April 9, 2010 ( Categories Philosophy | Tags: body image, ego, self-conscious, Yoga )
Practising yoga is a wonderful way to feel at home in and at peace with your body. There is little room to worry about how your butt looks when you’re trying to balance with one foot outstretched in mid-air and the other tenuously grounded into the earth! For women in particular, who tend to be harder on themselves in the body image department, yoga can be a portal into self-confidence and renewed appreciation for the strength and resilience of the body you have in this moment, leading to acceptance and a feeling of inner peace.
This morning I enjoyed a wonderful class with Michelle at Essence of Living, after a few weeks of higher than usual stress levels and a lot of busyness. We all have ups and downs in life and the last month and a half have been particularly intense for me. As a result my health had taken a back seat leaving me feeling notably “blah” until recently!
Sankalpa – a powerful intention
It was such a great feeling to be a student again, and I give huge thanks to the beautiful Michelle for sharing her gift of yoga with the students in this morning’s class. As I feel the balance scales of my life returning to an equilibrium point (and having patiently watched my savings re-build after a tangible financial landslide following 7 months of travelling!) I have made a sankalpa to concentrate more on my personal practice by attending other teachers’ classes, in addition to my current teaching and home practice. It’s so nice to be able to afford to attend amazing teachers’ classes again! I know this sankalpa will help me to be a better yoga teacher and more loving, receptive and compassionate human being.
In the Siddha Yoga tradition, sankalpa means intention in the sense of a prayer or resolution formed for the attainment of a spiritual purpose that is for the benefit of all.
Insecurity and the ego
Getting back to this morning’s class, I noticed there were times when I was wary of my body in space, and I wondered about others’ perceptions of my body. It was the booming sound of self-consciousness and insecurity knocking at the door. Yes, even yoga teachers have their moments in a yoga class! With interest I listened closely and heard some negative thoughts try to make themselves heard. “You’re not as balanced as you used to be in this pose,” one voice said. “Your belly rolls are showing!” another revealed, “you should stop eating so much dark chocolate at night!”
These voices can come to the surface of our consciousness at any given time, but I feel it’s important to recognise them for what they really are. The voices are not who you are, and they do not come from your true being. They come from the ego, a life-time accumulation of thought forms that exists to prevent us from stepping outside our comfort zones, and stops us from keeping our minds and hearts open. It does this as a self-preservation mechanism but in doing so, the ego is one of the most damaging human traits and serves only to keep us from reaching our full potential as vibrantly alive human beings, free of fear, which is the opposite to love.
The ego needs negativity to survive. It feeds off self-doubt and can easily take control of us if we lose moment-to-moment presence. This is when we mistake the ego for who we really are. Those things we like and dislike, the people we do or don’t like, our opinions, judgements and how we see ourselves ranked and placed in society become who we think we are.
Love that thing you love, and ignore the nasty voices
When you are in the midst of something joyful that you truly love, there tends to be an absence of ego and of restrictive, repetitive thought patterns. We all know the activities that make us happy. Enjoyed often enough, we can improve our overall mental and emotional wellbeing. Any sign of improving one’s mental state (e.g. feeling good in a yoga class, uninhibited dancing, making love to someone you care for deeply, having fun when you’re supposed to be “doing something else”) can be a trigger to let some of those inner voices loose, leading to guilt, anxiety and self-deprecation, a feeling of “I’m not good enough.”
If these voices are given free range for long enough, our emotional, mental and physical integrity can be eroded leaving us a shell of a person instead of a being bursting with life force energy and full of emotional staying power.
Negative body image and how yoga can help
The power of yoga is such that despite these voices, my body was in the process of being cleansed and rejuvenated… the voices picked a bad time to make themselves heard! “Hey! I’m in Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow), who cares about belly rolls!” something deep inside me responded. That was a pleasant surprise and very re-affirming. It’s hard not to appreciate and love your body when you’re in the middle of a powerful asana, experiencing presence and the joy of movement and breath.
Negative thoughts can either shatter your self-confidence and inner strength, or serve as a reminder to keep it real and forget about pre-conceived notions of how you should look, regardless of where you are or what you’re doing. Yoga is an easily accessible way to reveal these voices for what they really are, and it gives us the tools to conquer them rather than succumb.
So next time you’re feeling a little body conscious and those voices are becoming loud and obnoxious, come into a few yoga poses and feel the power of your muscles working to stretch your limbs and imagination; feel the simple pleasure of breathing deeply as you flow through a beautiful vinyasa; appreciate the sensation of sweat dripping down your back as you come into a challenging balance or pump out one more upward dog just when you think your arms are about to give up. And see if you don’t love (or at least appreciate) your body for its grace and strength, for how it serves you every second.