Yoga and Body Image

You can’t.  You don’t belong.  Look at you.  Everyone must be looking at you and wondering why you are even here.  Why are you here?  See you couldn’t do that pose either…you should stop coming to these classes. 

Oh voice in my head…you suck.  You always suck.

Thanks to a Groupon, I have been doing “Corepower Yoga” for just over 3 weeks now.  I’ve gone 13 times in 23 days.  I have not been this consistently active since I was working out at 5:30am multiple times a week in my 20’s, even though I had a gym membership for over a decade.  Not even when I was training for half marathons, not even when I was training for my cycling century did I work out 4 times a week.  This should be an accomplishment.  This should be something awesome that I’m proud of.  I’m doing something great.  But no, the voice in my head just wants to use it as a podium to remind me that I’m not good enough.

Contrasting the idea that I think I can’t do something and the fact that I’ve run 13.1 miles multiple times and pedaled myself 100 miles around Lake Tahoe is sort of hilarious, but it’s a example of my true Gemini dual-identity and the constant struggle I have with how I see myself.

Let’s back up.  I have gained 30 pounds in the last 6 months.  After spending a large part of my life trying to find a consistent weight and battling anorexia, I have spent a good 5 years solid within a few pounds without much effort.  I make fairly good choices about what I eat, and I do crazy things like join Team in Training to keep me moving.  I’m aware of my triggers that make me skip meals, and I have an awesome support network that I reach out to when I notice I’m slipping.  Apparently in the last year between the change of job, the move and turning 36, something broke my groove.

Looking in the mirror lately crushes me.  I mean, it’s always been that way.  I have never been okay with how I look at the moment.  Even when I was 120 pounds, I wanted to be skinnier.  It took a lot of therapy to realize I wasn’t suddenly going to wake up and look like a playboy model with flowing curly hair, a perfect ass and ample boobs.  I finally got comfortable in a place where I felt “healthy”.  I was in a great relationship with someone who appreciated my body and was mostly validating.  (He clearly wished I had bigger boobs, but that’s another story.  The only win in being heavier is suddenly having boobs for the first time in my life.)  But really, even when I was knocking out things like the century, I was feeling that I hated my legs.  It’s weird to look back at pictures of me younger and think “damn, I was freaking hot…what happened?”  I try and remind myself that when I’m 40, I’ll probably look back and be thankful for the looks of my 30’s too…but I just can’t get to a place where I’m okay with my body.

It already doesn’t help that I’m not stylish or fashionable, but going up two full sizes in half a year hasn’t helped me feel comfortable getting dressed in the morning.  There hasn’t been one attractive picture taken of me all year, and that’s kind of a problem since I work for a company in the photography industry where everyone is ALWAYS taking pictures of you, and I’m dating again without a way to confidently market myself.  The funniest part is that as much as I give myself so much grief about everything about my looks, I don’t care enough to change anything.  You’d think with as much brain power as I spent wishing I could put together an outfit or accessorize, I’d actually put some effort into learning make-up techniques or shop somewhere other than Old Navy or buy something other than jeans.  But no, I use the more logical part of my brain to remind myself that someone will love me exactly how I am, exactly how I dress.  I’m lovable for who I am, not what I look like.  Then why can’t I love myself that way?

So back to yoga.

I royally screwed my hips overdoing it when I was running a few years ago, and I can’t even walk 3 miles these days without causing some pretty severe pain on my left side.  I want yoga to be the thing that gradually strengthens my hips and my core.  I need something that I can feel active in again that doesn’t wreck my body.  I need a “thing” to distract me from the challenges in my life.  I want this in my life.  But my hips continue to be a challenge and the voice in my head is being a bitch.

I really love this yoga studio.  A lot.  The teachers are amazing and supportive.  The classes are totally my style.  It’s sweaty.  There’s music.  I know it’s supposed to be a practice.  It’s not a competition.  I’m doing something good for myself.  But throughout the class I find myself in the frustrating situation where not only do I feel like everyone but me is an expert yogi, I am also limited by the lack of strength in my hips.  My left side isn’t willing to bear the weight of a simple tree pose, and sometimes I feel like doing one more crescent lunge will break me.  Then there’s the fact that it feels like everyone looks like a ballet dancer and I feel like a giant beast in XXL spandex.  (And why don’t these girls sweat like I do – it’s 100 freaking degrees in the room?!)  I may not be able to balance but I’m flexible.  There’s moments when a teacher will comment on how far I can stretch or bend and I’m so proud.  I have never had arm strength, so my feeble attempts at chataranga don’t bother me that much and the fact that I am able to plank at all, or keep my thighs off the ground when I’m in upward facing dog is a win.  When I walk out of class, no matter how much I struggled, I feel amazing.  But every day when I think about heading to class, I start to doubt myself all over again.

I’m realizing that yoga has come to my life at the perfect time.  I need a new testing ground for battling the voice in my head.  I am in need of a place to practice for an hour telling my inner critic to fuck off.  I think that’s what running and cycling were as well.  Physical challenge is a place where I can work out the larger battle I have in my daily life.  I need a routine.  (Something I’ve been lacking and searching for since I uprooted my entire life cycle of a decade earlier this year.)  Maybe through this practice I can learn to find silence in my mind outside of the mirrored room.  I need this class.

I have to find acceptance for my limits, but not let them make me quit.  I have to keep myself within the four corners of my mat, not looking at myself through the eyes of anyone else, including that brat that lives between my ears.  I have to silence the voice that tells me I can’t and focus on what I can.  I am showing up.  I am “lapping everyone at home on the couch.”  I am doing just fine.

Shut up bitch.  I can do this.