The other day, someone told me to relax.
I was feeling worked up, and they were feeling impatient with me. So their shortcut to harmony was to tell me to “relax!”
You can imagine how that went.
I didn’t lash out at them, but I did feel hurt. I wasn’t trying to be dramatic, but I had real feelings about the situation. And being told to relax was a quick dismissal of my feelings, rather than an acknowledgement of them.
I have this same thought about the phrase “Love your body,” which is a phrase I don’t really use, especially not when I am teaching yoga. I don’t think it’s bad, I just think it’s on the same end of the spectrum as “relax.” It is an instruction that, while well-intentioned, might miss the point. Telling someone (even yourself) to “love your body” may not acknowledge the real and complex experience that you have with your body. That it might be hard to love your body when you feel that the world has been telling you it’s ugly, dysfunctional, or bad your whole life. It might be hard to love your body if your body is the site of trauma. It might be hard to love your body if your body is in pain a lot of the time, or experiences anxiety or depression.
What I wish my friend had asked me (instead of telling me to relax) was simply “What’s going on?” Taking a moment to acknowledge my feelings might have made a huge difference in how I was able to be present.
Asking ourselves the question, “What’s going on?” is one way of practicing mindfulness. And this is what I share with my students in my Body-Positive Yoga course. I don’t tell them to love their bodies or think positive thoughts, I invite them to ask themselves the question “what is going on?” and see what comes up. To look, listen, and feel into what it means to be a person in a body, and all the complexity that comes with that. To see what is happening in this moment, whatever flavour it is. And then to see what comes of that awareness.
Sharon Salzberg writes, “We can be mindful of quiet, and we can be mindful of noise. We can be mindful of tremendously resenting the noise. We can be mindful of everything in our experience. Mindfulness is an infinitely inclusive quality of mind.” I love the phrase “infinitely inclusive.” That is what I hope for myself in relating to myself and my body.
When I ask myself this question, “What is going on?” I become aware of the part of my mind that is constantly tracking how I look. How big my belly looks in this situation or that, how my clothes are fitting. I become aware of the part of my mind that tracks what I am eating, calculates carbs vs protein, and wishes my arms were less round and more muscular.
I become aware of those parts of my mind, and I keep going. I keep practicing mindfulness. I keep asking myself “What is going on?” And then I begin to notice the part of my mind that loves the feeling of moving, that notices how graceful my body feels when I’m doing yoga or dancing. I notice the part of my mind that enjoys the squishiness of my body, even the jiggliness of it, when I’m wiggling and bouncing in my yoga practice. I notice the part of my mind that does not even care what I am eating, just feels grateful to have food to nourish me.
The link between the practice of mindfulness and feeling more at home in or positive about one’s body is not a straight shot. It is a meandering practice, a journey through hills and valleys, caves and tunnels. It is a practice of noticing when you are enjoying the experience of your body, and when you are not. It is a practice of being aware of your bias, aware of the ideas and stories you have about your body. It is you, being your own friend, asking “What is going on?” and listening for the answer. And in doing so, being able to offer yourself more kindness, more compassion, more care because you are aware of what you are feeling, what you are carrying, and how it feels to be alive and you in this moment.
The following poem has been on the chalkboard at the studio for the past few months. We’re going to change it to something else soon, so I’ll share it with you here. I wrote it a few years ago, and it might be my favourite poem I’ve ever written! It is part of my journey with mindfulness and body positivity. I’m so glad to share it with our community.
The earth is pulling light towards it.
THE EARTH IS PULLING LIGHT TOWARDS IT!
When I learned this fact, I am stunned.
The earth is irresistible to light.
Its mass makes it so.
This is why I love the density and sturdiness
of my body.
My mass is irresistible.
Yours in community,
I’ll be teaching Body-Positive Yoga again in September on Tuesday evenings. I hope you’ll join me in this course aimed at exploring mindfulness, movement and self-care.
Emma Dines is the creative director of Queen Street Yoga. She loves writing, visiting thrift stores and going for walks in the woods. She also loves cartwheeling, sewing and making her own kimchi.