I just finished my morning practice…man am I ever enjoying my yoga practice these days. Some days some postures don’t feel as comfortable physically as others, but the practice of the practice is so amazing for me lately. Why, you ask? Well…let’s see…
What do I see when I look in the mirror? I promised a while back I would post about body image and self image…and I got a reminder (thanks John) about it lastnight, so decided I would give it my best shot today.
I was never skinny or even thin growing up. I was not overweight but I was a chubby child and started developing a woman’s body early in puberty so was never the girl with no boobs and legs for days. My weight has always fluctuated up and down a bit-maybe 10 lbs difference over time, depending on how much I was exercising, how much I was drinking and partying (in my young adulthood) and what I was fueling my body with. When I started practicing Bikram Yoga, I started the correlation between what I did at night and how I felt in class the next day. The amount of partying I did had a DIRECT correlation to how much my heart was pounding the next morning in class….huh….how about that. It got to the point that I wanted to feel good in yoga class and I began making the changes in my life outside the yoga room…such is growing up I think!! In making better lifestyle changes I started feeling better in the yoga room, I began practicing more because there was not as much struggle and more and more my yoga became a constant in my life.
My body did not change right away when I started practicing Bikram yoga. It was a slow and steady process…at first my jeans felt tighter in the legs and I felt like I was holding on in my body instead of letting go. In hind sight, of course, I understand my body now and think I was probably dehydrated back then, as well as building muscles and not flushing my body properly to allow the fat and toxins to be let go…hind sight is 50/50, as they say. When I went to teacher training, the same thing happened to me and my body. I did not lose weight like so many people around me…I felt like I was holding on to everything…like my body was not getting enough fluid and/or the right nutrition that it needed to trust that it could let go of storage…I remember having a conversation with some friends in TT about body image and saying that I accept how I look, the body I have and the size and shape I am. That night in class, Bikram looked right at me and said, “Miss Maroon, I like your size. You know what I mean”…I looked at him, smiled and nodded my head, and was a bit amazed that he somehow knew exactly what I needed to hear in that class. It was the only time Bikram spoke to me in class during my training.
OK…fast forward to a few years later (I think that is a song…!), I was living in Hong Kong, teaching 17 clases/week and practicing every day. I had done my first competition year and started to get more and more inspired about what was possible. I spent all of my time doing yoga and thinking about yoga and, thus, looking at myself in the mirror. I was surrounded by predominantly Asian bodies all the time and started to get a messed up reality of my own body and what was “normal”…I started to lose weight very quickly in the first year I was there…I moved there in May and by Christmas I had developed some kind of intestinal infection or something and was not able to keep anything in. It got to the point that people were telling me I was getting too skinny but it didn’t look that way to me…finally when I got to the point that my body wouldn’t even let me keep water in…I was dehydrated and my body was so stressed I was emotional as well as weak…I finally went to the doctor and he prescribed some anti-biotics to clear up the infection. I remember the day, it was Christmas and I had taught a couple classes in the morning. The cleaning staff manager, who I liked quite a bit, looked at me and said, “ok, it’s time now, you can’t wait any longer, you MUST go to the doctor, you are too skinny and sick”…I didn’t want to believe that I had lost control of my self…but as soon as I started with the medicine, I began to feel better.
Over the next couple years I was still very skinny. It was the fist time in my life that I was a size 2 or zero…clothes fit me, I enjoyed seeing the smallness of my frame, I didn’t have to wear a bra if I didn’t want to…and for a girl who always did, this was a big deal!! When I looked in the mirror all I saw was my shell. All I saw was my physical body, this casing that I had created, and I made it mean everything about ME….did you get that? I will repeat it just in case….when I looked in the mirror, all I saw was this housing, this body, this casing on the outside and I made it represent everything about me and who I was. Whew, that’s pretty big, isn’t it? I completely disregarded my person, my soul, what I had to offer in the world became only how I looked and everything hung on this physical shell of a person.
So, when I got back to North America, and I was again around a multi-culture of people, the size of my body started to show up more to me…at first I was still very attached to this image of my shell in the mirror. I didn’t want to listen to people when they said I was too thin…I chalked it up to people being unhealthy and careless with the food they eat and the exercise they did. I “knew” I was right and that I was healthy. Over the next few years, I started to gain a little bit of weight back…slowly. As I began gaining the weight, people would say how good I looked, that I was too skinny before, and how my body was looking healthier now. I would thank them, agree that I felt better, but inside I didn’t like this weight gain. I would still look at myself in the mirror and obsess over how my shorts used to fit and how I would not let myself go back to how I was before.
Through this time, I (as I have learned and discovered) shut myself off to love. Love of myself and therefore love of others. I was too ashamed to have anyone get to know me too well because I was too concerned that I had to look a certain way to be loved and if I did not then well I wouldn’t be loved. Geeze, what a belief!! I would go to visit teacher training and see people I don’t see very often and inevitably the topic of my weight and body would come up. I would always feel defensive when people would say I gained weight and I would feel like I was now well on my way to being fat…yup, fat. I held on so tight to the past and how I was that I had no concept of being happy with the way I looked at any given time because I was only comparing myself to what I looked like before…and before was, in my mind, the ultimate body-it was the body that propelled me into the top champions circle of the yoga competitions, it was the body that fit into clothes at any store, it was the body that could do yoga postures inside and out…but it was just a body, just a shell…and now it was only something that was in the past and this new shell I had was not as good as the old one, and in my mind everyone knew it. So, I felt ashamed. Yup, I felt ashamed that I could not maintain the body of the past, I was not strong enough of mind and character to eat less and do more to keep that body.
Seriously, ASHAMED?? wow.
OK…so, listen…there are always people in the world who now comment on my body. That is the pattern that has been created…I have relied on my body and how I look in my life for so many years now. I spent so many hours and years being in a spotlight using my body that it became the biggest part of me. When I stopped competing in 2009, I knew that it was time for me to use what I had learned and what I had come to gain to share with other people. I started working on my whole self…opening my heart back up to love not only other people but to love myself…I have learned that through loving myself, my whole self, that loving other people is easy.
When I look at myself in the mirror now I don’t only see my physical body. I see who I am as a whole. I see where I have been and where I am going. I see my light and my glow. I am not going to lie and say that I don’t have days when I look in the mirror and don’t like what I see…but on those days I ask myself why. What is it that I am comparing myself to that makes me believe something different? There is always going to be someone who we think has a nicer house or better hair or more money and better postures/kids/clothes/smile/compassion/jokes…etc…but for me now all I have to do is remember the truth. The truth is that, as I wrote yesterday, we are all one. We are all sparked from the same energy source so what we see is what we reflect. So when I look in the mirror I see my whole self just as I see my whole self in your whole self. Nothing exists unless I say it exists and my vision is a reflection and projection of my doing…so I get to create anything and everything. Period.
So, yogis…what do YOU see when you look in the mirror…?