Body Image and Self Love

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Following a four month break from the gym in eight years, I went back this week because my pause on membership was up. I took the above picture because I had a feeling my regular gym sessions were nearing an end. This place used to be what I considered as being my safe place. More recently, the four corners of my yoga mat are now what I consider a more wholesome, safe place. Since coming home from India, I have been practicing yoga most days along with running every other day. There was no room for the gym nor did it appeal to me. After a week of going to the gym instead of running and yoga, I realise that it’s no longer a place of contentment. I don’t enjoy how stuffy it is in there, how gloomy it is and how sad and tired everyone looks. Surprisingly, I don’t enjoy how sore I am either after a week of intense training. I used to love the feeling of fatigued muscles and saw it as a sign of progression but for the first time I questioned this. Why do I enjoy my body being in pain from something I caused? As if it isn’t doing a wonderful enough job at simply keeping me alive through my breathing and heart beating. With this new respect for my body, I no longer feel that I can wear DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) as a badge of honour.

My friends often question how I maintain consistent dedication to gym attendance. I considered this to be a ridiculous enquiry because I thought I loved it so much and at the time maybe I did. Don’t get me wrong, I love the release from a hard gym session but this isn’t necessary all the time or as my main form of exercise. When I compare it to the joy that running out in the open air brings, its benefit is minimal. What I really notice is that there is little or no social connection in the gym. As an only child, I have always prioritised time alone and found the gym provided this. However I now realise that it’s the connection with my students when teaching yoga or the smile that runners share as we pass one and other that evokes joy and enhances the benefits from exercise. Nothing makes my heart smile more than when Bruno and Hugo join in on a yoga pose with me. My interest in exercise sparked from an organic desire to be out in fresh air and to enjoy the mental benefits it provides. Somewhere along the way this positive experience malformed into a preoccupation of how many times a week I worked out, how many calories I burned, if I pushed myself hard enough, was I progressing. The answer was always no, I was never advancing enough because I didn’t even had a goal to begin with. Without even noticing it happen, I got wrapped up in the world of comparison so many are subjected to. As our fingers scroll through Instagram we constantly see pictures of people who have deceptive bodies which are for the most part unattainable because they are photo shopped. I am shocked that this happened to me because I consider myself to be very self-aware and it therefore scares me that this is what the little people of our society are being moulded by. Whether we mean it or not these images have a way of worming themselves into our unconscious minds, affecting our self-perception and self-worth. For me, Osmosis effect happened and my brain was wired to believe that this is what I should look like or aspire to look like. Similarly we have been programmed to believe that foods are good or bad. The descriptive words used to describe food: clean eating, gluten free, good, real, serve none other than applying a moral compass to the food we consume. They all carry an inherent judgment, pretentiousness and elitism. While all the while it is important to simply remember balance. One salad won’t compensate for a lifetime of unhealthy eating in the same way that one bar of chocolate won’t negate a lifetime of healthy eating. By beginning to look at the bigger picture of life as a whole, I am very quick to realise that I am not willing to live a life restricted by the, calories in calories out mentality or continue to live a life of measurement of whatever form. Life is for living and enjoying whether you engage in exercise, eat healthy or unhealthy. No one way of eating or exercising makes a person superior to any other. Whatever makes you content with the choices you make is what is important.

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Disconnection can occur so easily, especially when a specific action is repeated regularly. Going to the gym became an aspect of my day that was repeated on auto pilot almost without a second thought as to how it was impacting my body or my mind. The initial benefits experienced in the early days of gym attendance soon became so familiar that they were barely noticeable. Sometimes it felt like I was living in a day dream never really enjoying the ‘here and now’, but instead always looking to the future with ambition and plans. I think a lot of people walk around in this mental state of continual planning. Overtime, this on-going detachment from yourself, even in a positive light, can only lead to feelings of engulfing anxiety.  It has made me realise the importance of being aware of destination addiction – a preoccupation with the idea that happiness is in the next place, the next job, the next weight, partner the list goes on. Until you give up the idea that happiness is somewhere else it will never be where you are. I no longer value the constant measuring of how heavy a weight I can lift or what number I am on the scales. I can’t continue to equate my happiness to something as frugal and inconsistent as a number staring back at me. I now choose to focus on how my body feels, how my energy levels are and how easily I can touch my toes when I wake up. My measurement of happiness is now based on the encounters I have throughout the week with people I love and the moments I spend with myself in harmony attempting to live a life in uninterrupted joy. Yoga has taught me all of this and I am forever grateful for it.

For me on this journey, the walls of my comfort zone are always lovingly decorated with a lifelong collection of my favourite excuses. It has taken me this long to change this mind-set because it had become familiar and safe. I knew it would take a lot of work and unravelling to amend it. However, ‘nothing changes if nothing changes’ so on that note; I have binned my Fitbit. To many this may not seem like anything significant but for me it signifies the letting go of control I so often cling onto. No more measuring, no more counting just simply more living outside of the walls of restriction. Thankfully I have caught this mind-set before it progressed into something more sinister and I am actively working on it to change my outlook and reignite self-love and acceptance. Nonetheless, years of certain thinking patterns do not disappear overnight. It takes time to unlearn things you thought were supposed to be, to throw out the rule book you believed you needed to live by however I am adamant to break the cycle of self-criticism for myself first and foremost, but also for the little people in my life that I am already an influence to, and hopefully the ones I am yet to become one to. There is no fast lane to a finish line here; every experience, every thought and every learnt behaviour is forever teaching us new things and leading us in new directions.

My point in sharing all of this is because I think it is something a lot of us struggle with but rarely share. I encourage you to not settle for anything less than an enhanced version of yourself, not aesthetically but fundamentally the essence of yourself. Only be in comparison with yourself, yourself of yesterday or last week or last year. Ask the honest questions; where was this behaviour learnt? Why has it adapted into being an aspect of daily life? Does it continue to serve me? Try to understand the root cause and unlock it because this knowledge will give you the power to let go. I am now instead much more focused on questions such as; am I a kind person? How can I serve more to others, am I a good friend, daughter, partner, doggy mammy because ultimately these are the things in my life I respect and love the most, even if my previous behaviour may not have always prioritised these aspects of my life. Again as always it comes back to balance. When something is out of balance in your life your body will give warning signs and it is up to you to heed them. Independently all of these aspects hold merit and value if they are balanced and in line with your own specific goals and core values. If you feel you have been side-tracked I hope this helps you get back ‘on track’. But don’t forget that real life with all of its variations and flaws is the track and we are always on it. In the end, we won’t remember the most beautiful face and body; we will remember the most beautiful soul and heart, the ones that are kind and vulnerable.

Lia xx

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