I'm going to get personal here, inspired in part by my good friend Maria's most recent blogpost on her excellent Ashtanga-centric blog, Serene Flavorful. She was inspired by another blogger who wrote about body dysmorphia.
If you've never taken Mysore class, it's really kind of hard to describe, and a picture (or a grainy video) is worth a thousand words. Yesterday, I filmed the Mysore class for a few minutes, with the plan to share a minute or so on the studio's Facebook page. Watching afterwards, however, I didn't see the class or the students. I couldn't help but notice myself, especially, my belly, and my stiff way of walking about the room. I cringed and thought immediately, "Ugh, I can't post this: I look old and fat."
My stiffness was the result of slipping and falling hard during a hike the day before, and it will pass. But, my belly has always been, shall we say, rounded, even as a young child - and this roundness worsened after carrying three big babies. Pregnancy gave me diastatis recti, a splitting of the linear connective tissue between the "six pack" or (rectus abdominis) muscles. Essentially, there is a long weakness and in some places an actual tear in the connective tissue, from my pubic bone to above my navel. Because it's always been weak, even as a child, my gut tends to hang out. Practice and the integration of uddhiyana bandha has helped immensely in knitting up the damage from pregnancy for the most part, but I will never have a flat stomach, even if I starved myself and worked on my abs for hours every day.
I've tried that form of suffering and, frankly, it sucks, and it's not ahimsa.
My Father liked to call me "Stick Legs" or "Shelly Belly" because I looked kind of like a candy apple as a little girl. Now, I am not blaming my Father for my personal self-image issues, but certainly, those names didn't help. Growing up in our rock-hard-abs-buns-of-steel-obsessed culture didn't help either. Looking at the video, I notice a couple of things: the skinny legs and big belly of my childhood exist in my adult form, too. But, in general, I am healthy, strong and feel great. My bodily form looks as it does because it's what genetics gave me, and 18 years of Ashtanga practice have not changed it very much. My form ultimately will dissolve completely, along with everyone else's, including those considered by our culture to possess the form of a "lithe yoga goddess".
What's the answer to all this disfunction?
Perhaps remembering that my temporary form has nothing to do with what I am in a permanent sense, and also that future suffering can be avoided (in this case, being saddened by how I perceive myself, and also, afraid of my form being judged harshly by others.) There's where the advice "Practice and all is coming" should be taken to heart, as practice (and non-attachment) is the best way I've found of becoming more conscious of being caught up in my inherent doubts, judgments and self-delusions. Only when I become aware of them do I have a chance of wiping them away, as the invocation exhorts us to do, "...Pacifying delusion, the poison of conditioned existence."
Meanwhile, I also noticed a few other things about the video: every person in the room has their own completely unique body type. (In fact, spend some time in a variety of Ashtanga rooms around the world, and you will see that the practice is for everyone and done by everyone, of all ages, shapes and sizes.) The students are generally so intent on doing their practice, they don't seem to be caught up in how they "look," but are just trying to breath and move to the best of their abilities. I'm not thinking at all about what I "look" like, either: I'm teaching. We are all present, breathing and moving, in these few moments. It's only after I looked at the video that I judged myself.
Maybe another answer to body dysmorphia is to stop taking (yoga) selfies and posting them on the internet, when the intent is to get attention or admiration. Because, how does it feel when we don't get the response we were seeking? Future suffering can be avoided, indeed.
In any event, in the interests of full disclosure, and to face my fears and self judgment, I'm posting a quick clip of our Mysore room working peacefully and quietly together. Enjoy.