By: Matthew Donovan
“Do you wrestle, like I do, to find balance between self acceptance and striving to be a better person?” My friend, David Crenshaw
As I have grown up, my weight has always been an issue, but not as much for me as it has been to everyone else. I am skinny. Some people think I am too skinny. To this day people will joke about how surprised they are by how much I eat or will ask why I’m not eating more. When I wrestled in high school my weight was something I was always supposed to keep track of, but I never really cared.
When I first switched to a whole food plant based diet people responded to my weight by saying I wasn’t getting enough nutrition because I wasn’t eating meat. Last year I dated someone who ended up confronting me because she thought I was either anorexic or bulimic. I was incredibly confused and alienated. I’ve learned from all these years of being in my body that people can put a lot pressure on you to look a certain way. I know others may have had an even harder time than I did growing up in a body that didn’t meet societal expectations.
I began addressing my body weight when I went to my Ayurvedic doctor. Ayurveda is the Ancient Indian holistic and spiritual medical system. My doctor told me I had a vata imbalance. Vata is one of the three body types in Ayurveda. A Vata’s physical appearance is usually bony, skinny, and non-muscular. This certainly was me. The doctor told me I would benefit from a consistent exercise and meditation routine, and an increase in certain foods as well as fat and protein in my diet. She also prescribed the restorative herb Ashwagandha to help build up my muscle mass.
THE YOGIC JOURNEY INTO BODY ACCEPTANCE
As a yogi, I have never focused on becoming stronger, rather I sought more peace and self-awareness (including body awareness). Because of my eight years of yoga practice, I have learned to be less self-conscious about my body. I have slowly became stronger. Recently I shared a picture of myself at the beach in a bathing suit and was told by friends how surprised they were by how much muscle I had. Yoga’s benefits are vast. Many of us know yoga builds our body’s awareness and strength as we focus on how each pose makes each part of the body feel. The yoga benefits such as body awareness, destressing, and self-awareness increase body acceptance.
LOVING YOUR BODY
Once we are able to create a strong relationship with our body and it is no longer alien, we can start to love it. According this University of Michigan study, yoga improves body image and reduces eating disorders through relieving stress. We should be focusing on things that make us feel better about our bodies instead of things such as diets, which reinforce our empty body image.
Another study from an eating disorder academic journal, shows women who practice yoga for psycho-spiritual benefits were more likely to have overcome an eating disorder, and to had a dedicated yoga practice. But everyone who practiced yoga had increased body awareness, intuitive eating and overall body satisfaction, which they attributed to their regular yoga practice. One of the findings of the study surprised me, showing a direct correlation between body acceptance, a regular yoga practice, and eating disorder recovery:
“Written responses revealed that while 74% of women in this sample reported some degree of body image or weight related issue at some point in their lives, 75% reported increased body acceptance or appreciation after having developed a postural yoga practice.”
It makes me happy when other people show me how much they love themselves. I told someone this week how it made me glow when they told me, “everything about me is cute.” It seems more common to feel happy when we are loved by someone else, but I find it equally beautiful to see a signs of self-love or self-care. One of my favorite examples this week comes from Anna Guest-Jelley, founder Curvy Yoga and the slide show of Curvy Girls Who Nailed Yoga Poses. Can we give more love to everyone who is on this challenging path of striving to be a better person and gain acceptance?
Many students who come to my yoga class comment on how they feel in a supportive and accepting environment. Here is a list of common characteristics I see in people who love themselves, no matter what their size:
- Focus on eating well and being active instead of losing weight
- Know there is no such thing as a perfect yoga pose, they buy clothing they are comfortable in
- Enjoy learning and see feedback as a way of improving themselves
- Use positive self-talk
- Don’t prescribe to magazines and ideals promoting beauty as one size
- Practice in a supportive body-affirming community
- Affirm themselves (you are beautiful)
- Don’t have to look in the mirror all the time, and quit stepping on the scale
This article was originally published for the online educational resource The Healist. This was written by Main Street Yoga instructor Matthew Donovan, who teaches Wednesday night Candle Light Yin & Restorative Yoga class 7:30-8:45p.
Also Check Out:
Yoga and eating disorders: is there a place for yoga in the prevention and treatment of eating disorders and disordered eating behaviours?Advances in Eating Disorders: Theory, Research and Practice Volume 2, Issue 2, 2014