My journey began with being drawn to yoga to counteract the responsibilities of being a carer for a mentally ill single parent from a young age – which at times extremely challenging but yoga has been my remedy for helping to rebuild my life.
Whilst yoga did wonders for my strength and physical body, it soon became a powerfully transformative tool for my mental wellbeing and still is to this day…. However from years of practising and now teaching I have seen that there can be a resistance to trying yoga due to ideas relating to body image.
Today it’s easy to think that only slim flexible people are the only people in a yoga room with the rise of the ’social media image of a yogi’ which sadly I think has lead this misbelief.
I feel that it’s so important to open this conversation between yoga and body image as there are many misconceptions about being a yogi needing to be ‘young’, ‘thin framed’, ‘flexible’ and ‘female’. These are just some of the words is have come across. It sparks the thought – Why do we believe we need to conform to something we see in media and why on earth do we believe that is the truth?
In reality, all you need is a body. Social media has a big part to play in society now thinking and believing that we need to be gymnasts to practice yoga, although there is nothing more beautiful than seeing a room of people, not dolls, not robots, but HUMANS in an array of SHAPES, SIZES, GENDERS and RACES that move and breathe uniquely. So much time is focused outward and not enough on the inner self, which is really the goal of yoga – union with ourselves.
Comparison definitely is the thief of joy, especially in the yoga studio. It should be an internal practice and a way to reconnect to our inner selves over a show of flexibility. A safe space to reflect on our habits and internal chatter, which often the incessant chatter is extremely critical. Mine is especially bad sometimes and its taken time and patience that I am now able to regularly check in, stopping the critic in its tracks and practice being kinder to myself.
As a teacher I try my best to assist healing during students time on their mat as everyone is fighting battles we may know nothing about. I believe it’s important to emphasise that shapes and aesthetics are less important in yoga, but how we feel is fundamental for wellbeing and cultivating a sense of deeper connection so we can heal in which ever way we need, whether its physical or emotional.
When we focus on how our bodies are feeling, and how strong we are no matter how challenged we feel, there is only room for gratitude. Appreciating that my body has worked so hard to move me in all kinds of directions and shapes is one the most empowering feelings I’ve ever known.
I am guilty like most, of having an internal critic. The voice that compares and talks to us all day long. However the key is to observe, notice it and challenge yourself to shift the perspective. Try a different narrative, a more positive, compassionate and patient narrative. Gratitude for simply breathing is always a good place to start. I’m so much more present and happy when I focus on how my body feels during a practice over what it looks like and I urge all of us to do the same when we can.
For me, 3 fundamental practices that have helped me move into this space of gratitude and self worth are:
Filling Up Your Own Cup
Filling up your own cup is vital to be able to help others fill theirs – Rest, recharge, take time for yourself. Make a commitment to be kind to yourself. Having a creative outlet has been really helpful, for me having a background in art means I enjoy making things and drawing but for you this could be anything! Spend time outside, pick up an old hobby, try something new even the simplest act of making yourself a nourish meal can do wonders for you soul.
Stillness gives clarity – Meditate!
Be still and breathe. It sounds like this huge thing but just taking a few deep breaths (or sighs) or a few minutes out of your day to breath mindfully can clear you mind of worries and incessant thoughts and positively impact your day – the more I do it, the better my day becomes. Even the simple practice of breathing mindfully rewires the brain. Yoga doesn’t have to be this big event. Your yoga / meditation could just be 1 minute of breathing fully and examining your internal critic. Try replacing the criticism with a positive affirmation and repeat as often as you need. Sometimes my yoga is just having a cup of tea and reading a great book and that’s it.
Last but most importantly – Love yourself
Love yourself enough to say no to things and people that don’t serve you. Challenging but necessary. It could include doing poses that don’t feel good, doing things for people you don’t like and eating foods that make you feel horrible. Say no to numbing with all of the negative and say yes to yourself. We need to start from a place of self nurturing and understanding that everything begins with ourselves. Look in the mirror and say thank you to every part of your body – especially imperfections, they make us unique.
Looking at my body now with more easily with gratitude from gaining self awareness lets me know that it’s ok to have curves, to be exactly as I am and know that it is ENOUGH. With time and commitment to showing myself kindness I have learnt to accept my curvy thighs, cellulite and even sometimes bloated tummy – because I’m very human and this is just a shell. What really counts is inside.
My heart lights up when I walk into yoga classes and there is an array of vastly different beautiful bodies and souls that have taken time out to connect, accept and celebrate all that we are on the inside and out.
This is real yoga.
Let’s all aim to be kinder, less judgemental, appreciate more, compare less and work on coming home to ourselves.
I teach a mindful flow with a light hearted modern approach to yoga to find freedom, space and strength in body and mind. I believe our yoga should be as unique as we are and Im always seeking to help others thrive and really enjoy every moment in their practice, by moving mindfully and creatively to cultivate connection and to emphasise the importance of being compassionate with ourselves first and foremost.
Come and Practice with me on Saturdays MoreYoga Greenwich 12pm
FOLLOW @samm_yv for my updated weekly schedule!