by Julie Norman, BS, E-RYT
I came to know body peace and recovered from an eating disorder long before I ever struck a pose, saw a therapist, or journaled. However when asked how I got better, and stay that way despite dismal statistics, I say yoga. In this piece I’ll share why and invite you to not only advocate for a body positive world, but to truly embody that yourself.
One spring day at the Kentucky Horse Park twenty some years ago, I was grazing my show horse after an event. My steed Patrick had jumped his heart out among a field of purebred, structurally exquisite equine athletes placing us in the national ranks. Though I was living my dream of having a horse and accomplishing my competitive goals, I was also in the thick of my eating disorder, which had begun at age five and followed me into adulthood. As usual I was “feeling fat” in my “normal” twenty-year old body, making it impossible to fully enjoy that moment.
My horse was munching happily on bluegrass when my trainer came by and, conscious of Patrick’s conventionally imperfect conformation, said, “I’d rather not have Patrick out and about the show grounds without a saddle on.” “What…?” I thought. You’ve got to be kidding me! Even animals are subject to the body image craziness in our culture?
I was shocked but not surprised. You see, my horse was not the typical show pony. He was an inexpensive half-breed with a sway back. Despite not fitting the physical mold of a champion, he was one. We had a lot in common that way. I too challenged the paradigm of elegant, thin, trust fund endowed equestrian by being a broke, bootylicious tom boy. Together Patrick and I excelled at our sport despite these distinctions. Success however, didn’t keep me from body insecurities nor did it keep my trainer from judging my horse’s body.
Like many, I had placed much of the fault for my body dissatisfaction outside of myself. I blamed the media, my competitors, my parents and so on. Interestingly, something different happened that day. As I stood there is awe I heard the message from deep within, “You are creating this reality.” Zero feelings of guilt or shame came with this insight, quite the contrary in fact. A lightness came over me. I felt hopeful, inspired, and for the first time in a very long while, I felt completely free.
I didn’t respond to my trainer. There was no need to. Trying to change his mind or behavior would have been a distraction from my own inner work, a diversion from the gift of awareness provided in this sacred reflection. A battle of wills would not matter. What mattered was that healing was set in motion. I stopped looking outside of myself to soothe my pain and instead choose to move into it and change the relationship with my body from the inside out. Within a year I no longer engaged in disordered eating or destructive exercise behaviors because I had learned how to shift from painful to peaceful body image through techniques I now understand as the practice of yoga.
That day I learned the law of karma, a foundational yogic principle. I would not make that connection until years later while studying yoga. Karma is essentially the law of cause and effect. This basic tenet says that we contribute to what is happening around us. That everything is interconnected and that we are at least partially responsible for the experiences we’re having. Think of throwing a stone into water and watching the ripples radiate out.
I realized that day that the war with my own body was contributing to the insanity. While not a direct connection, my personal vibration was helping to keep it alive. The path of yoga, which includes both practices and philosophy, is a scientific system that guides us to become conscious in this process. It empowers us to manifest the lives we want for ourselves and others.
This perspective was new to me and not what most people would expect given the typical approach to healing body image. Many of my colleagues and even folks outside the eating disorders field, jump to criticizing the trainer when I tell this story. This is ego; another important yogic concept. Ego is the scared, superficial level of ourselves. It’s modus operandi is to shirk responsibility, to judge, to change the outside world or others so we feel better. Even if we did away with runway models and photoshop, every individual would still have to work on feeling at home in their physical form. To love and accept themselves in their uniqueness, not just body wise, but in how they are called to live their lives.
Yoga posits that the body is the vessel of the soul and the soul is here having the human experience to contribute to the collective evolutionary process. We all have something special to offer humanity. The yoga term for this is “dharma.” To be authentic is tough though! We all run into hurt along the way wherein layers of ego are formed to protect our hearts from additional pain. This creates disconnection from the soul self, leaving us uncomfortable in our own skin.
When we get triggered ego is revealed and the agitation we feel from it is an opportunity to transform ourselves and the world around us. Yoga helps us do so through the practice of “ahimsa.” Most commonly translated as non-violence, it also means “compassionate awareness.” Sitting in the fullness of our experience, what the term “asana” really means rather than simply physical poses, heals those old wounds. Practicing presence without pretense burns off layers of ego returning us to the natural state of self love and wholeness we came here with. When the energetic load of the ego is lightened, peaceful body image is the result. When we are in this space we cannot be hurt by others and we radiate peace.
Often as advocates for size acceptance we get so caught up in righting wrongs that we become the violence we want to resolve. As Jack Johnson says in one of my favorite song lyrics, “We become what we hate.” If we are judging those judging us, if we create separation by believing it’s worse to be bullied about being fat than being thin or broke or ugly, we are in the vibration of fear and that will continue to create suffering for ourselves and others. It’s important we keep doing our own work simultaneously. This by no means excuses the actions of the bully. Let us remember however that hurt people hurt people. Their actions come from their pain. We are all walking the same path of healing back to wholeness. As we liberate ourselves, we free others. This is a practice that does not end once we become aware of it. To live peace is a dance between forgetting and remembering that we are already all right.
Everything we experience is for our learning. It takes our buttons being pushed to wake us up to the wisdom of the soul, to stand up for our light and heal through the fear of letting it shine. The experience I had that day got right to the roots of my painful body image which was just what I needed to remember my worth, that I mattered and that I am powerful. Not through fighting with the trainer, or the media but by fighting for myself through embodying self-love.
This is the path of yoga. You can do it anytime, anywhere without a mat. Sure, yoga poses help us get grounded, reconnect and de-stress but I encourage you to go deeper and move into what stirs you up. We must liberate ourselves before we can create sustainable change in the world around us. Otherwise we continue to feed the fear, guilt and shame but from a different perspective. Only from a place of compassion can we take empowered action. Blessings on your path of peace.
Julie Norman is the creator of Body Karma Healing: change your body image, change the world. This yoga-based system guides women to peace with their bodies and food so their hearts are free to enjoy life and serve in global healing. She provides individual coaching, workshops, retreats and lectures and recently published Poems From the Path of Peace, Vol. 1. A collection of personal musing matched to photographs that illuminate the healing journey back to sacred embodiment. Explore more at www.bodykarmahealing.com.