Yoga and the Art of Befriending Your Body: It’s an Inside Job

By: 
Kate Heffernan

“An authentic yoga practice is anything that nourishes an individual so that they can truly befriend themselves.”  ~ Donna Farhi

Making friends with our body is not easy. Most of us quietly worry about our body, its size, the size you wish it was, and think about all the things we should be doing to make our body be the way we feel it should be. 

It’s true for many women. It's certainly true for me. Yes, my yoga practice nourishes me. It makes me feel whole and full but I am afraid to admit that I am still not quite there on befriending my body. 

So, real-talk time: As a yoga teacher, I tend to be pretty tight-lipped about my private life. This blog has been mostly focused on asana, technique, and philosophy. But lately, I’ve been doing a lot of self-inquiry, and as I am always on a quest to be more fully me in my teaching, I think it might be time to open up a bit and allow for some public vulnerability. 

I don’t want to fight with myself anymore. I don’t want to shame my body anymore. Ever since I hit puberty, I have spent so much time and energy quietly worrying about my body, its size, the size I wish it was, and the things I should be doing to make my body be the way I want it to be. All the while I claim to be “body positive.”

I don’t talk about getting a “bikini body” in my yoga classes. I cheer on friends and strangers alike who are outwardly accepting of their bodies, even enjoying their bodies just as they are. I like their photos, share their articles and say to myself, “How wonderful! That’s so awesome for them!” I have had many a conversation with students who come to me with their own hang-ups about their physical bodies, and with compassion, I explain that it’s not about the shape or size of the body but what it is capable of, what makes you feel alive and full and happy that matters. 

I was a fraud. I was talking the talk, but not walking the walk. I was faking it ’til I made it. While I believed all of these things, I only believed in all of these things for other people. I could never be happy with the way I look until my waist got down to a certain number or my weight dropped back to my lowest adult weight. (I only got there twice, once after my first major breakup and I couldn’t eat without crying, and the second time, when I was going to the gym five days a week and on a very restrictive diet.) I had been asking others to befriend their bodies when I had not done so myself. 

Although I am not overweight or unhealthy, I told myself that I don’t belong because I don’t into fit the stereotypical “yoga teacher” mold, I convinced myself that if only I were smaller I’d have more students come to my classes, that it was normal to skip meals and weigh myself every day and to punish myself by starving or running on the elliptical if the numbers on the scale didn’t adjust to my liking. In public, I had been teaching my students about self-acceptance, self-care, and self-love, while internally, I had been waging a long-term war. 

A common theme in my teaching comes from the Bhagavad Gita: “You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions.” I often paraphrase this idea in my teaching and ask my students to be interested in the actions behind the pose they are doing rather than seduced by the outer shape of the pose. Now, I am trying to take a page out of my own book and am asking myself: Can I be more interested in actions of my body, what makes it feel good, how it wants to move, what food fuels it in a pleasing and effective way? 

I know this is just one step on my road toward less disordered thinking toward my body. I am an imperfect human, after all. But just like yoga, it will have to be a practice. So, here’s my pledge to you and more importantly to myself: I am going to practice yoga in the most authentic way I can. I’ll work to be more interested in nourishing and befriending my body just as it is and to be less interested in its outer shape.  

Another valuable read on this topic from writer Kimber Simpkins and YogaUOnline: Yoga and Body Image - How Yoga Can Help You Make Friends with Your Body.

Asana instruction with Kate Heffernan - Join Kate on our YogaUOnline Premium Practice Channel - the practice channel geared to both students and teachers. 

Reprinted with permission from kate-yoga.com

Kate HeffernanKate Heffernan is a Boston-based Vinyasa Flow Yoga Instructor.  As a teacher, Kate is known for her ability to weave together an intelligent and well-crafted sequence that builds on a specific theme.  In her Vinyasa Flow classes, students can expect to find the joy of vigorous movement married to the consciousness of precise instructions focusing on proper alignment.  Kate creates a space for her students to experience their own yoga practice on any given day, whether that practice includes a more vigorous Vinyasa sequence or a cooling Yin and Restorative sequence with an extended Savasana.  Kate is a lead instructor at Down Under Yoga, where she instructs public classes as well as teacher trainings.

Kate was named one of Boston’s Top 20 Yoga Instructors in 2012 by RateYourBurn.com   

 

Suggested Reading:

Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight—and What We Can Do About It