Of Body Image and Yoga

Of Body Image and Yoga

I have never been comfortable with my body. Even when I was a teenager, whose frame was ever so thin, I would see myself as fat. All I could focus on were the extra flabs hanging from my tummy, and all I could feel was disgust. Disgust that I looked like how I looked, that every inch of me felt horrible beyond my comprehension.

I grew up with PCOS, a hormonal issue that transformed how I looked in ways that were a little more aggressive than for normal girls. My face was speckled with acne, my body hairs thick and long, my weight slowly getting heavier as the years went by, with pills making it harder to lose those fats. My acne subsided a few years into college, but my weight gain – weight loss yoyoing continued even until today. I’d try all sorts of things– calorie counting, HIIT, boxing– all of which never really felt fulfilling. I would always feel miserable with the slow pace of my weight loss, and I’d look in the mirror and see a person I couldn’t even bear to take a glance. In fact, when I moved to my apartment, I never bought a mirror for myself. It was only this quarantine that I finally purchased a full-body mirror, which is still hidden inside a cabinet door, only to be looked at when I felt like it.

Working out has always been a struggle for me. There were moments when I was truly active, like when I trained for dance in college and signed up for gym memberships. But still, I could only count the moments that I went to these places without much resistance. I am bad at habit building in general, and routines, while they keep me grounded, are still something that I’m challenged with. Back when I still commuted daily, things were extra stressful, with travel time eating a chunk of my day. Some say that you can always make time for exercise, but when you’re commuting, going from one jeep to another, riding a jam-packed train to hell, time can feel like it’s just not on your side.

There were many things that I tried to stay active and be fit. Boxing, HIIT, Zumba, weights, running, calorie-counting, intermittent fasting, no chocolate, fewer sweets, no meat– I could share them all to you, but spoiler alert, they never stuck. I always let go of these habits when the going gets tough; when work calls for longer hours; when the commute is no longer bearable and the only reward that I could give myself is a few additional minutes of sleep. Before the lockdown happened, I was finally, ever so slowly, picking up my pace. I would squeeze in an extra hour or two after my shift to hit the gym, and then I’d consume almost no meat (pescetarian at most). It was nice, I was feeling a little stronger but weight-wise there wasn’t a lot of changes. And then the pandemic happened, and everything just crumbled down.

I ate meat again because there were very limited supplies during the quarantine. Work out was out of the picture because my job demanded long hours and I would sign off as late as 3:00 AM. My mental health was the worst, though, with my brain just being all over the place most of the time. The first months (and even until today) was stressful, and I bet it was hard for all of us.

I turned to sleep and books, other people turned to work out non-stop. I would be overwhelmed by the amount of #Quarantoned posts on Instagram, and I would immediately feel guilty. I am in awe of their motivation and I am happy for those who were able to achieve their goals despite our circumstances, but at the same time, I felt that gnawing guilt. I knew I could do better, but why am I not trying? I always say that I want to lose weight but I also let excuses get in my way. I’d eventually go on a self-pity, self-blame game, and end up feeling paralyzed and not doing anything… which is honestly such a shame and an extremely ugly picture.

I tried to reverse the guilt by consulting with a coach a few months into the lockdown, asking for help to correct my eating and workout habits. That lasted for a month, and since I suck at preparing my food, I ended up bouncing back to eating whatever. Sometimes, I’d skip meals; other times, I’d end up grabbing anything on the fridge and stuffing it in my mouth. I was restricted from eating certain foods, which only made my binging habits worst. For instance, I couldn’t eat ice cream and was only allowed to have one scoop every two weeks. By the time that I reached that “cheat day”, I couldn’t help myself but feel like I wanted to indulge, ending up to eating more than what was recommended for me. The guidance was helpful, but at times, they felt like punishments. It also made me feel like workouts are chores, making it even more of a struggle.

It wasn’t until I won a yoga mat that I started to slowly pick myself up. It started from trying to practice with a teacher and then signing up for a class pass. Nowadays, I practice at least 4 times a week. For food, I decided to sign up for a meal plan, just so I would stop skipping meals and actually eat something. I am in the early parts of my journey, but honestly, I have never felt as fulfilled as I am lately.

I’m not the most flexible, but yoga was something that I have always found to be interesting. Now that I’m doing it often, I realized why many people fell in love with it and realized how much I truly enjoyed the practice. It’s called a practice for a reason, and every time I show up on the mat, I feel at peace on whatever my body would let me do. What yoga taught me in the short time that I am consistently showing up is to always honor my pace and be grateful for the things that I can do. What I love about it is it challenges me to go beyond what I think I can do, but at the same time, it honors the fact that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

Can’t do a pose? It’s okay, here’s a modification. Can’t reach your toes? Grab a block and go to a pose where you’re comfortable. Can’t hold it as long? Go to a child’s pose, it’s fine, honor where you are.

Yoga is such a calming practice that I feel magnetized to just continue. There are days when I skip classes because I didn’t have the energy to show up, but most of the time, I am motivated to get out of bed and roll out my mat because I know that I’d feel good after the class. Unlike before when I only felt drawn to exercise because I need to, nowadays I honestly like to show up because I wanted to. I won’t lie, losing weight has been nice too, but feeling stronger and seeing myself hold poses that I couldn’t even do before just gives me great satisfaction.

Body image has always been a struggle for women. According to a study, a whopping 97% of us have a negative body image*, and honestly, I feel like we couldn’t be blamed. For the longest time, women are asked to be skinny, to be pretty, to fit a certain mold just to be considered “beautiful”. I couldn’t pinpoint where my issues stemmed, but somewhere along the road as I was growing up, it just happened. Perhaps it’s because of the media, or maybe it’s the society, but whatever it is, I realized that it truly takes a lot of time to unlearn and heal from these misconceptions. And I know that I am not alone in this.

I am not saying that I have magically transformed myself into a positive, confident woman– in all honesty, I am so far from that– but what I am saying is, we can always try to love ourselves a little bit more. Posting a photo in sports clothes makes me cringe at myself, but lately, I am slowly trying my best to acknowledge my flaws and accept how I look. It’s a process, but if I can bear to show myself to the rest of the internet, perhaps I wouldn’t find it as hard to take a glimpse of how I look. There are still many bad days and unlearning things that have been ingrained in our psyche is not easy, but if we can try to slowly do it, bit by bit, little by little, maybe someday we will get to a better mindset.

I am healthy. I can move. I can breathe. I am strong. And maybe, at the end of the day, it’s just what truly matters.

If you’re feeling the same way as I do, I highly suggest exploring and sticking to doing things that you like. Don’t force yourself to do things just because they’re trendy or that they worked for others. Sometimes, it’s a matter of what makes you feel satisfied and fulfilled. Good luck! We can do this.

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