Body Image and Yoga: My Story


As a child, I had no issues regarding my body. I loved running around barefoot, catching bugs, and playing outside until the streetlights came on.

My best friend,a boy who lived on my street, never made me feel like I was different from him. We were just kids who loved playtime! Sure, I loved Barbies and playing dress-up, but I also loved playing Manhunt and Cops and Robbers.

Of Puberty and Fitting In

In Grade Four, I got my first period and my chest started developing, bringing on a whole new, unsettling world. I no longer fit in as “one of the boys.” My girlfriends weren’t yet experiencing these things, so I was treated differently by them, too.

I barely understood what these changes meant for my body, despite my mother’s gentle and loving approach to the subject. I couldn’t comprehend why I didn’t fit in anymore, but I did the best I could to adjust.

Junior High felt more like a run of Degrassi than the carefree world I once knew. I was now liking boys and trying hard to be with the “in” crowd. I had many great friends, but I never felt like I fit in with them.

My body started changing even more. I became fuller and softer: the kinda chubby, not so pretty friend. I liked boys, but they didn’t like me back, the reason always relating to my looks and/or size. Whenever my friends would try on each other’s clothes, all I felt was dread…None of their clothes would fit me.

Being Called Fat

In high school, I learned to just live with my body, never really looking at it in the mirror and masking my face with makeup. Though I considered myself chubby, I never thought myself Fat.

Eventually, however, I got used to being called Fat: by strangers in hallways, boys, and the “mean girls.” To numb the pain, I turned to food and partying with my friends. This continued as a steady roller coaster throughout my young adult life.

It was by the age of 22, at 252 lbs. that I first noticed by body in years. It was a picture of me, and I could not believe the person I was looking at. I realized that, despite being in a loving relationship and having a wonderful family, I was unhappy. I craved change.

Finding Yoga

Going after the change I was seeking, I lost 130 lbs. in a little over a year. But what I didn’t know then was that that was only the beginning. I’ve seen yogis in magazines donning toned arms and a svelte body. I wanted that for myself, too, so I decided to take a yoga class at my gym.

After that first class, I was tired, sore, and absolutely astounded. All throughout, I felt like I was at war with myself. Despite being 130 lbs. lighter, my body didn’t move the way I wanted it to.

Wasn't yoga just stretching? Despite being able to bench weights and squat 200 lbs., I could barely execute a Chaturanga. In Pigeon Pose, I felt like I was going to cry, not from my hips being so tight, but from a flood of emotions bubbling to the surface: anger, anxiety, and frustration.

Yoga was unlocking a door that I never realized I had, teaching me to tune in to my body. I went to that yoga class a second time, hesitant and nervous, and left happy and reenergized. So I went back again. And again. And again.

I developed strength and flexibility with each class, and started steadily practicing at home every morning, sometimes for five minutes, other times over 60 minutes. I was not only growing physically into the practice, but mentally as well.

Breaking Through

One day, during Warrior II, a posture that was once very challenging for me, I noticed that instead of my usual struggling, I was experiencing steadiness and ease. Feeling powerful and comfortable, my breath eased any tension, and I didn’t have that chatter inside my head.

It was just me, my mat, and my breath—a genuine ‘aha moment.’

Observing my body and mind through yoga has been life-changing. Yoga taught me to step aside and listen to what my body needs. It taught me to love my body, to not judge or be negative toward myself, something I was doing for far too long.

I am a seedling and yoga my watering can. That may sound cheesy or hippy-dippy, but it’s true. Yoga gave me what I needed to help me grow. It didn’t do it for me, but it gave me the map to lead myself through my own journey.

Finding Love

I never realized how tainted my view of my own body was before I found yoga. I now have the ability to “check in” and see what I truly need to feel good. I now love my body for everything it can do, rather than for how it looks.

Looking in the mirror, I no longer fret over the loose skin on my stomach from the previous version of myself. That life is behind me, and that small area is a loving reminder of how far I’ve come. I admire my legs that hold me up in Ardha Chandrasana, my core that keeps me balanced and strong.

I have a beating heart and lungs that breathe life into me every second of every day. I am alive.

My once toxic, barely existent relationship with my body is now a growing love story. Sure, there are peaks and valleys, but what love doesn’t have its ups and downs? Yoga, the practice I once thought was just moving around on a mat, has now transformed my life.

I don’t pine to look like cover models on yoga magazines anymore. I practice yoga on and off the mat to be the very best version of myself: a daily practice of love and compassion.

 

Cathy Benjamin by Cathy Benjamin – Cathy is a soon to be YTT graduate, a lover of animals, a green tea-drinking bookworm, an auntie, a Canadian, a music lover, a singer (only in the shower), a board game player, and a movie connoisseur. Connect with Cathy on Twitter and follow her on Instagram.

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