Thursday, November 5, 2015

99 Problems But You Are Not One

You may have problems needing solving or fixing, but you, my friend, do not need someone or something to fix you, change you or make you over.

Because I teach yoga, I see a lot of fitness and diet trends (why would that be? because our society equates yoga with fitness and attractive bodies). I think of yoga as a tool for physical, mental and spiritual health. Fitness is a part of that, no doubt. But fitness is not more important than the mental and spiritual aspects of yoga, AND the physical aspect is not just about fitness. It's about the health of your nervous system, your immune system, your endocrine system, your spine...and so much more, folks.

I respect the work of fitness professionals, traditional and alternative doctors, practitioners of complimentary medicine...there's a long list of people I respect, admire and collaborate with on many levels in my job as a yoga teacher.

However: I want to set myself apart from the people trying to fix you!

I took part in a recent discussion around body image, illness and aging. Along with nine other yoga teachers, I shared how my practice has informed my feelings about my body. We all agreed on one thing: we love ourselves just as we are. One teacher used the metaphor of courtship, engagement and marriage for her relationship with her body. She is in love with her body and she is not an abusive spouse. Another teacher spoke of a colleague who had committed suicide after struggling with body image. She was emaciated and had plastic surgery for breast implants, then a few years later, she killed herself. No one likes to talk about those stories which happen to other people, even when in the midst of our own body image struggles. We need to kill the body image struggles rather than killing ourselves. This needs to be said.

I've been hearing a lot about Cross Fit lately. "Work out so hard that nothing in the office scares you," is one post I have seen, along with mentions of pain and bruises in a positive context of self-improvement. I've also seen a lot of advertisements on social media and television for a diet and exercise program called the 21 Day Fix. I like the program from the sounds of it: portion control and strengthening exercises you can do at home. But the marketing seems centered around concepts like fixing your body so you can look good, and sticking to a diet without "cheating." If you love yourself, why would you cheat on yourself? And why would you think you need fixing? During the holidays the onslaught of diet and fitness advertisements will increase. Halloween was a good one to get people motivated: work off those treats! Have a plan to counteract Thanksgiving dinner! God forbid you enjoy yourself and not have a counterattack in the works!

Why do these advertising tactics succeed? Why do people yo-yo diet? Why do they want to hurt themselves in their workouts? No pain, no gain? What do all of these "health" and "fitness" trends say about the relationship we have with our bodies? Sounds a lot like spousal abuse to me.

We have to get to know our bodies before we can develop lasting love for them. We need to take time to connect: to our breath, our feelings, our energy. A relationship not based on love, trust and respect is doomed to fail.

Practicing yoga is a process of self-inquiry, involving all aspects of the self. The health of the mind and spirit are inextricably linked to the health of the body. All parts of us work together, ideally in harmony. Insult one part of yourself and you insult the whole. Deprive one part of yourself and you deprive the entirety of who you are.

You don't need to be fixed. You need to be loved. You need to be appreciated. You need to be treated well. Solve your problems, remedy your ills, fix your broken parts, but don't ever confuse all of those for who you really are.

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; 
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” -Psalm 139:14

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