All yoga that promotes self-love is body-positive yoga if you ask me.
I would be lying if I say I’ve never gotten intimidated by the person with a “perfect” figure next to me in a yoga class, especially when I was living in Manhattan where nearly half of my class were models back in the 90s. How can you be “body positive” when you are 5 feet tall with a short neck and arms, so go figure.
I never admitted I have a body image issue because I didn’t know I had it. But I do now, after being awakened by Kundalini yoga, also known as “Yoga of Awareness.” How can I “not” be sensitive to body image when my parents are constantly telling me how I should look all my life? My mom would tell me “wear these high heels because they will make you taller” when I was only twelve years old. After I graduated from middle school my mom took me to a plastic surgeon for an “eye enlargement” consultation because my eyes were too narrow. Or my dad would say to me “don’t come back to visit us before you lose weight because you would embarrass me in front of my friends.” Not to mention my thin cousins who would bluntly tell it to my face every time I saw them “how did you get so fat?”
In fact, I was stick-skinny before I turned 10 years old because I didn’t like eating. It was so annoying! Since I didn’t feel hungry at all, eating became a chore for me and my family. I still remember vividly how I was chased by my nanny with a bowl and she would force a spoonful of food into my mouth. Sometimes I would steal a chance to spit and flush out the food in the toilet, and sometimes I had to chew for “a long time” to drag out the mealtime till everyone lost their patience and stopped feeding me. Ugh, what a waste of time and energy! My parents were constantly complaining about me not eating because they were afraid that I didn’t get enough nutrients to grow and also I made them look bad as people would think they didn’t feed me properly.
Does it look like I had bad parents? No, not at all. I couldn’t have asked for better parents. They gave me time and space to grow into my true self even when they didn’t understand me. They are loving, generous, kind, and honest; maybe too honest, sometimes. Everyone who knows me always envies me for having such great parents. Now knowing better, I understand they were simply projecting their own body image issues on me and didn’t realize it.
After I hit puberty at age ten I became a changed person. I started eating like there is no tomorrow; as if I am trying to make up for the past 10 years by doubling down the amount of food at each meal. My parents were over the moon! I was in ecstasy because I finally got to enjoy food as an epicure. I have become obsessed with food ever since. Time over time my girlfriends would “advise” me to fill my stomach before I went on a date because they believed my huge appétit had scared away too many good prospects. I didn’t care because I vowed “if I can’t eat whatever I want, I would rather die.”
What does that have to do with yoga? While I indulged myself in pâte and caviar, I noticed an interesting and obvious change in my appétit whenever I was in more consistent yoga practice. When I was practicing yoga daily for over two weeks my craving naturally switched to vegetables and tofu from my favorite food, “meat.” I also felt I regressed to the little girl I once was: didn’t feel hungry therefore no need to eat. That scared the hell out of me. “NO,” I told myself “I would rather die than giving up that juicy steak.” So I chose to do less yoga to keep my food obsession alive.
Well, my choice brought me health problems one after another: cancer, gout, arthritis, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, fatty liver, leaky gut and etc. Things got worse after I gave birth to my only child at age 37. Due to age and injuries, I couldn’t lose the pregnancy weight because of my broken knees. It took me over 4 years to finally be able to bend and another 3 years to kneel. During that time I tried all kinds of diets and they all worked for only a short while. If only I knew what I know today or if BoPo (Body Positive Works) had existed, I’d have been spared from years of suffering.
I didn’t understand where all these tears came from and why I kept going back to chant this one particular “Dhan Dhan Ram Das Gur” mantra every day. I had no idea what this mantra means or what it could do when I first started. I did it because I felt so good after chanting and shedding tears day after day. It felt like receiving an internal shower with rain. I was never persistent enough to have a daily practice of any kind for 6 months until I encountered this strong power that “pulls” me to chant this “Miracle Mantra.” Slowly I started to feel my steel-cased heart-melting and finally realized my old self-love was not true self-love.
I used to think self-love is to have anything that would make me happy, for example eating whatever my heart desires. Through this “mantra chanting” experience I became aware that self-love is not about “doing” but about “accepting” yourself 100%, even the part you don’t like about yourself, for example, greed or pride. This consistent chanting changed me at the cellular level; I felt my cells were cleansed by the sound waves. I became less hungry because I felt “I am enough.” More amazingly my ego shrunk and that irritating self-criticizing little voice in my head hushed.
The word “yoga” came from the biblical word “yoke.” It means “to join together” or “to unite.” It doesn’t matter which style of yoga you practice, the ultimate goal is to unite the practitioner’s personal consciousness with the universe’s infinite impersonal consciousness. I believe if a teacher follows this “URGE” guideline, his/her yoga class will become more body positive for the students:
- Understanding – students’ physical limitations and mental challenges
- Respecting – students’ individuality and uniqueness
- Guiding – students to pay attention inwards instead of outwards
- Encouraging – students’ self-exploration and expression
Although western modern-day yoga still has a strong connotation of fitness, we have seen more and more people turning their focus to the more original form of yoga every day. The authentic yoga practice that helps you find your true self and self-love is what I call “Body Positive Yoga.”