• Susan Parsley

Being Positive in a Bigger Body, Say What?

By Robin Slick, RYT-500 Hour Yoga Teacher

It’s your state of mind, right? It’s what you tell your self that matters, right? It’s what Dr. Phil calls your “internal tape” that runs over and over again in your head. All this chatter within ourselves is supposed to be what drives us to behave in certain ways, to make the choices that we do.

So it seems logical that positive thoughts lead to positive choices. This I do believe is true. It’s simple then, think great things about yourself and poof, you will have a positive self-image in a bigger body and all your troubles will disappear. Well if it’s so easy and simple, why do so many people struggle with their self-image, especially when it comes to their weight?

Here’s my take on it. We must first explore how we can form positive thoughts to tell ourselves? Most of us get “external” cues as to how we are doing in life from our family, friends and the larger community. If we find ourselves surrounded by negative feedback, it seems plausible that this may influence how we perceive ourselves. As a society we look to others to validate our self worth in many areas of our lives. Hey, anyone heard of the “American Dream?” Married, house with a picketed white fence, car, two kids and a dog? So if we have all of that, we crushed it, right? But if not, do we feel we have failed and then think less of ourselves?

So when it comes to issues concerning weight and our bodies, what does success look like? How do we determine if we have achieved or failed? Success for most of us means achieving the “ideal body.” Look around at our “external” cues: models, actors, basically anyone in the public eye, where 99% of the people we “look up to” come close to that ideal image (possibly with some help -photo shop maybe, but that’s another discussion entirely). The mere concept of an “ideal body” speaks volumes as to what we perceive our size should be, based on these role models.

How many overweight fitness and yoga instructors have you seen in a magazine or teaching classes? Not many. Lets be real, even if bigger body wellness public figures were more visible, how many of us would look to these people for advice on achieving a positive self-image? It is counter intuitive to what we see, read and hear that a bigger body person can be positive, happy and secure with themselves, and by extension, can be able to contribute positively to conversations and experiences involving self care, fitness, emotional good health, and transformation.

People of “average” weight frown (could use harsher language here) upon those of us who are overweight. People pass judgment on how you look within seconds, and this I can speak to with first hand experience. Throughout my 51 years on planet Earth, I have been up and down in weight too many times to count. And I mean 50-80 pounds at a time, not 10-20. There is no doubt that at a lower weight I am treated very differently than when I am heavier, by family, friends, strangers, and also by the way I treat myself. I admit that my internal dialogue is different when I am at different weights.

I have struggled in the past to be positive when I have been larger than “average.” I have let the “body shaming” from others and from myself affect what I tell myself, making it hard at times to love myself, and in turn to make healthy and positive choices for myself.

Wanting to feel and look better, to be more positive, I began exploring this “average” weight thing. Let me tell you, if you didn’t already know, the average size woman in this country is 5 foot 4 inches and a size 14. Maybe you feel a bit better knowing this, you can now tell yourself nicer things. “Maybe my weight isn’t really that bad in relation to the real ‘average.’” So will this lead to better choices about taking good care of yourself, do you feel more worthy by comparison? Maybe.

May I suggest something else, a vastly different way to see yourself, rather than through outward comparisons. What I offer is based on my own experiences as a yoga student and teacher. Over the past three decades, I have gone back and forth with wanting and not wanting to practice yoga. For many years, I could not accept that my yoga practice was an option to me when I was at my higher weights. My goal in yoga was ALWAYS to look like everyone else. I didn’t want to feel embarrassed by my size compared to everyone else. My internal dialogue said that I had to get into shape first and then I could practice yoga so that I would look good in my poses. I literally would not practice if I were not a certain weight.

Well after 500 hours of yoga teacher training at Kripalu and being a teacher for five years, I discovered that my yoga mat IS the place where I find a positive attitude about myself. OMG, what a new revelation to me! The total opposite of everything I had ever believed about myself.

When I get on my mat these days, whether alone or in a group, I begin with loving words of gratitude, kindness and compassion to myself for simply being able to take the time for me in this way. I then take a moment to notice and to honor how my body feels (tired, excited, stiff, flexible, whatever). I close my eyes to go “inward” to connect with all of me. Using certain breathing techniques helps to facilitate this inward experience. Anything else I practice that day is all gravy, and this includes any poses that I may or may not chose to do for a variety of reasons.

When I am leading a yoga class, no matter the population of students before me, I encourage everyone to not only be safe in their choices of movement, because all physical activity can cause injury if not mindfully done, but I also create a space where my students can practice connecting to themselves. I explain to my students that the goal of yoga is not how you look in a yoga pose, but rather, the pose can be the vehicle that helps you to practice connecting to your whole self.

Taking the time to explore what is real and true in any particular moment is the biggest gift you can give yourself. If transformational change is what your looking for, here is a good starting point.

I do not come to yoga to judge anymore. I come to accept and to meet myself where I am with affection and admiration. What is really great about this way of experiencing my practice is that each time it changes and it is never boring – just like me! Always a different version of myself shows up and that’s how I have learned to become “flexible,” honoring the love that I have for myself, the kind words I speak to myself and the kind choices I make for myself. This is how I am positive in my bigger body.

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