I once recall saying to my partner: “I hate my boobs.” I don’t know why I said it, I sort of felt like it was expected of me. After all, they weren’t perfect by any means, and I didn’t want to appear overconfident, so the words just came out of my mouth.
A few weeks later, my partner commented, while staring at my breasts: “I know you hate them. Why don't you make them bigger?” I had conditioned him to critique them.
In truth, my breasts weren’t that bad. They were small, yes, but I always thought they were cute. I had no desire to make them bigger. Actually, I loved them.
I loved them even more the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer. All of a sudden, I realised the harm I had done in criticising them; the harm I had done to myself as well as to others. I was contributing to the negative feelings we sometimes have about our bodies.
Breast cancer meant I was going to have a double mastectomy and I would lose them. Lose my small, imperfect but natural breasts that were a part of me; the breasts my doctor described as “small and perky.” Knowing I would lose them made me love them even more.
I should know better than to critique my own body. As a yoga teacher, I see all kinds of bodies. Large bodies, small bodies, strong, flexible, stiff-as-a-board bodies. Every body is different. I have learned there is no such thing as a universal body. Everyone’s body has its own abilities. These abilities are what make our bodies unique to us.
But one thing I have noticed is that people also love to criticise their bodies. If they can’t get into a pose, they critique the part of their body they feel is holding them back. Their back is too stiff to touch their toes; their hips are too wide to get into an arm balance; their stomach is too round for a bind.
The beauty of yoga is that you don’t have to touch your toes. You don’t have to get into an arm balance, and you don’t have to do a full bind. Your body will tell you what to do. Your body brought you to the studio. Your body isn't trying to conform to an ideal. Your body is trying to tell you what it wants to do. In some cases, your body works with you day after day on the mat to help you get deeper into your practice. Each and every body’s practice is different.
I frequently welcome new students to my class who are trying yoga after years of staying at home to care for children. They haven’t had the benefit of consistent exercise in years, and want to try yoga as a way to ease into fitness. I tell them not to give up, that yoga might be more difficult at first than they realise, but if they come consistently, they will see improvement. The improvement they will experience is in how magnificent and beautiful their bodies are, no matter what their poses look like. When I teach a yoga class, I don’t see who does or does not have a perfect pose. I see people who are taking care of their bodies.
For the students who stick with a consistent practice, the feedback I get is amazing. Their backs hurt less. They feel more relaxed. One student even told me she was having more sex with her husband. Did I need to know this? No, but I was happy to hear it! To me, it’s about falling in love with your body the way it is.
I’ve now had a double mastectomy with reconstruction. My old breasts are gone. I miss them. Most of all, I miss their naturalness.
As I look at my new breasts in the mirror, I notice they are larger and a different shape. This is foreign to me. As I work back into my yoga practice, they don't feel the same. Some of my poses look and feel different.
I catch myself starting to voice my displeasure with them. But then I don’t. “They look beautiful,” I say to myself. And I vow to make them a part of me no matter how they look or feel. They are mine now, and I love them.
Hello Yogis! I have been practicing yoga for over 20 years and teaching for two. I enjoy power, yin, vinyasa and hot yoga. I believe yoga is for every body type, every ability and every background. Teaching yoga brings me great joy- take one of my classes and you will have a lot of fun!