciation rather than self-deprecation
For years, looking at my body in the mirror would put me in the worst mood and ironically, lead me to eat more out of anger rather than try to eat healthier foods to lose weight. It was only through yoga that I started to appreciate what my body can do. Why is it that we indulge in self-loathing and take our bodies for granted, and only if we get sick do we realize how lucky we were that our thick thighs enabled us to run errands effortlessly and our thick arms were strong enough to carry our children?
With every yoga pose I do – with every twist and lunge, turn and stretch, yoga has taught me how strong my body is and how much it can bear when it is pushed to the limit. Don’t get me wrong, there are still times when I get frustrated that my body is still not where I want it to be in terms of weight but this appreciation does give me the patience to accept how my body is today and work on it so that a year from now, my body will be where I want it to be.
Switching off the noise of the world
The best reason why yoga is different than any other sport is because it does not encourage competition, rather, it allows us to accept what we can do today and push ourselves at our own pace. It was only through this mantra that I learnt how to switch off the noise of the world and understand what was important to me. Before yoga, I would feel depressed whenever I came across articles about the perfect beach body or the best bodies after baby. I would bully myself into working out more and end up binging on food out of frustration later that same night.
I am not saying that I don’t browse the internet these days and that I don’t feel the pressure the media puts on women to look a certain size but, I have learnt to not give in to extreme diets and body shaming because I am not up to the media’s standards. This is what yoga has done for me – it has given me back my sanity by enabling me to realize what’s really important.
A way forward
Somehow, even a woman who has been in a battle of body shaming with herself for years has started to see the light, so never doubt that you too can find a healthier state of mind through yoga. These days, I get excited when I see my yoga pants folded in my closet and not when a new ground breaking diet is published online. I still have a long journey to go, but with yoga bringing balance and more awareness to my days, I have a feeling the years to come will be healthier and happier.