I have always been someone who battles with their self-image. As a child I was really tall, lanky, uncontrollably clumsy as I tried to navigate the use of my long limbs with difficulty! This is why my parents first took me to Gymnastics to try to help me gain strength and coordination. As I hit my teens I was an elite gymnast, which as a teenage girl can put you in rather a conflicting position with body image. When I was competing I longed to be smaller, thinner more toned like some of my competitors. Never viewing my own body even after 25+hrs a week in the gym as lean or strong as theirs. Outside of the gymnastics world I longed to be one of the popular kids, curvy, grown up, womanly and proud. I never felt comfortable in my body. I always felt stuck between two conflicted worlds of opposites to which I belonged to neither. As an adult especially since becoming a yoga teacher I found myself still constantly living in this battle of reviewing my physical state as a sign of general success. When I gained weight it was a failure a loss of control on my life and emotions, weight loss a win. But this battle never ended. One day I want toned curves, the next I want to look like a ballet dancer. The truth being that whatever I looked like, there would be days when this would not be enough. I know that I am not alone by any means in this battle, even lived out by the women I admire. I saw a very real and honest interview on BBC Radio 4 with ex model Victoire Dauxerre this week about her own body image battles. This is an issue we are all fighting in western society, but with who and why are we fighting? What’s the purpose? It sure as hell isn’t making anyone happy!
This battle surfaced again most recently with the prospect of my wedding in 8 months’ time, and my desire to get more work teaching Yoga in London. This feeling of again wanting to look and feel at my best, as if this was the main focus for the wedding or for getting more work. This latest uprising again leaving me low on self-confidence. So I thought maybe this time it’s about time that I looked at this issue in more of a yogic self-study mind-set and use this opportunity to dig a little deeper. Instead of triggering this battle behaviour how about I look more about what’s actually going on.
Svadyaya – Self Study
Svadyaya is one of Patanjali’s Niyamas under the 8 limbs of yoga and means to study the nature of the self. Those of you familiar with the 8 limbs will know that these are regarded as guidelines to live a meaningful and purposeful life. You can find out a little on these here but if you haven’t yet and are into Yoga read The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali it’s a bit or a rite of passage for us Yogi’s.
In practice, to me, Svadyaya is the study of your nature, thoughts, feelings, actions, anything that makes you, you and your world your world. By studying these goings on, we can hope to gain clarity on authentic underlining feelings and tap into these to help free ourselves from restrictions and constraints. The process of this self-study can often also ironically help us to build connection with others from seeing that we are all the same as well as being more available and open to connection from more truly knowing ourselves.
Pause for Thought
So where to start… I started myself with these 4 questions to consider; 1) What triggers my self-image battle 2) who am I really trying to impress 3) what tactics do I use 4) what is the end result? Who wins?
Sitting with these questions it becomes clear that this battle is emotional only. Playing out in the physical, it stems often from a feeling of wanting to be accepted, feeling alone and longing for connection. The objective mostly to prove to myself that I am good enough, fit enough, can look and seem a certain way. The tactics I use through this battle goes one of two ways. The first route shopping, the second route self-sabotage. The first, often missed by those close to me is often buying a nice dress, a nice outfit something I think will make me fit the image, and look the part I am trying to play. The second, self-sabotage is often the one I slip into after the first and is with me for the long haul. It’s often a personal attack on my appearance, and results in diets, negative talk, changes of haircuts, more shopping, excessive beauty sessions at home all to try to help me fit this perfect little pigeon hole I have in mind for myself. The end result is often a temporary feeling of relief, quickly followed by the realisation that although perhaps 10 pounds lighter I am still me and I haven’t changed at all. Underneath this body I am still me wort’s and all.
Breaking The Cycle
I think this is something I’m am realising I definitely do and many of you probably do too. We use our physical form as a tool for trying to change ourselves emotionally, without doing the hard work. Using our appearance and acceptance and admiration of those around us for it as a sign of success and happiness. This means we will always be reliant on the feedback of others to again tap into this happiness. And this is where yoga, mistakenly seen by many as a series of asana or exercises actually differs and offers us so much more.
We are brought up in a western society where physical attributes as taught to us as markers of success. Yet the more we fix, the more we are broken. The more we look, the more we see we need to change. The reality is people we perceive as successful have these issues just like us. The thing we are grasping for isn’t beauty or ascetics its inner belief and confidence, contentment in who we are, embracing the good and the bad. This is the golden ticket so many of us seek when we consume expensive dresses, fad diets, abusing ourselves with negative self-talk to kick start these life changes, it is this inner contentment we seek. Bringing us to another of Patajali’s Niyamas Santosa – contentment.
Finding Your Unique Awesomeness!
Theses body issues or whatever inner battles we face will continue to rise throughout our lives and there is only one true way to fight them. Self-acceptance. This is the only sustainable way to win this battle. Our bodies will change, they won’t always be the same, we need to stop fighting to try to keep them stuck in a point of time and embrace the beautiful change we can see in them! You will age, you will change if you have children, you will be injured and heal. These changes mark our experiences in the world and show our life. The beautiful thing about our bodies is they have the ability to change every day! Our bodies are that our bodies and they are the most amazing gift we will ever be given. So to come full circle, here are what I am working on next time these battles arise;
- Choose one thing you like about how you look
- Choose one time in your life that you felt proud of yourself
- Choose one experience where you have surprised yourself
- Choose a charitable cause that’s close to your heart.
So the next time things get shitty look at these things. Remember you are lucky. Remember you are full of surprises. If you’re reading this blog, you have access to a computer and time to spare you can’t be doing too badly all in all. Now think of that charity that’s close to your heart and do something good for it, sign up to volunteer for a day it’s not all about money. Take this battle out of your head and channel that energy to build connections and do good in your community. Get onto your mat and stop listening to that little voice of doubt, it doesn’t know what its talking about :).