“There is no ‘supposed to be’ in bodies. The question is not size or shape or years of age, or even having two of everything, for some do not. The wild issue is, does this body feel, does it have the right connection to pleasure, to heart, to soul, to the wild? Does it have happiness, joy? Can it in its own may move, dance, jiggle, sway, thrust? Nothing else matters.”
~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves.
A body. If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you have one. You know your body better than anyone else. As babies, we delighted in the moment we discovered the control we had over our appendages, giggling at our toes and using our tiny fists to grip the carpet and propel ourselves across the floor. At that age, we loved our bodies, because they worked and surprised us. Unfortunately, this mindset is not a lasting one.
Even within an environment that’s geared toward creating feelings of acceptance and tranquility, such as a yoga studio, it can be difficult to find confidence in our own skin. We’re taught at a young age to compare ourselves to others, and so we continue this practice well into our adult lives. Why don’t I have a flat stomach like that? Why is his handstand so perfect, when I'm still flailing about?
It is unfortunate that we are often exposed to cultural influences and images that lead us to question the value of our bodies. The definition of beauty is constantly changing depending on time and location. Things that are deemed “beautiful”, such as plump lips and hairless skin, or six-pack abs and a six-foot stature, are simply temporary trends, no less of a fad than Beanie Babies.
Despite this, we still find ourselves comparing ourselves to the bodies around us. With certain images dominating print and multimedia, it’s not uncommon for one particular physique to be deemed “ideal.” But let’s be honest: how dull would it be if there was only one type of flower in the world, one type of fruit, or one pair of breasts? Our bodies are just as natural as the rest of Mother Nature, and therefore we have permission to be just as diverse.
In Sanskirt, Atman refers to the self. The self is more than just a body, it is the mind, the intellect, and the Supreme Self. It is the soul. These components work together to create a beautiful and unique entity that cannot be narrowed down to one specific body type or image. We practice yoga to nurture all of these elements, and by degrading the body, we are not giving our flesh the respect it deserves.
Instead, we begin to develop attachments to ideas of what our body “should be.” Our body should not be anything but healthy, and that looks different for every individual. Even attachments to our own bodies can be toxic, as the body is consistently changing and moving with nature. Rather than find fear in aging, or disgust within our flaws, can we seek wonder and appreciation? Isn’t it beautiful that our bodies adapt to different phases of our lives? Isn’t it fascinating that you don’t look like the person next to you?
“A ripe fruit has its own beautiful taste.”
~ Sri Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Our bodies are gifts, but they are not our entire selves. They are lovely forms of ever-changing nature, ones that allow us to crawl across carpets and drink sweet wine and hold hands and skip rocks and dance and make love. The next time you are in ananda balasana, look up at your feet and find a moment to enjoy them. Think: I have a body. What a delight.