The very first night of the very first yoga teacher training that I ever attended started with a group of us sitting in a circle and sharing how we had come to yoga, what we loved about it, and why we wanted to take this training. We were a mixed group - some of us older, some very young; some fit and some with physical injuries and impairments, some had practiced for decades, others were relatively new. As we went around the room, it was awesome to hear from everyone about their experience with yoga, how it helped them, and why they wanted to go deeper in their learning.
Our teacher told us his goal for the training: he said that he wanted each of us to love our bodies by the end. I was a little confused by this - part of what I loved about yoga was its non-competitive nature, and I was looking for a real acceptance of bodies of all types. There were (and still are) definitely things I didn’t like about how my body looked. I thought he was talking about the transformation our bodies would undergo in those months of training, and that by the end we would all be fit yoga machines, ready to do any pose and look good in our yoga pants. I didn’t see it happening for me.
Like most people, I’ve struggled with body image. As an adolescent, I was tall for my age and scrawny. My knees were wider than my thighs, and I didn’t look right (this was before scrawny was fashionable!) Even when I was an athlete and pretty fit, I didn’t look the way I thought I should look, and I really only saw the things I wanted to change.
Over time, I saw that what my teacher was talking about was something so much deeper, and so much more powerful than loving my body for how it looked. He was talking about real love; about loving my body because it’s my home, loving what it can do but more importantly, for what it cannot do. Loving your body unconditionally is what he meant. He meant loving your body even when it seems to ‘fail’ you. Yoga gives me that.
I have struggled with poses, like everyone does. I have tight iliopsoas muscles. I have a bubble butt, and it gets in the way! I have worked and worked to do something that others seemed able to do effortlessly. My teacher taught that it is in those exact moments that you can really appreciate how amazing your body is, and it begins to feel like you, rather than just something you happen to be inside of.
A while ago, I injured my ankle pretty severely (not doing yoga, just walking around!) I couldn’t practice yoga for a while, and when I could there were a lot of things that I couldn’t do. It felt like a setback. But what I’ve come to realize, through my practice and through teaching yoga, is that it was a time to get with it. I needed to stop judging my practice by seeing what I could do - hold a headstand longer, get deeper in a backbend, whatever - and just let myself enjoy the feeling of my body moving, stretching, straining, in whichever way I could that day.
For me, this is the magic of yoga practice. Those days when everything is stressful and rough, and you just want to skip practice and drink a bottle of wine - but you practice, and even if it still feels rough, and you still drink the wine after class, you’ve reminded yourself. Your heart is still beating, your muscles are still working to move you around the world, your breath is still there. Come to class when you feel like you don’t want to. Come to class when you feel bloated, injured, tired, stiff, and cranky. Even if you have a cranky yoga practice, it’s still reminding you to love your body.