Saturday, February 21, 2015

(Wo)Man in the Mirror: On Self-Esteem and Positive Change

One of the hardest things to do when you grow up hating your body is to learn to look at it without cringing, crying, thinking horrible things about yourself, or just turning away in shame.

Today, for the first time in my life of 45 years, I let myself take a long – and for once – loving look at myself in the mirror during a yoga class. I almost couldn't help it, ending up on the front row in a classroom with a mirrored wall.

When we began the class, doing pranayama, or yogic breathing exercises, I caught a few glimpses of myself and my first thought was "Oh my goodness! Am I really that big? Are my shoulders that broad? My boobs that large? My thighs that thick? Really? I want to die."

But then, I told myself that a yoga class was the worst place to indulge in such negative thinking. If you can't let go of stinkin' thinkin' in a yoga class, where can you free yourself from such useless ideas?

So, as we began moving through our flow I started using the mirror to correct my alignment and form and I realized that maybe I was wrong. I mean, yes, I am bigger than the ideal I hold in my head. But suddenly, I realized the girl, the woman, I was looking at wasn't fat. She wasn't grotesque or someone I needed to shield my eyes from. She was actually kind of beautiful, kind of strong looking. As I moved into cobra, I noticed the strong and defined muscles in her shoulders and the smooth tanned skin.

Moving into pigeon pose, I was aware of how seamlessly I transitioned from downward dog with an extended leg right into pigeon, my favorite pose. I love the way it stretches and opens my hips. Then, the teacher said we could do pigeon with arms extended overhead if we felt strong enough. Asking if I'm strong enough to do something is a challenge I can never resist. I don't know why, but when I hear that phrase I am compelled to try. I often fail, but so what? So, sitting in pigeon I straightened my spine and slowly and carefully raised both arms over my head and balanced myself. I looked straight in the mirror and smiled. I was doing it! And it was easy! Well, sort of. It wasn't easy, but it felt amazing. And I looked strong as fuck doing it and I was also the first one in class to try it! Yay me! And yay for the other women who tried it when we switched to the other leg.

In another pose, balanced on one knee and one hand with the opposite leg and arm extended, I did catch sight of my abdomen curving underneath me and for a split second my heart sank and I felt myself falling into the rabbit hole of despair and self-hatred. Suddenly, though, there was another voice calling to me to pull me up and out of that hole. She said, look how strong you are, look at that balance! And look, when you contract your muscles like you're supposed to that belly vanishes. And it's way smaller than it was a few weeks ago.

This inner dialogue continued off and on throughout the class. While I know the goal with yoga is to push the thoughts away completely, I simply tried to replace bad thoughts with good ones, a feat for me. At one point, toward the end of our vinyasa flow, standing in mountain pose with arms reaching up toward Heaven – embracing the Universe as our teacher called it – I looked at that woman in the mirror and in that moment I felt strong and beautiful and confident, perfectly imperfect with strong legs to carry me, a heart strong enough to keep on loving, a mind capable of change, and arms ready to take in and love all the world including myself.

It's a journey. I didn't get here overnight or without working to become the woman I want to be. I work out 3-5 times a week, eat healthy, and try to surround myself with positive influences. More importantly on this journey to self-esteem, I stopped comparing myself to others and I've stopped listening when others want to compare me or put me down.

And you should to... Are you trying to learn to love yourself? Then remember this: tune out the negative voices, whether they're your own, your partner's, your mean sister, your mom or your dad, or the queen bee who thinks her shit smells like rose petals. Every time one of those negative voices tries to get inside your head, just take your thoughts somewhere else. Find one positive thought or idea to hold onto. Look in the mirror and find one thing you love about yourself. Your friendly smile. Your gorgeous grey eyes (or brown or blue, you get the idea). Your shiny hair. Your strong arms. Your fast legs. And every day, look yourself in the eye and remind yourself that you are awesome and lovely and perfect in all your imperfections right now. If you want to change, that's great and I will cheer you on and support you in your efforts. Just be sure you're doing it for you and not those ugly voices.

Now...go love yourself. Do great things for yourself and others. Be mighty. Be you!


Erican said...

Amen, sistah! I'm proud of you. And you ARE beautiful-- in every way. And, yes, perfectly imperfect. Amen.

Dawn said...

Thank you! Glad you stopped by!