Renoir – 1917
by Stephanie Rehor
One of the most ironic things about yoga is that it was not created to serve the body. In Sanskrit, the word asana means seat, meaning the poses are a preparation for meditation. This connotation often gets lost, in part, in American culture because the mainstream media classifies yoga as another form of exercise that aids weight loss and a so-called better body.
According to ancient teachings, yoga was never about losing weight. This discipline is about honoring and accepting ourselves, imperfections and all. In fact, yoga is inherently body positive. Some critics say this type of thinking contributes to the obesity epidemic in the United States. To the contrary, many studies show the stigma of being overweight has a detrimental affect on the human psyche. Many yoga teachers (myself included) will tell you, the best way to stay healthy is to be fully present and appreciative of our bodies, which is a form of self-love. Here’s how I put this into practice both on and off the mat. I hope you will feel inspired to adopt these healthy habits:
Redefine health. One thing that has helped me be more body positive is redefining what it means to be healthy. There is a perceived notion that fat people need to lose weight in order to be healthy. This idea is very problematic. Health is a complex topic and people of many different shapes and sizes can be healthy or not healthy. The stigma of being overweight and the discrimination that inevitably follows is far more damaging than the actual number on the scale. Being shamed about losing weight can lead to anxiety and, in some cases, eating disorders. For me, having a healthy body image is a practice of tuning in to how I feel, respecting myself, eating well, exercising to feel good and managing my stress. I realize that the ramifications of shaming or blaming myself are profound. This is why I choose not to diet and I do not own a scale. Human beings come in all shapes and sizes. Body weight is nothing more than gravitational relation to the earth and should have little to do with health and self-worth.
Beware of the Inner Critic. Instead of doing battle with my body, I’ve learned to make peace with my body. Negative body image is virtually non-existent for most children. Pre-adolescent children are inherently body positive. As we get older, our inner critic starts to develop. By the time puberty kicks in, most of have developed body shaming thoughts. These thoughts likely develop because our society has placed such importance on appearances and has such a high beauty standard that such images have affected us from a very young age. This is why I, as an adult, have developed an awareness of inner critic. When I hear a voice in my head that is not of my highest self, I can redirect my thinking. When I stay present, I can pinpoint them and replace them with other, more encouraging thoughts. It takes a while, but eventually body shaming thoughts grow weaker and body positive thoughts become the new normal.
Know and Love Your Body. For me, the best way to reconnect with my body is by hitting the mat. Negative body image is often a result of feeling disconnected from the physical self. It is not until you become fully present, that you can release old habits that create shaming thoughts. Practicing the postures, meditation and breathwork, strengthens the awareness of the connection between the mind and body. Yoga helps us experience our bodies with compassion and patience. It’s a process that takes time, and I am grateful to have developed a sense of self love and body positivity through yoga. I believe it is this mentality that will ultimately end diet culture and, in my opinion, that can’t happen soon enough.
The mat is a wonderful place to start being more body positive, yet it doesn’t end there. We need to adopt an attitude of self-love and bring it into the world. We yogis can be pioneers in shifting the paradigm of this weight-loss obsessed culture into a more accepting, loving, and free society. We need only to begin with ourselves.