How yoga helped me (finally) love my body
Body image and yoga: how I finally learnt to love the skin I’m in. By Emma West
Like so many, I’ve struggled with body image issues since my teenage years. I’ve been underweight, a healthy weight, obese and overweight. I’ve dieted, restricted, binged, purged, detoxed and excessively exercised. I’ve hidden my body with baggy clothes and caked myself in make up in a bid to feel better about my appearance.
I’ve tried it all.
Over two decades of self-loathing and punishing my body for its very existence, trying everything I could possibly try to make my body ‘better’. Two whole decades! And nothing ever changed; I still felt hatred every time I caught sight of myself in a mirror or a photograph.
Through studying yoga, I finally learnt to accept, and then love the skin I’m in. It was a gradual process, but by following the eight limbs of yoga and regularly practicing asana and meditation, I have completely transformed the way I feel about myself. It turned out that I didn’t need to change my body or make it ‘better’. I didn’t need to lose weight, or gain weight, or wear certain clothes, or more make up, or less make up. The one thing I needed to do was to change the way I see myself.
Here’s how I used yogic philosophy and principles to fall in love with me:
Ahimsa (non-harming) This is the first Yama, and quite rightly so. Non-harming refers not only to the way we treat others, but the way we treat ourselves. Once I’d got to grips with this, I started to treat myself with kindness, and stop punishing my body for not being the right shape. As soon as I started being kinder to my body, I started to appreciate it for everything it does for me.
Aparigraha (non-greed) I cleared out a lot of stuff. I decluttered my wardrobe, removed all the clothes that I didn’t feel great in or that didn’t fit me, and it felt like a huge relief. I also stopped buying rubbish. That included cheap, unethically-made clothes and the junk food that I would comfort eat. Comfort eating was a hard one to give up, and I still have the occasional minor slip up, but overall, buy buying less stuff and simplifying my life, everything (including my mood) felt lighter.
Santosha (contentment) Contentment is about fully surrendering the need to control the outcomes and just live in the present moment. For me, that meant learning not to worry what anyone else thinks. “You do you,” was the best advice I have ever been given for finding santosha.
Asana (physical practice) There truly is nothing like that post-yoga glow to fill you with good feelings and make you feel better about your body and yourself. Learning what my body can do in a yoga class gave me a newfound level of respect for it.
Dhyana (meditation) When I sit in meditation, everything is so perfect, quiet, peaceful, beautiful. The more I meditate, the more I see that there is so much more to me than the ‘meat suit’ I wear and the less I care about what I look like.
Self-love and self-acceptance were never the goal for me on this journey; they were a happy side effect of a dive into yogic philosophy.
Before I began this journey, I had resigned myself to a life of feeling inadequate because of my shape and had given up trying to change my attitude. I’d written myself off as beyond saving; my ‘best years’ were behind me and my now nearly-40-year-old, post-baby body was only going to go downhill.
Now, quite frankly, I don’t care what shape my body is. My body is my home, it does some pretty awesome things and I am so grateful for it. It turns out I could have saved myself 20 years of battling if only I had known sooner that the solution was so simple. Yoga really is that powerful.