For most of my life, I have been at war with my body.
This war has been a war of mindset and emotion.
I get angry with my body when it doesn’t support me in moving the way I want it to move and I punish it by trying to force it into things it doesn’t want to do.
From a young age I was teased about my body. Kids in school called me anorexic before I was old enough to know what it meant. At the sensitive stage when bodies change, kids teased me for being flat-chested and bony. Even adults would call attention to my body, with names like “string bean,” and “bony macaroni.”
I stuck out because of my size: I was always taller than others in my class, and bone-thin. When you look like that, people feel they have a right to comment about you — often to your face — in that way that is generally acknowledged as unacceptable if the comment were about others.
People had no hesitation in saying things to me like,
Look at you. You’re skin and bones. Do you even eat anything? You must eat only lettuce. I bet you never eat dessert.
Perhaps today such comments would be less tolerable, but when I was in my impressionable early teen years, this was the way people spoke to skinny girls. It wasn’t just the other kids who spoke to me this way. Adults made these comments too.
Really. Can you even imagine if someone said to a heavy person,
Look at those rolls of fat on you. Why are you so fat? Do you eat everything in sight? How do you stay so fat?
Emotional Scars Last Longer Than Physical Scars
My mom would try to soothe me with the old “sticks and stones” adage:
Sticks and stone may break my bones, but names can never hurt me.
Of course, we know now that this adage is not true. Emotional wounds take much longer to heal than physical wounds.
I desperately wanted to be strong enough to prove to these bullies that I wasn’t a frail skinny girl. But I wasn’t strong.
In my teens, I suffered from knee problems and fainting spells. I played sports, but was never “athletic.” What stopped me from developing my potential was not physical structure, but emotional structure: I lacked confidence.
Looking back, I can see that I saw myself as others saw me: frail, awkward, and likely to get injured if I made the wrong move.
I learned to escape into my mind, using my intelligence and my work ethic as a way to compensate for my body’s shortcomings.
The only place I felt I could live my truth was in the pool. Swimming was an activity where I excelled early. I lived for summer, when I could immerse myself in the waters of the pool. Swimming always gave me confidence.
Loving Activity While At War
As an adult, I discovered new activities that helped me access my body’s capabilities — yoga, pilates, and a love for circus sports — especially flying trapeze and trampoline.
Fitness is important to me, as a form of stress release, a way to burn off excess energy so I can focus, and as a way to help me get out of my mind and get comfortable in my body. Several years ago, I started exercising daily. I haven’t missed a morning in over 5 years.
All of this — finding activities I truly love to do, committing to a daily ritual of fitness and exercise — helped me gain access to my body. But the war continued.
Whether in trapeze practice or yoga class, I couldn’t help but look around at others and see what their bodies could do. And while I learned to appreciate my own skills, I often found myself frustrated and upset by the limits of my body’s capabilities.
These limits aren’t necessarily physical restrictions; they are caused by emotional blocks, like fear, doubt, and mistrust. Our perceptions create our realities.
Every moment of comparison, of wondering “why can’t I do that?” perpetuates the war and keeps me disconnected from myself.
The Insight That Led Me to Yoga Teacher Training
Last year, as I was preparing to close on the sale of my apartment and embark on a home-free adventure, I had an insight during a yoga class:
If I was to be a true citizen of the world, to live without a home, and make it work, then I had to end the war with my body.
I had to learn to be at home in my body. To be at home in myself.
If I couldn’t feel at home in my body, I would never feel at home anywhere else.
This was when I knew that I had to take a yoga teacher training.
Many people take a yoga teacher training to deepen their spiritual side of their practice. This is the side of yoga I already love — taking the lessons off the mat and living the yoga philsophy.
I probably would have taken a teacher training sooner if not for one small hiccup: I don’t particularly like asana practice — the physical practice of yoga. This dislike is born out of lack of confidence and skill: I don’t get into most poses easily, if at all.
To be clear, the purpose of asana is not to force your body into the shape, but to use the pose as a tool to explore your body’s capabilities and limits. Even though I know this, I often find myself in judgment or frustration about what my body is able to do for me on the mat. Out of that frustration, I will push my body more until it snaps back or breaks in some place.
Already on the first day of yoga teacher training, I could see these familiar patterns emerge.
I’m excited and enthusiastic about diving deeper into the history and philosophy of yoga: the yoga sutras, mantra, meditation, pranayama, living the yoga teachings. It’s the asana that scares me.
I’d be quite happy living the spiritual yoga and leaving the physical practice behind.
And this, of course, is my practice.
It’s about taking the philosophy and applying it on my mat:
- Using the physical poses as tools for exploring my body’s capabilities without comparison (to others or previous versions of myself) or judgment.
- Exploring my limits without pushing past them.
- Accepting where I am on any given day.
- Embracing myself with self-kindness, self-compassion, and self-love.
For me, the spiritual practice and the physical practice inextricably linked.
The physical is the spiritual. The spiritual is the phyiscal.
I only get one body in this lifetime. It’s time to learn how to feel at home there.