Re-Embodiment On and Off the Yoga Mat
By Jenny Weinar, LCSW, Guest Contributor
Yoga was an integral part of my journey home to myself, even before I knew I was on the journey.
Like many Western practitioners, I came to yoga initially through the back door of fitness. Having become a compulsive gym-goer throughout my decades-long battle with disordered eating and distorted body image, I longed for the litheness seemingly promised by this practice. Actually, I think I first tried yoga after reading about a few Hollywood celebrities who swore it was all they did to maintain their physiques.
I quickly discovered a relationship to movement I had never quite had before. Some natural flexibility gave me the impression that I was “good at yoga,” and even though I was still approaching the practice from a disordered mindset, this was the first time I felt confident about any movement practice after years of school gym class trauma and a generally tortuous relationship to exercise.
Ultimately with this sense of confidence came a sense of safety with the practice of yoga, which was enough to keep me coming back. It also led me to overstretching and misalignment in the early years when I still believed that “advanced” yoga was characterized by pushing myself into the most intense version of every pose.
As I progressed in my eating disorder recovery my yoga practice mellowed, but it continued to serve as a vehicle for the return home to my body, breath by breath, from the safety of my mat.
When I came to the decision to pursue yoga teacher certification, I was lucky to connect with a local studio that teaches and trains from a body positive, anti-colonial perspective. My previously slow and steady healing process accelerated rapidly during my training, thanks to my incredible teachers and cohort of trainees, all on their own healing journey of some kind.
I learned how much nicer it can feel in my body to use blocks and props, even if I could contort and force myself into poses without them. I came to accept that my body will exhibit different capabilities and limitations every day, which compels me to ask my body what it needs in any given moment and challenges me to respect the answer, even when this conflicts with my arbitrary expectations for myself (hello, ego!).
These practices, which started on the mat, have radically transformed how I show up in my life: how I take care of my body, how I engage in my relationships, how I perceive and treat others. I now understand that “advanced” yoga happens in these moments, on or off the mat, in which I return to my authentic self and act from an embodied place in alignment with my values.
Today, my most advanced practice looks like taking child’s pose while everyone else continues to flow. It looks like skipping class altogether when I’m acutely aware of my body’s need for rest. It looks like turning towards my inner critic and asking what it’s actually afraid of. It looks like setting boundaries with loved ones and speaking my truth. It looks like showing up in my life and taking up space, physically and emotionally. These are only some of the gifts of yoga that I wish for anyone on their own journey home to themselves.
Jenny Weinar, LCSW, is body positive psychotherapist and consultant in Philadelphia specializing in treating disordered eating and distorted body image. She received her Master's of Social Work with a specialization in Health and Mental Health from Hunter College and holds a Bachelor's of Arts from Wesleyan University. Jenny is a licensed Be Body Positive Facilitator and currently training to become a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. She is trained in various therapeutic modalities and certified to teach yoga. You can connect with Jenny on Instagram, Facebook, and through her website.