When spring comes I get all excited about sunshine, daffodils, artichokes and long walks on the beach. It’s that feeling of finally emerging from the cold and grey, breathing fresh air and moving towards the best part of the year: summer. But shedding layers of woollen jumpers and scarves also means it’s the time of the year when you start exposing some flesh. For a long time in my life it has been a moment of dread, that realization that no, I hadn’t worked out enough during winter and yes, all those hot chocolates helped tuning in to hygge but not so much to ‘beach body ready’.
I have a massive grudge with this expression: it is wrong on so many levels and yet it keeps popping in to my mind whenever spring approaches. Beach-body-ready encapsulates everything that is wrong about how society treats women’s bodies and everything that is wrong about how I’m still hung up on such a non-spiritual, vain and validation-seeking aspect of life.
It’s also a reminder of how I got into yoga: I wanted to be thinner and look like all those bendy super models on Instagram. I’m glad yoga taught me there is SO much more to it than that, and most importantly I’m grateful it helped me deal with my mind and spirit, not just my body. But it’s interesting that as much as I have learned and progressed on the path to self-love and self-compassion, I sometimes still find myself thinking I would look better if I weighted 5kg less. I have been working on re-wiring my brain and soul to be free of these frankly stupid assumptions. And yoga, as the most important tool of self-healing in my life, has been central to the process.
To get some confidence before walking in my bikini from my towel to the shore, I always used to say this to myself: “I’m not perfect but nor are others”. I would rely on other people at the beach also feeling self-conscious about their body and therefore not really minding if I had a muffin top. A perfectionist by nature, I never really liked this way of looking at things so when yoga came along with “we are all perfect” I immediately jumped ship. This idea that we don’t need fixing, that we are all an expression of the divine and that we are enough has been revolutionary for me. The yogic concept of ahimsa (commonly translated s non-violence) comes from the idea that all human beings have the spark of the divine spiritual energy and therefore to hurt another being is to hurt oneself. Judging ourselves and thinking that we are less than perfect is a form of violence against ourselves.
Sometimes it feels like we live our lives as if they were a very long Instagram feed, building a carefully curated version of our activities to (not so subtly) provoke envy in others. If we go to the beach and don’t take a selfie where we look hot, what’s the point of even going? Having fun is only really worth it if that post gets a lot of likes. This externalisation of happiness is sad. And dangerous. It also forgets that we are not the centre of the universe. Yoga teaches us there is so much more than our earthly bodies: through our practice we learn to surrender to the divine, connect to the universe and tune in to our Higher Self. For me, one of the most powerful practices to remind me of this is Kirtan, the devotional chanting of mantras. It’s where I flow, transcend my body and feel that connection with the universe that makes me forget about all this beach body ready bullsh*t.
Nobody’s like you
Body positivity has come a long way but it’s still hard not to compare ourselves to others. It’s a silly thing to do, because there is nothing more blatantly obvious than the fact that we are unique. In good and bad. Who else has the same combination of physical appearance, personal history, genetic background and innate talents? Nobody. Literally.
So why do we think we should look like the others? Yoga is very clear on this point, even when practising asanas: any yoga teacher will teach you about listening to YOUR body, finding YOUR edge and working with it. The best way to work with this is to practise with your eyes closed: there will be nobody to compare yourself to, just your breath to guide you.
Three practical tips to get over it
Instead of living inside your head, go and live the moment. It’s simple, yet not easy. We are overburdened with chronic thinking, which we associate with who we are (cogito ergo sum), rationality and intelligence. This hinders our ability to stop the mind when it goes into overdrive. Whenever you feel like your mind is taking control and making you feel inadequate because you are not ‘beach body ready’, stop and breathe. The breath is your best anchor to the present moment: you cannot breathe in the future tense. It is one at a time.
2. Don’t diet, eat happy food
So you think you are overweight and start dieting. This will make you miserable and potentially unbearable to anybody who is around you. Instead of thinking that you must eat less and punish yourself for not being ‘beach body ready’, approach food for what it is: nourishment. Nothing more and nothing less. Eat good, healthy food in decent quantities: don’t starve yourself and don’t overeat- both are basic applications of ahimsa. Eat mindfully (without checking your emails or watching Netflix) and stop at 80% of fullness. Not overeating means you won’t feel guilty and whatever your body looks like when it’s time to go to the beach will be the result of a balanced diet, not a sequence of starving and binge eating that makes you feel self-conscious about it. If you are not sure what healthy food means, talk to a nutritionist or read about the sattvic diet. It does wonders for me.
3. Don’t work out, have fun
How many times have we signed up to a gym on the first day back from the Christmas holidas? Every year. And how many times have we cancelled the subscription as soon as the horrible ‘till death do us part’ gym deal permitted it? Gyms stink, but more than that it’s our motivation that stinks. We need to find an activity that makes us feel good so that we stick to it. Again, the concept of punishing ourselves doesn’t work. There is a dangerous culture of pushing the limit to achieve better results. Yoga is no stranger to this attitude: sadly, many think of it as a workout and a competition to who does more acrobatics on the mat. This is not going to help you and will most likely result in injuries. Choose a sport that suits you, do it with friends and whenever possible outdoors. You’ll get all the endorphins you need to never give up.
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