How yoga healed my relationship with my body
The 4 tools of yoga that helped heal my relationship to my body. By Madeleine Arena
There was a time when I resented my body.
In fact, quite a long time. At the age of 15, I started becoming aware of my body, and the fact that others were very much aware of it as well. I also started to become aware of the fact that certain bodies were celebrated and revered, while others were shamed, ridiculed and even feared – sadly, I think we all know which is which.
Having a fairly thin, athletic body type, I was ‘lucky’ enough to fall into the first category, often even praised for it. And so, I started cultivating the belief that my worth was very much connected to my body. That I needed to maintain that body at all cost, in order to make sure I would be loved, accepted and valued.
This belief very quickly became so deeply ingrained that it took over my entire being. For the next 10 years of my life, it felt like the topmost priority was ensuring that I do not gain weight – as if that was the absolute worst thing that could ever happen. It obsessively ruled my thoughts, determined my behaviours and disturbed my emotions. I was annoyed at my body for having the capacity to change at all – why couldn’t it just stay the way I wanted it at all times and I could just be done with it?!
I was moving further and further away from a connection to my Self, ever-focused on the exterior and how things looked. I became a perfectionist and a people-pleaser, leaving no room for compassion, imperfection or even individuality – my body was an object, to be admired and desired.
After 10 years of this battle, I finally had the courage to seek out real, professional help specialised in eating disorders. It was the best decision I ever made, and what ultimately put me on the road to full recovery.
Still, if you ask anyone who has embarked on the recovery journey, they will tell you that it’s a long ride. While the first step is stopping the destructive behaviours we were engaging in, it can take years to truly unlearn and unravel the seeds of belief we planted so deeply in our minds so long ago, and actually develop an accepting, loving relationship to our body – no matter what it looks like.
In that exact space is where I found my yoga practice – and it changed my life. In the course of only one year, it has brought me to a place of more peace than I thought I might ever find, both within and without.
Here are the four tools of yoga that helped me heal my relationship to my body:
1. Yoga philosophy
The philosophies of yoga go very deep, considering every single aspect of our existence. They are also very compassionate, always emphasising that there is no one-size-fits-all – in any area of life. They encourage us to create awareness and know ourselves, so that we can forgive ourselves for our misperceptions and come to place a of acceptance, presence and peace, both within our body and in our broader lives. They hold the belief that our body is really just a vessel that we were given to live out our human experience in, and worrying about what it looks like is really one of the most futile things you could be spending your energy on. It is to be cared for, respected and loved, because it is a gift, and what allows us to experience this life.
2. Basic asana practice
Practicing asanas was the first time since childhood that I was able to move my body without focusing on miles or calories.
The whole idea is one of meditative, mindful movement, where we step out of our ‘monkey minds’ for a few moments, and send our awareness into our sensational body.
We learn to connect to our body, actually listen to what it’s telling us, and then to respect that voice. Change is the only constant in life, including within our physical bodies. In that way, asana practice taught me to accept what I find on the mat (and off of it), and to meet myself with compassion, no matter what.
3. Advanced asanas
While advanced asana practice is by no means a prerequisite to a complete yoga practice, exploring my body’s capabilities and challenging myself on the mat was and still is something I personally really enjoy – and that has taught me some valuable lessons.
A lot of the advanced poses take quite a bit of time and patience to master, teaching us the importance of appreciating and being present to all steps of the journey. Sometimes, we struggle with the pose, or maybe we even realise that it will never be accessible to us for one reason or another.
These are the moments that teach us to balance perseverance with self-compassion, to know when to stop and to accept an outcome that might be different from what we imagined in our mind. When we get the hang of some of the more difficult asanas, they show us how strong our body actually is, and what it’s capable of if treated with respect and kindness.
4. Meditation / Pratyahara
Learning to go inward and withdraw the senses from their external distractions taught me that we are so much more than our thoughts or emotions; that what our minds tell us is far from the truth, coloured by perceptions and experiences. It helped me realise that the idea that I need to look a certain way is not a truth, either. It’s a belief I cultivated based on my experiences – and I have the power to change it.
If you are someone struggling with body acceptance, I highly encourage you to try out some yoga practices, if you haven’t already. Take some classes, and read into some of the philosophies – you will not regret it!