There are a million ways to see your body when you look in the mirror. For me, most of my life, the train of thought has always been how can I lose weight? Being surrounded by a culture of celebrities at size 4 doesn’t help when you’re a size 14. Being single and on the dating circuit can add to the pressures of having the perfect physique.
The journey to loving my body began a few months ago in the most unexpected way. Even more of a surprise was the way in which it deepened my connection to the oneness lying beneath the years of negative thinking.
A few months ago, while on a meditation retreat, I took my first yoga class ever. Two months later, I took my third yoga class while on vacation on a farm in the Berkshires. The yoga class combined meditation with yoga all while in a yurt surrounded by goats, a shimmering lake and the aroma of ubiquitous greenery.
Coming back home into the everyday routine, I decided that I would explore yoga further. One week later, I found a local yoga studio and signed up for a package of 24 classes. Thus, began my love affair with yoga.
After a grand total of six yoga classes, I have learned incredible life lessons about cherishing your body at every stage of its development.
1. Align your life with who you are
Stop with the “shoulds.” I should be a lawyer, doctor or an accountant. I should be the perfect homemaker with a spotless house at all times and well-behaved perfect children. I should have no stretch marks, certainly no love handles. I should have more curves. I should have less curves. I should have calves as thick as an oak tree.
In case you need the reminder, you are a unique soul and personality. For some people, running marathons, spinning classes or the treadmill works. But, for the longest time, while trying to live up to those “shoulds” I kept paying for gym memberships that went unused. I paid hundreds of dollars for kickboxing and never went. I signed up for activities that were a means to an end: the perfect body.
Through yoga, I learned to find activities that speak to the deepest part of who YOU are. While that doesn’t have to be yoga, for me it was the final piece in a jigsaw puzzle. The deep breathing, the poses that open and cajole your body while becoming present both in body and mind, spoke to me.
What speaks to you? Is it the way time flies while you’re on a basketball court? Are you ready to play softball at a moment’s notice? Do you dream of Sundays for your weekly soccer game? Stop living your life as a means to an end and instead live the life that’s meant for you. Listen to your intuition, your calling and you will flourish. You will run toward a healthy body and get up off your couch because you will authentically love the vehicle that suits you best. Rather than, doing what you “should,” you will be who you are.
2. Connecting to your body enables connection to the divine
There is this incredible, intricate, miraculous piece of machinery that God, the universe or whatever words you choose to use gifted to you: your body. While we may have different limitations, nonetheless it’s ours. We may need a wheel chair. We may use crutches. We may be obese. We may have diabetes. We may have a mental illness. Just like our lives and our personalities, we all have limitations to varying degrees.
However, if you can fight to find the activities that allow you to honor whatever stage your body is at then you are connecting to this gift that encapsulates your being. Rather than, comparing yourself to your Facebook friend who just completed a triathlon, yoga teaches you to be with your body in the here and now. Yoga teaches you to release any notions of comparison and follow the rhythm and language spoken by your body.
3. Embrace “I can’t”
When I began yoga, I had no clue what my body was capable of becoming. There’s the flexibility, the mind boggling poses and the sweat. Lots and lots of sweat. I may be a size 14 but when I’m in a yoga studio, I belong there. My body belongs there.
For the first time in my life, I literally want to take on every challenge. One week, I was in the “total beginner” class. The following week, I was in the most challenging and rigorous yoga class that the studio had to offer. The instructor was stern, serious and definitely not there to play games. I was scared.
But, he taught me one of the single most powerful life lessons. While in the midst of an extremely difficult pose, he came over to offer me guidance. As he instructed me how to position my body, I blurted out “I can’t!” He calmly responded, “You’re going to give up that easy? You’re going to let that pinky toe tell you what you can’t do? This applies to what you do outside of here too.”
The lightbulb moment occurred. I finished the pose and completed the class excited to take on the most challenging poses that my body would allow. I knew that I gave that class my all. I turned every “I can’t” into “I’ll sure as heck try. Let’s do this!”
When you hit your head on the pillow at night, it doesn’t matter whether you’re advanced or a beginner, but that you know that you pushed through that day with blood, sweat and tears. You know that you gave it your all. Maybe you failed. Maybe you had successes. Either way, every fiber of your being was all in. You’ve earned your self-respect. Hold your head high. Look every “I can’t” in the eye and blaze right through them.
Similar to other elements of our life, we are called to take it to the optimum level. From creating amazing relationships, giving to our community and cultivating the incredible vessel that is our body. We can grow and reach higher levels than we ever thought possible. Yoga gave birth to my body anew; a body that I now accept with all its limitations. This body allows me to push further than I ever thought I could, express the deepest parts of myself and connect to the oneness within.
Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Alyssa Gross. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Alyssa is a thirsty soul looking to connect to spirituality and community. She invites you to come along. Follow her on Twitter at @AlyssaRGross.