Today’s post and challenge are from wholehearted and inspirational Anna Guest-Jelley of Curvy Yoga. She is wise and wonderful and has so much to teach about life in general and yoga specifically. I am honored to host her here today!
I know, I know; I know what you might be thinking: “Yoga as a way to love my body? It’s hard to imagine how that will happen when the svelte girl next to me in class has her foot wrapped around her head!”
I’m totally with you on that — or, at least, I was for a long time. I spent years (years!) practicing yoga, surreptitiously glancing over my shoulder, waiting for someone to come tap me on the shoulder and point at the (nonexistent except in my head) bleachers: “You: you’re out.”
Fortunately, I never did have to fully relive those bad middle school gym flashbacks. But I did spend entirely too much time waiting for it.
What’s interesting, though, is that while I did, something else happened — yoga itself tapped me on the shoulder, with love and not a reproach – “You. You’ve found the right place.”
Body Appreciation 101
To be honest, I started practicing yoga because I wanted to change my body — I wanted less pain from my migraines, and I wanted to lose weight. The latter had been an ongoing goal for at least a decade, so it wasn’t particularly new.
But what was new was me beginning to slowly admire my body. “Whoa; I did that forward bend?!” Or “Wow; I can really feel myself getting stronger!”
I’d never given myself these kinds of compliments before. I’d viewed my body in a black/white dichotomy of good/bad, where good = thin and bad = anything else. (And I was always in the anything else category, at least in my own mind). So when positive thoughts of strength and flexibility crept into my mind, I was surprised — mostly pleasantly.
The part of me that was unpleasantly surprised was the part that wanted to hang onto that either/or thinking. The part that felt that if I ever “let go” of my weight loss goal, all h-e-double-hockey-sticks would break loose.
Turns out, though, that the opposite was true.
How Body Awareness Can Lead to Body Love
The more I noticed these small and gently accruing benefits of my yoga practice, the better I felt about my body — on many levels. I physically felt more alive, energized and calm. And emotionally I felt buoyant after class — nearly floating out, flushed with endorphins and the stretchy relaxing goodness of Savasana.
Over time, those benefits began to last longer and longer, and they also began following me off my mat and deeper into my thoughts and feelings. As I noticed and appreciated my body on the mat, I was slowly able to apply that process off the mat.
From my body to my thoughts to my feelings. From external to internal.
Today: Do some yoga. In my experience, this shift happened slowly over time. But as a teacher now, I believe the process can be more deliberately facilitated. To give it a try yourself, here are my top 5 tips:
1. Begin with movement. Find a yoga practice you love. You might do this by taking a class with a local teacher. Or if you’d prefer to practice at home, there are many great resources. If you’re practicing with a curvy body, you might like experimenting with my videos on YogaVibes (which you can give a test run for free), check out some of my free podcasts or grab a copy of my new book with 60+ pose options for curvy yogis. As you practice, see if you can bring your attention to what you’re feeling – overall or in a particular part of your body. Developing your body awareness is an essential step on the body love journey (it’s hard to love what you don’t know!).
2. Take a deep breath. As you begin to connect more with movement, noticing your body, you can also begin noticing your breath. The best way to do this is to take one slow, deliberate breath. You could do this in a pose or throughout your daily activity. It is awareness of body and breath that can lead to awareness of thought and feeling, creation of gratitude and love.
3. Get on the ground. In order to really connect mind and body, I like to sit or lie down on the ground. As you feel you body settle into the earth, feel yourself slowly relax. If coming down to the floor isn’t comfortable or accessible, sitting on a chair with your feet on the ground (or as close as they can come) will create the same result.
4. Place a hand on your belly and a hand on your heart. From this laying down position, place one hand on your belly and one on your heart. Touch is powerful — especially gentle, loving touch of your own body, on a body part that many of us have been socialized to minimize or ignore.
5. Draw some appreciation to mind — and body. As your hands rest on your belly and heart, cultivate an attitude of appreciation and love. Thank your body for something specific, creating a pattern in your own mind, heart and body that you aren’t separate — that you are one whole, glorious self.
Yoga can be a powerful tool in the journey of body awareness ßà body acceptance ßà body love. Because it is highly adaptable, we can all find a way to practice, regardless of our shape, size or ability.
1. In what way did you practice yoga today? What did the practice give to you? What did you learn?
2. Can you see yoga begin a part of your continued self-acceptance journey? In what ways?
Remember your comment here about your participation in toddy’s challenge gets you an entry in the giveaways!
Anna Guest-Jelley is the founder of Curvy Yoga — a training & inspiration portal for curvy yogis & their teachers. As a writer, teacher & lifelong champion for women’s empowerment & body acceptance, Anna encourages women of every size, age & ability to grab life by the curves. And never let go.