I admit that feeling beautiful is a struggle for me. I can’t help but feel the stigma of mental illness and associate it with the way others view depression or anxiety or OCD. For this reason, I’ve managed to avoid getting into relationships because I assume my depression will be the front runner in how a potential partner views me.
It’s a scary feeling, opening yourself up to the world when some are so keen on tearing others down. But being and feeling beautiful aren’t necessarily about the exterior. I have crooked teeth, something I am EXTREMELY self-conscious about and money was always tight so I never had braces in high school. I think my nose is too big for my small face. My stomach could be flatter. I could have more defined arms. The list goes on…
Over a year ago, with the coaxing of a good friend, I made it to the yoga studio and never really left. When you first start yoga, you have preconceived ideas about it. You need to wear certain clothing. Your mat needs to look like this. If your arms aren’t decked out in 4 different Mala bracelets, you can’t sit with us. My body, having taken a long hiatus from dance, was stiff. I watched other yogis flow through challenging poses effortlessly. I thought I had signed up for a level 1 class. After 60 minutes of sweat and breathing, I wasn’t happy with myself. I thought of all the poses I had screwed up. My arms are too short. I need better yoga clothes because that will definitely help with my flexibility.
Wait, what am I saying? Pants have no power over my ability to touch my toes. I may look great struggling to reach the bottoms of my feet, but is that what yoga is really about?
When I first started coming to my mat, I was dealing with the aftermath of an emotional breakdown, an even more emotional breakup, and a general apathetic life outlook. I didn’t think something as simple as flowing through each asana (pose) could empower my then-fragile soul. As the year progressed, so did my practice. Instead of thin, I grew strong. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a powerful body that had been already been through so much but survived. I was beginning to love myself as a single, independent twenty-something who was learning not to measure my worth on whether I was in a relationship or not. I saw defined arms meant for inversions and hugging. I saw a stomach able to endure balancing poses and belly laughs. I saw myself in the mirror–this little yogi who felt OK in sweats and little black dresses, with or without makeup, naked or completely clothed.
I danced in this feeling which is why I’m so happy to start yoga teacher training in February. You see, your colorful pants or “perfect” tree pose don’t make you more or less of a yogi. What matters is how beautifully peaceful you feel at the end of your practice and how you carry that feeling through the rest of your day. I broke up with my old self in order to find this real self, the one who crashes into walls while trying handstands or Bird of Paradise pose. I feel beautiful just trying.
So the next time you feel not-so-hot, take to your mat or go for that run or sit quietly in a room and read a good book. Whatever makes you happy will also make you feel beautiful.