I recently posted a picture of my body in legs up the wall pose with a sharpie heart drawn on my thighs (see the post here). The post was an open letter to a personal trainer I unfollowed on social media after she posted exercises you could perform to achieve a “thigh gap” (ugh, I hate that the term “thigh gap” is even a thing taking up mental real estate in our world). My post clearly resonated with lots of people, as I received more friend requests and comments in response to this post than from anything I’ve ever shared. I spent much of the next two days reading those comments. Many of you private messaged me to share your personal stories of eating disorders, body dissatisfaction, and decades of self-hatred. I’m touched by this truth telling, humbled by your honesty, and heartbroken that so many people still struggle to see their inherent goodness.
As a yoga and mindfulness teacher, as well as a nutritional advisor, you might expect me to have a healthy relationship with my body. But I’ve been where so many of you are now. Though my parents raised me to believe beauty is who we are and not what we look like, I’ve had my own struggles with body hatred. For years, I blamed my body for anything bad that happened in my life. Then I punished my body for those hurts, drinking too much and eating crap food, then dieting or over-exercising, each calorie gained or lost a mental mark up or down on my self-worth score card.
But no longer. About ten years ago, I started a daily mindfulness practice and soon had the aha moment that changed it all.
The battle was never with my body. It was always with my mind.
If we hate any part of ourselves, nothing will be good enough. Unless we have a healthy, loving relationship with our mind and body, we will never be thin enough, toned enough, or pretty enough to find peace and happiness. It’s a rabbit hole you can’t climb out of.
The ancient yogic texts urge us to practice ahimsa, the practice of compassion for self and others. But the texts don’t lay out exactly how to do ahimsa, leaving it to each one of us to define it in our own way. So how can we find self-compassion? Here are some ways to practice loving the body you’re in.
• Make eating a sacred experience. It’s common practice to say a prayer before eating. What if eating IS the prayer, a holy moment where we can connect to the Divine? Rather than thinking about food as an enemy (because of it’s fat grams, calories, gluten, etc.) think of it as a way to connect to Source Energy. You can then absorb the sun’s energy from the tomatoes and the love from the cookies baked by a friend. Enjoy the process of preparation, savor the smells, and be present with your food and the people you are eating with. When we see food as a vehicle for self-actualization, we’re less likely to choose garbage (would you serve Buddha or Jesus a Big Mac? Um, no) and more likely to know when we’re full. What we allow in our mind is just as important as what we allow in our bellies. I’ve seen it over and over working with clients: when you stop giving food the power and instead place the power in being present, you’ll settle into a happy weight for you.
• Practice daily self-care. Treat your body with love and the habits needed for physical transformation develop naturally. My husband works with the elderly, which often entails simply sitting and listening to them. One thing he hears over and over is how many people, looking back on their life, wished they had taken better care of themselves. Don’t live a life that will reveal regret when it’s too late. Choose to be present to the life you have right now. Adopt a daily stillness practice by praying, meditating, or practicing mindfulness. Eat real food with ingredients you can pronounce. Move your body every day, not as punishment for what you ate, but to remember your badassery. Play hard, finding those activities that fill your spiritual cup, and then rest deeply.
• Remember That Change Is Gonna Come. In Buddhism, the first rule of existence is annica, or impermanence. This is the fact that everything is going to change. As humans, our impulse is to try and control things, but annica reminds us that we’re going to be a lot happier if we loosen the reigns and go with the flow a bit more. Our bodies are continuously becoming something else. On a molecular level, you’re different right now than when you started reading this. Physically, we will atrophy and die. What endures is who you truly are, which arises from your heart and mind. Your truest self has nothing to do with the size or shape of your body. On your death bed, you will not wish you had had thinner thighs. You’ll wish you used them more often to run, climb trees, dance, and make love.
• Practice gratitude. Honor your body for the blessing it is. Your shape is unique in the world and it’s no accident that it looks the way it looks. Stop focusing on all the ways you think your body has let you down and start celebrating all that it has accomplished. Being happy arises from a willingness to see what’s already amazing about you. An attitude of gratitude will start to illuminate negative thoughts, so that when they arise you’ll see them for the falsehoods they are. Each time this happens, it becomes easier to come back to a place of appreciation.