A few days ago, I was texting with a friend, raving to her about my experience at yoga that morning. I mentioned how much she might like it, and encouraged her to find a class in her area. My friend’s response was less than enthusiastic. “Eh,” she said. “I’m not flexible.”
Now, it’s possible that my friend simply has zero interest in yoga, and was trying to let me down easy. But her words got me thinking. Over the past couple weeks, I’ve noticed how often we use negative language to describe our bodies. I mean, how many times have you heard someone say something like “I could never wear that, I have such large arms” or “I’m not athletic enough for that workout” ? Not only have I heard these things, but I’ve used them hundreds of times. That is part of why I am writing this post. The other reason is because I think you have, too.
When we say things like “I could never wear that because x”, we use the word “I,” but we are not really talking about ourselves. What we are doing is putting down our bodies. If you think about it, we say things about our own physical beings that we would never dream of saying about another person. And for what reason?
I believe that a huge part of the problem is today’s diet/exercise culture. We are exposed to so many gurus hawking “life-changing” diets and workout regimes that we struggle to separate our physical being from our internal self. You could argue that this is a positive way of thinking: the lack of differentiation between our souls and our glutes inspires us to take good care of ourselves. But think about yourself and all the people you know who struggle to maintain a “healthy” lifestyle. I do not wish to speak for anyone, but in my experience eating kale and working out is not motivated by a desire to nourish one’s body. Instead, we make these choices because we think our bodies- and therefore ourselves- need changing. It’s disturbing to imagine how many people must develop disordered eating and exercise habits because of this mindset.
I say the above not as a criticism, but because I get it. I struggle with negative body-centric thoughts as much as the next person. But I refuse to accept that this is our destiny.
The other day in yoga class, my teacher told us to do what our bodies felt they could do, not what our mind said we could or couldn’t. I love this idea of respecting your physical being as something together with but independent from your internal self. Someday I hope we will all imagine our bodies this way: as lifelong friends along for the ride. We eat and move in a way that will make our friend happy, because we love them. We are not enslaved but rather honored by our task of taking care of this friend, and when we speak we use only words that reflect this feeling. Even when this friend gets tiresome, we recognize how much it means to us, and keep our attitudes (mostly) in check. In return, our friend helps us to run that marathon, to finally nail crow pose, and to wrap our arms around those we love most.
I don’t know about you, but I think that sounds like a pretty good deal.