Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Reflections & Musings: The weight of the matter.


"We all have the extraordinary coded within us, waiting to be released."
-Jean Houston


I’ll be honest. Sometimes, I get caught in the trap of believing my beauty lies in the eyes of an extremely unkind beholder. This is an old story of mine, one that began in high school when I first developed anorexia, then bulimia, then compulsive overeating/exercising, followed by an intense body dysmorphia. (Whew, that was exhausting even to write!)

As a yoga teacher, I feel that there’s a certain expectation we should all look a certain way, the way that’s normally portrayed on the cover of Yoga Journal and touted in advertisements where practitioners are demonstrating almost incomprehensibly challenging asanas. Is this what yoga is really about?

Recently, I came across a posting on Facebook, where it showed four contemporary female celebrities with supremely thin figures, below which were four starlets from generations past who had fuller and more voluptuous bodies. It posed the question: When did we decide that it was much sexier to look emaciated than to look healthy?

I don’t have a traditional Asian figure — I’m not smaller than your average Taiwanese woman with a bone-thin frame and few curves. Instead, I’m 5’6” and weigh 140 pounds, most of which is muscle. I have breasts that women of all cultures have expressed to me they envy, and legs that have inspired people to stop me in the middle of a street to compliment. While the area on my body that I’ve always been most self-conscious is the roundness around my middle, my heart friend Lindsay recently reminded me that this is actually very ideal for a healthy second chakra, the place where we give birth to creativity!

When I was 26 and in my intensive eating disorder therapy program, we were told never to talk about our weight. They suggested we get on the scale backwards at doctors offices, because the number shouldn’t matter. I believe this is true, that whatever digits appear on the scale beneath our feet or on the labels of our clothing do not define who we are. However, I also believe that when we avoid talking about something, we give it even more oppressive power over our psyche. And, well, I don’t want that anymore.

Life is a process. It took going through all of those daily three-to-four hour therapies for a year, then individual psychotherapy for many years following, for me to reach a point where I could even open up to letting go of the security blanket I had clung to for so long. Only then did I make space in my life for what I actually wanted, rather than to avoid the things I so intensely feared. It was a gradual shift for me to welcome in spirituality, which in a way, was returning to a familiar truth I had known when I was very young, before becoming dramatically affected by the environment around me.

It took all of that to get me here, and only now, in a place where I am happier, healthier, and more fulfilled than I ever could have imagined, can I see the valuable lessons that I learned through those substantial emotional fractures. My struggles defined my character, they inspired a hearty amount of compassion for others, an intuitive understanding of emotions, an internal drive like no other, and a profound appreciation for the wonder of how amazing things can be — all because I’ve seen the flip-side of good.

This is the first time I’ve openly shared how much I weigh. It’s the first time I’ve been able to type sentences about how much I appreciate all the great attributes of my body without feeling that I should be behaving in a much more modest and self-effacing manner. After all, it’s not very Asian to be overly confident and tout oneself, as this does not in any way “save face.”

But, how does it serve anyone when we keep ourselves meek? I love that my body can surf! I love that my body can climb! I love that my body can yoga! Let’s be bold! Let’s celebrate our light! Let’s appreciate the fact that our bodies do what they do, that our hearts beat and our lungs breathe and our legs walk and our hands hug!

Sure, it’s not always on the up-and-up. Carolyn Myss says that there’s a false perception when we begin to pursue the spiritual path, that we won’t have troubles in our lives anymore. Instead, what we do come away with is a greater understanding of how to be in the mysteries with grace.

My mind still traps me now and again in a delusional and oppressive attempt to achieve perfection. When this happens, I never come out victorious. Given that I also have a competitive edge, I want to win! So, what do I do when I get into those spaces of self-bullying? As my friend John once shared with me, “If you’re hanging out in your head, you’re hanging out in a bad neighborhood. Get out!”

The more I’m diligent with these practices, then the quicker my brain can snap back into a healthy sense of where I truly am in the world:
  • I send an email to my angels...
    • A long while ago, I created an email account for my Higher Power. I don’t remember what the password is, so I never check it, partly because it’s not for me to answer. I’m on the computer all the time, and I figured this would be a convenient way for me to ask for help, similar to the idea of “God Boxes.” (You can substitute any word for “God” that evokes an idea of something grander than yourself, including Mother Nature.) With God Boxes, individuals place their concerns and woes and wishes in a box, trusting that Spirit will resolve everything for the higher good of everyone involved… same idea, just 21st century style.
  • I put great music on and DANCE.
  • I reach out to a heart friend.
  • I go for a walk beside the ocean at a very… slow… pace… so that it becomes a moving meditation. (Lots of great ideas come from these solitary strolls.)
  • I create.
    • A lot of times, we turn to addictions because our Soul wants to express itself, but feels vulnerable/scared/unsure in doing so. If we provide the opportunity for this to happen, our Souls have a way of showing up. I have watercolors by my desk and a hilarious coloring book with a bevy of markers/crayons/oil pastels ready to go.
  • I breathe and meditate. 
  • I take a very hot shower.
    • You might be amazed at how this can hit a “reset” button on your brain, where everything just melts away and you step out of the shower with a refreshed start. My craniosacral healer recommends letting hot water stream onto the base of the skull, right above one’s neck, as this occipital area is extremely significant when it comes to Divine energy entering our bodies.
  • I remember to laugh at myself, because this too shall pass, and it’s in these moments of need where we have an opportunity to see what we’re made of, to see what our faith is made of.
I’m very lucky that I have wonderful people in my life who are patient and compassionate and understanding. They show me how to approach myself this way, and nudge me in the right direction when I get a little lost. Recently, I told my friend Lindsay I was engaging in tendencies that weren’t enhancing my prana, so she sent this to me:

“My instinct is that you are not seeing extra physical weight in the mirror… you are feeling the weight of the pressure you put on yourself as you look in the mirror. You feel heavy and you see heavy. Notice yourself doing that and take a moment to lighten up! And then do it over and over, because it’s not going to go away with your first successful experience. You’ll need to repeat that technique over and over ‘til practice makes perfect. And, if all else fails, try to see yourself through my eyes… something you thinks you are an exquisite goddess, and has a deep love and admiration for you.”

May we all see the extraordinary in every one of us, and encourage one another to let those aspects of our selves shine! In doing so, we help illuminate the world for others who aren’t yet able to do this. Remember, we all have the extraordinary coded within us, just waiting to be released.

Now, it's time for a lomi lomi massage in Maui!

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