Getting Hot (Yoga) and Self-Esteemy
By Eve Hersh
I did something crazy yesterday.
No, it wasn’t that I baked dozens of peanut butter cup cookies for a friend’s birthday without eating half the dough.
It also wasn’t that I finally cleaned out my closet—this is the first time in YEARS I’ve had an actual surplus of hangers. An actual surplus, people.
And it wasn’t that I donned my hot yoga shorts for an actual hot yoga class (I usually just do Pilates in them, or if I’m being really honest, sleep in them—they’re super comfy).
And the crazy part wasn’t even that I actually enjoyed said yoga class–my enjoyment did come as quite the surprise, though, considering I’ve always said I hate yoga, and I’ve always believed that hot yoga is, to put it nicely, the exact opposite of heaven on earth.
The crazy part? It was that I took my shirt off halfway through (don’t worry, I had this on underneath).
If you’re a yogi, summertime runner, sunbather, or nudist, you’re probably thinking, So what?!
Here’s the so-what: I am quite self-conscious when it comes to my body. I don’t freely prance around in a swimsuit, I would never play strip poker (I also don’t have a propensity for gambling and don’t know the first thing about poker, but never mind that), and I definitely don’t frequent the gym locker room.
As a 20-something girl in an image-obsessed culture, it’s hard not to have some concerns about my body. So much emphasis is placed on how we look, not how we feel. Others often determine our value based on the shapes of our bodies and the symmetry of our faces, rather than the quality of our character. If you don’t watch what you eat, others will do it for you. If you lose weight, people will comment on it—usually in an encouraging and excited manner—further reinforcing the belief that our looks are the ticket to acceptance. And if you gain weight, well, sucks for you!
So yeah, I’ve never wanted to pair tight shorts with an even more fitted sports bra and contort my body into unfamiliar positions in a hot room filled with dozens of strangers and way too many mirrors.
But, that room was hot. And I was sweaty. And so my thought process went something like this: I’m so hot. I wish I could take my shirt off. Most women in this room are just wearing sports bras. But they’re probably skinnier than me, and they do yoga, like, a lot. But why can’t I take my shirt off? How am I any different from them? I’m in here taking care of myself. And they’re focused on perfecting whatever pose that is, not on whether my stomach looks appropriately concave. My body makes absolutely no difference to them. My body is my business. OK, off comes the shirt!
I pulled it off, threw it to the side, and resumed my Vrikasana.
And though I was still uncomfortably warm, with a sore hamstring and a million thoughts a minute, I felt better.
So I began to reflect on my inner critic, and how many of the things I believe about myself—the ones that so quickly become my “truths”–can be quickly debunked by the swift removal of a tank top, followed by a willingness to rethink what I say to myself.
The most valuable lessons I’ve learned about self-esteem and body image come from those around me that are comfortable with themselves—usually women that are well out of young adulthood. These women are comfortable with themselves. They know that their bodies are theirs and nobody else’s–that they can wear what they like, what makes them feel good, and really know that that’s all that matters. And maybe they too learned that they wasted years giving credence to a loud-mouthed inner critic.
My mom, who was also once a young woman experienced in emotional self-flagellation, always tells me that covering up reinforces the belief that I have something to cover. And I considered this (probably more thoughtfully than I ever had, I love my mom’s advice…but there are times that we all ignore mama’s wisdom) as part of my hot yoga revelation. Hmm. I thought. Is she right? Over the past few years, my shirts have become more and more modest. And the more I wear those not-so-revealing clothes, the more I turn away from the sexier, tighter varieties of clothing. And so taking the top off was revolutionary for me. It said, “I care more about my comfort than what anyone else in this room thinks.”
And so, as I Pigeon posed in that scorching yoga studio, with sweat dripping every which way, and the man next to me grunting a little too loudly, I felt momentarily shocked by my bold move. But soon, that moment of shock faded, and I focused on my breath. I focused on my pose. On the the stretch in my obliques. I stopped focusing on everyone else. I stopped looking in the mirror to make sure I wasn’t revealing too much. And I just was.
They say yoga is all about self-discovery. And I never bought into it. But now, I’m beginning to think I do.
And as I look forward to my next hot yoga session, I’m reflecting on this little decision I made: Anyone who evaluates me based on my looks alone is someone I don’t want in my life. And the person this starts with is me.