In my underwear, I stand, staring at my reflection in my bedroom mirror trying to imagine myself as ‘skinny’. I take photos and stick them into a notebook that I use to quietly criticise my body. I’m around 18 years old, desperately unhappy with my weight, and obsessed with the ideal female figure that I’m bombarded with day to day.
If my body could talk about how she was treated she wouldn’t have nice things to say about me.
This type of body-shaming behaviour is, unfortunately, very common. Thinking of myself then, around 10 years ago, I sometimes marvel at the difference in my body image and self-esteem. So what changed?
I started going to Yoga. Yoga is usually an hour spent being cued by a teacher through a sequence of poses, before lying down on your back for a while. It doesn’t necessarily scream “life-changing”, but for so many people out there it is.
I first tried Yoga in my late teens, but have been practicing consistently for the last four years. I cannot pinpoint at what exact moment I stopped hating my body, but I definitely know what helped.
How Yoga Helped
Yoga is 100% non-competitive and I am a competitive person. I’d go to classes and be reminded again and again that it did not matter what the person beside me was able to do or not to - that is their business. Without being able to fuel my competitive fire, I was forced to face up to my ego (this is on-going) and my deep held truths about myself. Was I really less worthy if I couldn’t keep up with the woman beside me? Of course not.
I learned to stop comparing. Pining after someone else’s shape won’t improve yours. Similarly, slating someone who is struggling to make yourself feel better definitely won’t help either.
I did a couple of years of gymnastics in primary school and I assume this helped my flexibility later in life. Flexibility = amazing at Yoga right? The truth is, not necessarily! Flexible students sometimes push into joint hyper-mobility rather than muscular flexibility and use this to try to deepen their poses. We can struggle significantly with strength, safe alignment, and at times, like everyone else, our egos. Whenever I stepped onto my mat, I had to learn to reign in my desire to force, push, and struggle into poses. Over time, this helped me reign in that ‘forcer’ part of myself outside of class. I soon found that I was taking a more compassionate approach to my body and was no longer keen on aggressively pushing her at all.
Like any activity with regular practice progress happened. As I started to feel more comfortable in poses, I realised that I was appreciating and acknowledging what my body was doing functionally rather than aesthetically. It wasn’t about the circumference of my waist but, instead, it became about the sensation of lifting up my kneecaps, engaging my thighs, and then balancing with ease on one leg.
Yoga encouraged me to become familiar with my internal dialogue. Our internal dialogue is a relentless chatter and for many of us we’re completely unaware, or just totally used to it being critical and unkind. If you told a friend the sort of judgmental things you tell yourself or placed the sort of outrageous expectations that we all place on ourselves, you’d realise how toxic our own thoughts can be. At the start of each class, I’d check in with myself and be honest with however I was feeling. I’d notice if I had expectations about the upcoming class: had I felt triggered by an athletic woman in the room, was an earlier argument with my girlfriend making me believe I had to smash every pose to feel better about myself?
Checking in and being aware of how you’re talking to yourself is an invaluable tool, especially if you’re trying to change the relationship you have with yourself, your body, and the world around you. It isn’t about putting yourself down for having dark thoughts, but about being open to challenging the ideas and beliefs you take for granted.
The last 5 years have been a journey from actively disregarding my wellbeing to making it my priority. Like anything worthwhile, it isn’t easy. Learning to fall in love with yourself, even on your crappy days, is an ongoing daily practice. Yoga is about embracing the discomfort, not only physically in poses but also mentally and spiritually. We all have a darker, shadow side. Yoga isn’t about erasing this part of yourself but being open to embracing it. In a time when big industries and corporations profit off of our insecurities, learning to love yourself is an act of rebellion.
About the Author
Fabby is our Head of Yoga at FFS. She completed her first yoga teacher training in Hatha yoga and has since completed trainings in Restorative yoga, Children & Teen yoga, Trauma Sensitive yoga, Yin yoga, and Ashtanga yoga. She has had the privilege of working closely with Orla Punch, a senior Iyengar yoga teacher, and is heavily influenced by this style of practice.
With a background in Psychology and Animal Welfare, Fabby is passionate about mental wellness, self-acceptance, and body-positivity. She loves the challenge that a steady yoga practice presents her, both physically and mentally. She encourages you to challenge and accept yourself in equal doses.
You can catch her teaching Mondays lunchtime, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, and every other weekend. Check out FFS Yoga's Class Schedule for more information.