It snuck up on me before I even realized it. I was walking into yoga, my mat rolled under my arm, minding my own business, and out of nowhere there appeared a perfectly beautiful specimen of a woman. She was tall and thin with her hair smoothed back into a neat ponytail. She was elegant and drop-dead gorgeous. And her body? Ridiculous. Before I could even take in the entire spectrum of her prettiness, my stomach started to churn, my shoulders dropped, my eyes sank, and my feet wanted to run back to my car. Just the mere sight of such a beast of beauty made me want to cower and hide.
But I didn't.
Instead, I went into that yoga class and had a little sit-down with myself. I knew that my self-esteem hadn't been at an all-time high, but my reaction to her was piercingly painful and I was astonished at how much shame I felt. Just for being alive. Just for being myself. Just for having a messy bun and a few extra L-B's on my ass.
I searched my mind for the thought that triggered the shame-implosion and I found that sneaky old bugger, "I'm too fat." Seriously, you again? I thought we parted ways long ago, but alas, here I was, working that same ol' damned thought.
Thought inquiry is a powerful tool to bring into our yoga practice. It teaches us to look at our thinking and notice the reaction to our thinking. Through the practice, we learn that our reactions are not due to the circumstances of our lives, but rather they are reactions to the thoughts we believe. In other words, I did not implode into a fury of unworthiness because of any provable fact. What happened was that I believed a thought, I believed a little sentence that went through my head, and that's all. My mind offered up the thought, "I'm too fat," and I said, "Yes, you're right" and ran with it.
But I didn't have to. That's the beauty of thought inquiry. It gives you the chance to really understand the disastrous outcome of believing toxic thoughts and then you can choose, instead, to believe something more true, something more kind.
When I believe the thought, "I'm too fat," I try to make myself smaller in every way. I hunch my shoulders, I suck in my stomach, I avert my eyes from connecting with people. I try to hide, I punish myself, I berate myself and I stop myself from entering the arena of my life. It's a horrible thought and not one single good thing comes from it.
Without that thought, I'd be a woman simply going about her day. I'd be a woman on her way to a yoga class. I'd be listening to the bird, and noticing the smell of jasmine in the air, and the pretty woman in front of me would carry no negative charge. The heaviness of shame, despair and self-loathing wouldn't be there.
The incredibly liberating thing about this practice is that we learn to feel better without having to change a thing other than our mind. Feeling better had nothing to do with my weight. In that moment, my pain was solely a product of believing a crappy thought.
By the end of class, in savasana, I began to search for a thought that was more true than "I am too fat." After an hour of being in my body, working through my yoga poses, and practicing thought inquiry, I finally remembered who *I* am.
I finally remembered that I am not my body. I am not my big toe, I'm not my fingernail, I'm not my knee and I'm definitely not the fat within my body. I am something other than that. I am the consciousness that resides in a body. My soul is not fat. Therefore, who I am... is not fat.
And I realized that this is really the antidote to any self-esteem problem: remembering who we really are. When we identify ourselves with our flaws (fact or fiction) we're making a horribly painful mistake. We are forgetting that we are bigger and more sacred than any piece of egoic identity. To find peace, we must bring ourselves back home to who we really are.
As I walked out of that class, I realized that I was behind the exact same lady and her beauty was no longer a threat. She was just another soul. I stood tall, smiled at her and walked back to my car. I was just myself and that was good enough.
And that's the funny thing about self-esteem: when it's bad, you feel horrible, and when it's good, you just feel like yourself. And nothing's better than that.
- Want more inspiration? Sign up for my newsletter and get the blog emailed to you every Tuesday.
- Know another way-finder-soul-seeker who'd like this? Forward this to a friend.