And by “yoga,” I mean life.
I know, because I did it for years in my own yoga practice, without even realizing I was doing it. Then I realized I was doing it and I still did it for years, but less and less so over time.
I still make this mistake, sometimes: Beating myself up inside.
It can happen in any moment, anywhere, no matter what situation or what stage of life we are in. As well, it can happen on the yoga mat, and often does.
This internal assault can happen in a variety of ways. Maybe it’s through fed thoughts — those thoughts we dwell on and obsess about and overanalyze, as opposed to the natural, inevitable thought flow that is always passing through our consciousness. Maybe it’s through negative self-talk (“I can’t believe how much I suck“) or destructive behaviors, attitudes and addictions.
About ten years ago, I was at the peak of my physical prowess. Twenty four years old, a bendy, budding Buddhist living the dream in California, eating a raw vegan diet and really falling in love for the first time. A few years later, having gained about 20 pounds, mainly around my midsection, I was no longer able to go as deeply into forward bending and twisting yoga poses.
As I deepened my mindfulness and meditation practices and became more aware of my running inner dialogue, it dawned on me that I was beating myself up in my yoga practice. Sometimes the voice was loud and shrill, other times nothing more than a subtle but condemning whisper, but it was almost always there. I hated my stomach. I hated my body. I hated my lack of discipline which led to the weight gain. I despised my flabbiness and resented it.
Gradually, though, that hatred and resentment softened. I learned to watch the thoughts and self-talk about my body, my fatness, my weaknesses. I learned to notice them without getting all wrapped up and perpetuating thinking about them more.
Eventually, I accepted my body. To accept one’s body sounds like common sense but for many of us (Americans, women, people, almost everyone?) negative self-image is so pervasive in our psyches that we are unaware of it.
I recently read Cyndi Lee’s memoir, May I Be Happy. Cyndi Lee is a well-known NYC (and international) yoga teacher whose studio/brand/style is OM Yoga. She’s Buddhist. I’ve been to her Manhattan studio but have never taken her class. I took a workshop from her husband, Buddhist/musician David Nichtern, in 2004 in SF. He taught us the beloved metta meditation technique.
I could barely get through the first half of the book. It had more to do with body image (namely Cyndi’s extremely negative self-image of her own fit, healthy body) than with yoga or Buddhist practice.
But, the latter half made up for the whiny and self-absorbed tone in the first part. Transformation happens. The most important takeaway from the book—and this article—is this:
There is nothing wrong with you.
Take that, go forth, and practice yoga and live life.