I always knew that somewhere on this blogging journey I’d end up writing a post about body image. And then yesterday it got very naturally bumped up the priority list.

Wednesday is one of my teaching days and so I was up early yesterday morning, getting dressed in my leggings and (somewhat figure-hugging) vest in readiness for class. I remember catching sight of myself in the mirror and thinking how “I’d better remember to keep my belly tucked in today” but before I could really dwell on it I was out of the house, getting on with business.

rsz_img_1077So I get to the office, and I’m running around prepping mats and props and belts and the like, when I see someone who usually comes to class but who couldn’t make it this week. I was busy trying to persuade her to borrow my mat and come and join in when she gave me a bit of an ‘up and down’ look.

Instantly I remembered the earlier ‘belly’ thought and went to suck it in. A questioning look must have passed over my face though, as pretty much immediately she exclaimed “oooh, you’re so teeny!”. The exact opposite of what I’d assumed…

“Really?” I said, “But look at my belly!!”
“What are you talking about?!” she said
“Look at it” I insisted, “If you looked at me from the side you’d think I was pregnant!”
“Are you crazy?!” she responded
“I guess we’re all crazy” I said as I left to go and teach.

It was a funny exchange and we had a good laugh about it but it’s true, we are all crazy when it comes to body image, and we have a totally messed up way of looking at ourselves. But in spite of knowing it’s crazy, we all continue to do it – make these judgements about ourselves that really we ought to look like something, or someone else.

So how do we stop the crazy? How do we not pass it on? How do we help ourselves, and others, to think differently about it all?

We put all of this pressure on what we look like, but we don’t think about how we’re functioning. We don’t look to our bodies for example, and ask what they can tell us about what’s going on in our lives – even though the body is such a great indicator of how healthy, in the holistic sense of the word, our lives are.

It tells us pretty quickly if our lives aren’t in a good place, and can speak volumes about where our stress levels are at, how happy we are and how nourished we might be. For me, imbalance manifests itself in digestive issues, eczema, dizziness and exhaustion. It’s all symptomatic of other things going in my life, yet normally when I look at my body I’m not asking “How are you? What can I learn from you?”, but rather “Hmmm, how fat/thin are you looking today?”.

I know that since increasing the amount yoga I do, I’ve put on weight. I have a bigger bum (more junk in my trunk as a friend of mine would say!) and bigger legs and, all in all, I’m carrying around about 10lbs (4.5kg) of extra weight. Sometimes I get a bit miserable about it but the truth is I’m stronger, less prone to injury, less tired and less weak.

And as I’ve covered before, I’m also getting less crazy. Which means that, most of the time, I can recognise the extra ‘junk’ for what it is – muscle, not fat, and eminently healthy muscle at that.

Other times, I wake up in the morning thinking I’m the size of an elephant! Which I know is utterly ridiculous. Just as I know I can’t possibly be slim one day and overweight the next – whatever my mind might say! So if it’s not physical, if it’s in the mind, it has to be controllable or ‘let go-able’…

Which means it can be stopped. Stopped from being a measure of how capable, competent and successful we are. And stopped getting in the way of us doing things. We’ve got to put all of this to one side, and just get on with life!

I read an interview with Cameron Diaz earlier, about ageing and, though on a slightly different topic, she said one thing that I thought was really pertinent:

“We don’t have to do this to each other and we don’t have to do it to ourselves… We need to start honouring ourselves and honouring each other, instead of beating ourselves up and judging other women.”

And I have to say it’s been interesting to see how my own body image has evolved these last few months. Well these last couple of years really, but the shift has definitely sped up since I started YTT and began getting much more philosophical about everything in life. The old negativity and obsession about conforming to a certain ideal isn’t gone, definitely not (see the elephant thoughts above!), but I do have much more peace with it.

Again from Cameron Diaz:

“We, as individuals, are the only ones who can release ourselves from the burden of feeling like we need to be something that we can’t be.”

In ‘living’ yoga I find myself releasing from it all… But even in this community it can be a challenge. I use Instagram and as soon as I started tapping into the yoga community there, I saw all of these slim, beautiful people, in beautiful clothes, doing amazing yoga poses in amazing places. And because you follow these accounts, you get led to more… And before you know it you’re on a path where yoga has somehow become about aspiration, and desire. Which it is absolutely not.

There’s a whole host of talk and discussion about where this all stems from, and whether it’s teachers themselves that are driving it, with a level of irresponsibility in their teaching. But arguably it has as much to do with the people following this stuff as those who are being followed. Because there are actually inordinate numbers of people on Instagram posting about yoga (19,836,823 posts with the hashtag #yoga when I just checked) – not all of them skinny, in beautiful places, wearing beautiful clothes.

Perhaps then, if you’re already inclined to give yourself a hard time about your body, you somehow get led down this road of only seeing and engaging with the stuff that you think represents what you ‘should’ be. The stuff you (mistakenly -see this post from Rachel Brathen aka Yoga Girl) think represents happy, and successful.

I myself have added quite a lot of variety recently to my followers – from the (inspirational – read some of their posts) plus-sized @mynameisjessamyn and @glitterandlazers to a whole raft of ordinary people doing yoga at home in their PJs (@rudabagel_, @movewithjude, @aareeliitaa…)! I think once you understand (or more to the point are able to hold on to the understanding) that yoga isn’t about being beautiful, tall and toned but actually setting aside all that is not significant or not-‘Self’ (in the words of Patanjali, “the restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff”) you become open to other images and role models in life.

Which in turn helps you to back off a little, from all this crazy body image stuff. But it’s a work in progress, of course, as is everything!

I can’t be the only one thinking all of this – I’d love to hear your own stories below…