Body image and yoga

As it may be noted from my post about my bottom I do have some “issues” when it comes to body image and yoga. I don’t tend to want to blog about body issues because in terms of BIG ISSUES in my life it rates pretty low.

Now I have never had an eating disorder, of any kind. I am not overweight (my BMI is about 24) and I am not particularly large. When I am with my family and friends it is accepted that I am the “thin, healthy one who does lots of exercise”.

But in my yoga class I have labelled myself “the fat one who can do backbends”.

I am not joking! In my yoga class I am huge! There’s full length mirrors down one end of the studio and once I’d got over the fact that I could watch myself doing yoga and my asanas looked pretty damn good, if I do say so myself… I thought “I am the fattest person in the room, I have the biggest legs and ass in this room”. How skewed is this?

This is not helped by the pronouncements of people, women who are 40-odd who can fit into 10 year old’s shorts, that their bums are “too heavy” to lift into purvottanasana. As I can easily lift into this pose I know the problem is not that their bums are “too heavy”, it’s that they are too weak! How do you think it feels for me, who has already assessed the bodies of everyone in the room and realised I am the biggest yet again, to hear thin people proclaim that they are fat?

I had a terrible realisation that if I hadn’t done all that home practice when I started, I would not have got very far in these classes. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to be in a room with all those thin women and do yoga. I only have the confidence now because I know that everyone can do yoga, because I spent a couple of years on my own learning as much as I could. If those classes had been my only experience, I wouldn’t have got past the first one.

The strange thing is also realising that a lot of these women who come to yoga do it because it’s right for their “type”. I don’t think that a lot of them struggled with the stiffness that I had when I started yoga, for example. Also society would have us believe that the women with the thinner legs have “earned” their thinness, through hard work. But those of us who know better realise that those women would have been that size anyway! I would probably be this size if I didn’t do any exercise at all. So where does that leave us?

My teacher said that I would be good at teaching beginners. I think she said this because I am quite a gentle, sensitive person but part of me thinks that the way my body looks would be an advantage too. I don’t look like no yoga superstar, I look like a regular, non-threatening person. I would not intimidate anyone with my rock hard body! I comfort myself by hoping that in my classes in the future no one will be excluded, or think they have the “wrong body” for yoga. There will be no fat talk tolerated in my classes!


Bottom heavy inversions

A while ago I wrote a post called “Is my Bum too big to do yoga?” and I remember it got more reads than my other posts at the time. I think this issue is of perennial interest to people doing yoga… or should I say women doing yoga?… or just women fullstop??

I have been practicing yoga for 4 and a half years now. For the first 2 and a half I was too scared to do any inversions save shoulderstand, because that was the only inversion done in the class I went to at the time. This changed when I started to go to a new *dynamic* studio where everyone handstands everywhere all the time. You can’t move for legs flying everywhere! On my very first class I was treated to the spectacle of a yogini warming up with pincha mayurasana. I say warming up but maybe she was just showing off. Anyway.

I have always struggled with handstand and headstand (“pincha” is off the cards for a long time I think, stiff shoulders) It took many many months to be able to even think about how it may be possible to even attempt to try to get into a headstand. Turns out I had stiff shoulders. A year later I still have to hang out in my shoulder openers to get into a headstand and I’m building up slowly, not straightening my legs until I can hold my knees into my chest for a good while. I practice several times a week doing this and my whole practice has to revolve around readying my body for headstand on these days. I cannot just *pop* into it in a class, and at the end of the Primary Series my shoulders are so stiff from all the chaturangas that it is a laughable concept.

The thing is, I’m fairly sure that it’s not such a difficult thing for other people. I am told that it’s about core strength… but I’m fairly sure I’m stronger in my core than other people who can just magic up effortlessly into the pose… or maybe it’s about fear… but I’m scared at home and I still do it. It seems to take a lot more effort for me to lift into headstands and I think I can begin to understand why…

It’s my bum!

Or more specifically, my whole lower body. I am short: 5 foot 3, and about 5 feet of that is leg. I exaggerate but my proportions are a bit out of whack. I have very long, very substantial legs. I have wide hips, big thighs and… how do I say this politely… an ample bottom. To balance in inversions one must get ones’ shoulders over ones’ pelvis… but the pelvis is a big structure so this takes some effort. Surely it doesn’t take much of a leap to think that maybe it takes more of an effort for me? My upper body is tiny, my lower body is big… my body doesn’t like being that way up. Also any supine abdominal exercises involving leg lowers or the like have always been very very difficult for me. This also makes sense.

I can work with this, and I already am. I think that far from being discouraged at this realisation I feel reassured that I’m doing the right thing in building up my abdominal strength and not rushing into straightening my legs in headstand yet. I’ve started practicing half handstands at the wall but I have accepted that I may never be able to handstand the way the former gymnasts do in my class.

On the plus side right way up balances are substantially easier for me, judging by the amount of wobbling I see in classes. I have a big ballast you see.

Is my Bum too Big to do yoga?

I discovered this week that I’m still not committed enough to this blog to do it when I’ve been busy. My weeks holiday is now over and it’s back to it. Got to be patient with these changes of habit and new responsibilities.

Recently I’ve been worrying about my body and my weight. I mentioned before that I had a blood test to find out if I have an underactive thyroid. The reason for this is since May last year I have gained a pound every month without eating any more than I did before. It started with a strange bloating, digestive type issue but that’s receded now but I’m still left with the creeping weight gain and I’m already over a stone heavier than I was when it started.

Strangely enough I have never really had any eating/weight issues before. I was a healthy child and wasn’t ever considered ‘overweight’. In my teens when other girls were worrying about how their bodies looked I was happy in mine because it was mine. I wasn’t completely comfortable with the way I looked but it was good enough. This wasn’t entirely commendable because I was plagued by terrible digestive problems, I had no idea what healthy food was like and I was pretty unfit. As a result of this blissful ignorance my weight crept up unnoticed until at the age of 21 (if you regard the BMI) my BMI was 29.

Around the same time I was becoming increasingly depressed and incredibly guilty and aware of my impact on the world. I vowed to lesson my impact and the first thing to go was any food that I did not gain any pleasure or nutrition from. Then I decreased my consumption of meat and replaced it with vegetables. Then I discovered whole grains.

After 9 months I had lost 2 and a half stone and for the first time in my adult life was a medically acceptable weight for my height. And it felt good to be approved of. I started doing yoga, running, wearing sleeveless tops and buying narrow jeans. I thought many things during this time. Weight loss is easy! Weight maintenance is easy! Exercising is fun! Yoga is fantastic! Over the next 2 years I tried to get used to my new body, other people’s perceptions of me whilst trying to keep that little voice out which said “If you were a bit thinner you’d be a bit happier…”

I was getting there too, I was almost used to my ‘new’ body when this whole weight gain thing started. Now I don’t know what to think. All of the weight is concentrated on my legs and my bum and I can’t help but look at other people in my yoga class and wonder if they’re looking at my humungous thighs. Am I too fat to do yoga? People who do yoga usually have thin legs, is it not acceptable to have big legs? All the while I know this is ridiculous because the extra fat I hasn’t actually stopped me doing anything… yet. That’s the thing… the yet. I don’t know when this weight gain will stop and I feel like my body is on loan. I can’t get too attached to it because who knows how it will have changed 6 months down the line. Will I still be able to run? To do bakasana? Will I be able to learn how to do headstand?

I go to the doctors on Friday, in the meantime I will practice metta on my poor, fatty bummed self.