This post is written by QSY co-director and lead teacher, Emma. This month, she is starting a gentle return from her maternity leave, and is excited to rejoin the QSY community.
Shame about shame. Would we call that Meta-shame?
I officially come back from my maternity leave later this spring, but I’ve got some thoughts to share with the community as I start to think about yoga and teaching again.
One thing I’ve been mulling over during my maternity leave is body shame. And not just shame about my body, but shame ABOUT the shame about my body. Because I shouldn’t be feeling body shame, right? I’ve been teaching Yoga for Round Bodies for 8 years, talking up themes of body neutrality, self-acceptance and self-love in my classes and our teacher training. I’m YOUR cheerleader for taking things at your own pace, for focusing on how it feels to be in your body or yoga poses, rather than thinking about what you look like. I’m supposed to be a role model for self-acceptance, right?
The Sting of the Second Arrow
This shame I’m feeling is what many Buddhists call “the second arrow”, which I first heard about from Tara Brach. Simply put, when we experience something painful, there is often reactivity and blame (of someone else or ourselves). We experience more suffering than the initial pain, a suffering on top of suffering. Tara talks about cultivating the ability to “pause, recognize and open” in order to step out of that cycle of suffering.
Pause. Okay, deep breath.
Pause and recognize. I guess where I need to start then, is recognizing that I still have body shame. Actually, let me re-write that. I recognize that my culture taught me to have body shame, and I’m still recovering from that. My culture taught me that the best bodies were thin, fit, able and beautiful. My culture taught me that if I gained weight, I was lazy, ugly and unlovable. Oof. That’s quite a cultural idea to recover from.
It’s a tangled thing, unravelling these cultural stories and seeing how they show up in my mind. That’s where the shame about the shame comes in. I feel embarrassed that I haven’t completely transformed the way I feel about my body. I want to hide that, and only show the part of myself that is okay with how my body looks and moves. I can’t tell my yoga students or community that I don’t completely accept my body, can I?
Pause, recognize and open. Sure I can. Something I’ve discovered about shame is that it changes when I speak it out loud. When I share the vulnerability of it, and ask others to hold it with me.
Do we have to already love ourselves to practice Yoga?
When I really sit with this and mull it over, it points me to the importance of having spaces and communities like ours, where we can show up in our realness, where we can pause, recognize and open on our own terms. Where we can be our half-realized dreams of who we are and want to be, and live the unravelling and reconstructing process that it is to learn about and (eventually, maybe, sometimes) love ourselves. It’s not REQUIRED that you already accept and love yourself to practice yoga. That can be what a yoga practice nudges, nurtures and slowly allows.
A community like ours doesn’t make self-acceptance the next “perfect” to measure ourselves against. We can be careful not to make shame about shame the “new shame in town”. We can recognize that there is always more to learn, practice and discover about ourselves, and there is always more kindness we can extend.
Reflecting on this also reaffirms my dedication to this work. This work of facilitating movement spaces where our bodies and attitudes can be welcomed with love. This work of making sure these themes are present and active in our teacher training program. We can work together to create a culture around bodies that tells new and different stories. Because the old narratives are harmful and untrue and they rob us of joy. They keep us separated from one another in little boxes of shame.
Have you experienced something like meta-shame? Or other concoctions of feelings about your body? Did it come after a big body change (like for me, pregnancy)? Or a gradual body change? What kinds of thoughts did you notice coming up? Did you feel like you could share them?