How Yoga Made Me Respect The Hell Out Of My Body

This originally appeared on mindbodygreen.  You can see it here.

Claire Marie Carter in Scorpion Forearm Stand

I can remember my 10-year-old self looking into a full-length mirror and thinking I was “bigger than the other girls.” I wasn’t. Yet an unhealthy relationship with my body persisted from that day on.

Years of volleyball, starting in grade school, made my thighs bulky and muscular. I stuck to dresses and never wore jeans or shorts for fear of looking heavy in my lower half. Black became my default wardrobe when I read in a teen magazine that the color was slimming. Every time I looked in the mirror, I found something that wasn’t good enough, something that I would change.

I wasn’t alone in this either. I heard it in the lamenting “Ugh, I look so fat” from the girl next to me at the sink in the high school bathroom. I’d watch my friends untag themselves from photos because they didn’t like how they looked. Dissatisfaction was the norm and still is today for many women.

The expectations placed on us and how we’re supposed to look are nearly impossible to achieve. It’s no wonder that I struggled for years to make peace with my body! Now when I think about the anxiety and hours I wasted obsessing, all I wish is that I could have that time back.

Yoga changed everything for me.

I’d always been flexible so I tried out a yoga class because I figured I’d be good at it. I was immediately hooked. The quiet space, cool people, and natural high I felt after a class kept me coming back for more.

Even in the yoga studio—the one place that’s supposed to be free of judgment—I often caught myself playing the comparison game. I would try in vain not to stare at the beautiful people in their standing splits. Jealousy would rear its ugly head, and I’d wonder why I didn’t have so-and-so’s body or why I couldn’t yet make a headstand look effortless.

Until one day in class the voices in my head quieted long enough for me to catch a glimpse of my own power.

I looked in the mirror and saw the strong, muscular legs that I had hated for so long. The epiphany hit me that those legs allowed me to hold poses that the twig limbs I once longed for couldn’t handle. I saw my shoulders and arms that were tight and toned from countless chaturangas. My skin glowed with health and newfound calmness as a huge grin broke across my face.

I left that yoga class walking on air. A shift was starting to take place in the way I looked at myself. Rather than criticizing my body based on what it looked like, I began appreciating everything I was capable of doing. I no longer cared as much about looking a certain way. Instead, I started to work toward accomplishing feats of strength and flexibility. Working toward advanced poses (and achieving them!) has made me grateful for a body that can move and bend and hold itself upside down.

It’s still a challenge at times to stay positive and not fall back into old habits of criticism. Maintaining a regular practice helps, as does pausing to take a deep breath and mentally list three things I’m grateful that my body can do.

Nowadays, when I notice myself looking in the mirror and thinking about what I’d change, I redirect my thoughts to be thankful for my health. Yoga gave me the perfect body by helping me to appreciate the one I already had. I don’t have washboard abs, and I’m OK with that. But this beautiful, capable body is the place my soul calls home, and I’m making every effort to respect that.