When I stepped into my first yoga class during my second year of college, I was honestly not prepared to enjoy myself. A close friend had dragged me to her Sunday “Relaxation Vinyasa” class, and after months of watching her attend, I decided I was intrigued but still hesitant. The yoga class was a heated to around 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the room was full of mats, and I had no idea of what I was doing. Ninety minutes of utter death later, I lay on the ground in savasana: uncertain if I had enjoyed myself or if I had just experienced a little of what hell felt like.

This was almost four years ago. If present me attended that course and told past me that in four years she would weigh almost 40 pounds less and not be nervous about walking outside in summer wearing shorts: I wouldn’t believe her. Yoga was the best possible tool I could have found for myself for getting in shape, but beyond that – it helped me relearn how to perceive myself. Having been overweight for practically all of my life, I saw myself as the fat friend. Even after losing weight, the perception simply wouldn’t go away.

Slowly and surely, that has changed.

Every yoga class I attend, I’m reminded of how much my body can do.

Fat is a matter of negativity. Our bodies aren’t meant to be judged as right or wrong. Instead, I’m psyched that my arms are strong enough to make their way through a seemingly infinite number of chaturangas. My legs can almost manage to get into Bird of Paradise? Really? That’s insane! I only have to imagine where I was last year to be shown how much things have changed.

Sometimes, yoga still is hell. Occasionally I’m sweating and my legs refuse to go up into a balance because evidently I shouldn’t have taken a spin class right before vinyasa. Oftentimes I’m having to consciously relax my jaw muscles as the rest of me shakes and wobbles.

What is different then, you ask? These things aren’t a matter of how I perceive myself. At the end of each yoga class, I’m not berating myself for not being able to get into crow. Nope, I’m happy. I am honestly happy to look at myself in the mirror and satisfied with how much I can change my mindset about my day with only an hour of yoga.

Am I saying that yoga improves body confidence?

In a way, yes. But the point I’m trying to make is that yoga has done more than increased my confidence, it’s created something that was never there before. Instead of avoiding my own glances in mirrors, I get a little proud smile when I see myself. It isn’t a matter of beauty, it’s a matter of seeing myself and knowing that the body I see in the mirror loves to hang out in downward dog.

Sometimes I attend yoga classes and I still get that same feeling of death, other times not  What is now consistent is that happy glow of pride and strength that I don’t just feel when I’m walking out of class, it’s the feeling I get when I wake up each morning. It’s the smile I sport when I walk around the city and am present in my breathing. It’s the perception that my body, like all of our bodies, is amazing and incredible thing. Instead of focusing on every little thing that could be wrong with it, I look at my body as something to be celebrated. Spoiler alert: I’ve never been happier.

(Photo courtesy of Bad Yogi community member Jade Van Overmeir of Belgium!)

Hey, yogis, how has your practice changed your body image or self perception? Share with us in the comments!

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