“Enjoy your body, use it every way you can…don’t be afraid of it, or what other people think of it, it’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own..” –Baz Luhrmann
I’ve been practicing and teaching yoga now for over 15 years, and one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that life really is one long continuous journey, with stops of happiness, love, disappointment,enlightenment and every other emojicon along the way. There is no confetti waiting at the finish line, because we’re never quite “there;” but that’s okay, because each and every time we challenge ourselves mentally or physically, we bring ourselves closer to living the life we were born to live- and the person we are meant to be. This might surprise you, but for me, my latest stop had a big deal to do with how I felt about my body.
Last month I overcame my biggest physical challenge, as I crossed the finish line of the Iron Girl sprint triathlon-much quicker, and with a bigger reserve of energy than I had anticipated. I wasn’t racing for time, hell, I just wanted to make it to the end without puking or passing out. I had trained for three months, six days a week, alternating between biking and swimming- plus started running again after a knee injury 15 years ago. I had followed a training guide, set my goal, and ate my carbs the night before.. you know, any reason to eat pizza. I was ready.
What I hadn’t prepared for was the freezing air at 7am before entering the water, or what appeared to be “Perfect Storm”-like waves in the bay, or that my bike chain would go off the track right as I was transitioning from the run. But mentally, those were things that my meditation thankfully helped me stay calm through. I focused solely on getting from point A to point B throughout the race, and it felt like one long session meditating on my breath.I actually spoke to my body during the race, just telling it to keep moving.
I felt like a rockstar as my name was announced at the finish line, and a smiley volunteer looped a cheesy medal around my neck. I walked over to a tree, threw my leg up to stretch, and then the waterworks started, and I found myself tearing up- amazed at what my body had just done.
Yes, I can do a handstand in the middle of the room, and hold myself in some pretty awesome arm balances, but this was different; physically training for something for so long, and then coming out on the other side of three different challenges, in a short amount of time, gave me an incredible new sense of gratitude and respect for my body.
To be honest, however, there were times during the 3 months I was training that I noticed my butt and legs were getting bigger from all the cycling, and my shoulders looked bulkier from the endless laps I swam. I noticed I’d been eating much more because I was so hungry from training, and although I try not to step on the scale, my clothes felt tighter, and I realized I had actually gained 5 pounds. “Who trains for a triathlon and gains weight?” I quipped. ( And no it wasn’t muscle) I had videos to shoot, and conferences to present at; I didn’t want to get up in front of people and feel like I wasn’t representing the best version of myself. I hadn’t felt negative about my body in a long time, and it was seriously messing with my head. I pride myself on practicing what I preach, and I can’t be teaching people to love who they are now, if I’m not doing the same.
My husband and boys found me stretching at the tree, bursting with congratulatory hugs and “WOW mom, that’s so cool you finished!” I figured if this was something that could actually make my cranky pre-teen think I was cool, then that was enough of an accomplishment right there.
Then it all came together for me. What the scale reads, the size of my thighs, or the amount of junk in my trunk had no bearing on me swimming through those waves, biking past tons of people younger than me on the track, or racing across that finish line- it was the strength and endurance I worked so hard to build on the inside and out. I was reminded that the purpose of my body isn’t to look good in a bikini, although of course that’s a nice side effect- it’s to help me get where I need to go, to bust through preconceived limits I might have put on myself, and to inspire others to work hard and challenge themselves to get stronger physically and mentally.
We are so tough on ourselves, expecting to look in the mirror and see perfection like in the magazines- only that isn’t real. We need to start looking at ourselves as other people see us, and how we look at the people we love. We would never look at our best friend and think less of them if they gained a few pounds after an indulgent vacation, or took longer than expected to lose the baby weight- even if their “baby” is now 5. But we do judge ourselves, and put impossible demands on our appearance. I propose we move those demands from numbers on the scale and in our jeans, and use them to push ourselves toward a quicker 5K finish time, how long we can hold downdog, or how many pullups we can do on the playground with our kids.
I’ll never have what has come to be known as a “yoga body.” I have short legs that bulk up from any type of exercise, a butt to rival J-Lo, and hips that never quite went back to where they were before popping out two boys with VERY big heads.
It doesn’t matter. I’ve been told that my purpose is to show women not only how to create a healthy lifestyle, but also that enjoying life, being present, and comfortable in their own skin takes precedence over a few extra pounds here or there. So I’ve let go of caring about the extra five pounds and I invite you to also… I mean, I do have to practice what I preach.
If you need inspiration to fall in love with the shape you’re in NOW, check out this list from a seminar given at UCLA on Women and Body Image- a little self-love goes a LOOOOOONG way.
- We are born with a natural love for our bodies. Watch how infants suck their fingers and toes and how they don’t worry about their body fat. Imagine being so in harmony with your body, again.
- Think of your body as a vehicle to your dreams. Honor it. Respect it. Fuel it. Create an inventory of all the things you can do with your body.
- Be aware of what your body does each day. It is the instrument of your life, not an ornament for others’ enjoyment.
- Create a list of people you admire who have contributed to your life, your community, or the world. Notice the non-physical attributes you appreciate about them.
- Consider your body as a source of pleasure. Think of all the ways it makes you feel good.
- Enjoy what your body can do: stretch, run, go on a swing, laugh, dance, walk, sing, hold someone’s hand, read a book, jump over a puddle, catch a ball…
- Put signs on your mirrors that remind you to pay attention to WHO you are instead of the attributes of your physical appearance.
- Affirm that you can accept your body just the way it is, even if it is not perfect.
- Walk with awareness of yourself as a person, not a size.
- Don’t let your size keep you from doing things you enjoy.
- Remind yourself: your body is not a democracy — you’re the only one who gets a vote.
- Count your blessings, not your blemishes.
- Replace the time you spend criticizing your appearance with more positive, satisfying pursuits.
- Did you know that your skin replaces itself once a month, your stomach lining every five days, liver every six weeks, your skeleton every three months? Your body is extraordinary.
- Be the expert on your body: challenge fashion magazines, dieting advertisements, messages about bulking/muscularity, cosmetics industry, or Metropolitan Weight Tables.
- Let your inner brilliance and individuality shine.
- Be your body’s best ally and advocate, not its enemy.
- Every morning when you wake up, thank your body for resting and rejuvenating itself so you can enjoy the day.
- Every evening when you go to bed, thank your body for what it has helped you do throughout the day.
- Find a method of movement that you enjoy and do it regularly, not to lose weight, but to feel good.
- Think back to a time in your life when you liked and enjoyed your body. Get in touch with those feelings now.
- Look at family photos. Find the beauty, love, and values in those bodies and faces. Hold those close to your heart.
- If you had only one year to live, how important would your body image, appearance, and weight be?
- Make a closet inventory. Do you wear clothes to hide your body or to follow fashion trends? Keep the clothes that give you feelings of pleasure, confidence, and comfort.
- Beauty is not just skin-deep. It is a reflection of your whole self. Love and enjoy the person inside.