By Indira Das-Gupta
I have a confession: I honestly don't know how much I weigh. I haven't owned scales for over a decade unless you count the ones I use for baking cakes. and I wouldn't recommend hopping on those. I have a rough idea of my weight from doctor's visits but I tend to forget within about 5 minutes of being weighed. I've always maintained that I practice Yoga for how it makes me feel, not because of any effect it might have on my weight.
Don't be too quick to dismiss me as a smug or think, "Well she probably doesn't need to worry about her weight." There was a time when I worried about my weight - a lot. The irony was that was when I was at my thinnest I was also the saddest I have ever been. You see I found out the hard way that your self worth has nothing to do with what it says on the bathroom scales.
When I was a teenager, like many girls that age, I started to feel self conscious about my appearance. It actually had nothing to do with my weight. Being half Asian I developed visible facial hair, basically a 'tache which as you can imagine made me excruciatingly self conscious. It's taken me many years to figure it out but I can see now that I started controlling what I ate because I couldn't control the fact that my hormones were making me hairier.
It started off innocently enough, I just started to eat "more healthily", but somewhere along the line this just simply meant that I started to eat less, a lot less. I weighed myself all the time and was very thin, I had never been over weight to start with. My hair also became very thin and my periods which had barely started, stopped. I also felt hungry all the time and was miserable as hell. Back then these things weren't tackled very sensitively and I still cringe to remember the time a teacher asked me in the crowded staff room where I had just dropped off some books if I was anorexic. I don't know how she expected me to respond but obviously I just denied it.
This went on for a couple of years and then after my first holiday away with a friend and without parents I just started to feel a bit more comfortable in my own skin. I realised that I didn't want to be sad and hungry all the time any more, that I was wasting so much energy on worrying about food and that I wanted to have more energy to start really enjoying life again. From that moment I started to eat more and swore I'd never go on a diet again. Not that you could call what I was doing dieting, I just didn't eat enough. I nearly broke that vow before I got married as it seemed like the done thing to do, diet before the big day, but I couldn't really be arsed in the end as I enjoyed eating well too much by then.
Just because I don't do diets or scales any more that doesn't mean I have had a sip of that magical and elusive elixir that makes you immune to worrying about your appearance (if you know where I can get some, let me know!) I have my own insecurities like anyone. As a Yoga teacher I know that people assess my appearance and expect me to look a certain way, ie toned and slim. I have had IBS for years and before that had numerous undiagnosed food intolerances which means that for as long as I remember I have suffered with pretty severe bloating. That's why I tend to wear baggy tops when I teach. I'd love to say that I don't care if I get so bloated that I look four months pregnant, but I do. But at least I recognise these days that starving myself is not the answer. I do eat healthily and have to be careful to avoid certain foods. But I don't deprive myself of the foods I love like chocolate and cheese because I understand now that any food in moderation is generally fine, unless of course you have an allergy or intolerance - I thank my lucky stars I'm not allergic to those two things!
So what has all this got to do with Yoga? Well I have been asked by potential clients in the past if Yoga will help them lose weight and tone up. And the answer is yes and yes. However, Yoga has so much more to offer than that. It will help you to start making healthier choices, but most importantly it will help you to find self acceptance. For me that's an ongoing project but I'm so much happier in my own skin after having two kids and pushing 45 than I was at 16 when I weighed a lot less.
I honestly believe that if I had discovered Yoga as a teenager I wouldn't have gone down that road but I'm actually grateful for the lesson it taught me. It's also because of my own experiences that I'm so passionate about helping other women and girls to develop a healthier relationship with their weight and appearance by prioritising their own self care. Yoga has helped me develop a greater appreciation for what my body can do. Our bodies are pretty bloody amazing, they allow us to do so many things that give us joy.
My body allows me to flow through Dynamic Vinyasa Yoga classes, do headstands, run, cycle, dance and best of all has given me two beautiful children. Why the hell would I want to punish something so amazing? I want to take care of it so that it allows me to keep doing all these things (no more kids for me though thanks, two is enough!)
So do Yoga for the joy of moving with the breath, to help you build strength and mobility, to find a real connection to your body. Just please don't weigh yourself afterwards because your worth has absolutely nothing to do with what it says on those scales.