The Yoga of Vulnerability: My Confession by Kate Heffernan

I previously posted a quote from renowned yoga teacher Donna Farhi - “an authentic yoga practice is anything that nourishes an individual so that they can truly befriend themselves.” And I have to be honest, my yoga practice does nourish me - it makes me feel whole and full but I am afraid to admit that I am still not quite there on befriending my body.

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So, real talk time: As a yoga teacher, I tend to be pretty tight-lipped about my private life. This blog has been mostly focused on asana, technique, and philosophy. But lately, I’ve been doing a lot of self-inquiry, and as I am always on a quest to be more fully me in my teaching… I think it might be time to open up a bit and allow for some public vulnerability.

I don’t want to fight with myself anymore. I don’t want to shame my body anymore. Ever since I hit puberty, I have spent so much time and energy quietly worrying about my body, its size, the size I wish it was, and the things I should be doing to make my body be the way I want it to be. All the while I claim to be “body positive.” I don’t talk about getting a “bikini body” in my yoga classes, I cheer on friends and strangers alike who are outwardly accepting of their bodies, even enjoying their bodies just as they are. I like their photos, share their articles and say to myself, “How wonderful! That’s so awesome for them!” I have had many a conversation with students who come to me with their own hangups about their physical body, and I with compassion, explain that it’s not about the shape or size of the body but what it is capable of, what makes you feel alive and full and happy that matters.

I was a fraud. I was talking the talk, but not walking the walk. I was faking it, until I made it. While I believed all of these things, I only believed in all of these things for other people… I could never be like that. I could never be happy with the way I look until my waist got down to a certain number or my weight dropped back to my lowest adult weight (which by the way I only got there twice, once after my first major breakup and I couldn’t eat without crying and the second time was when I was going to the gym 5 days a week and on a heavily restrictive diet). I had been asking others to befriend their bodies when I myself had not done so myself.

Although I am not over-weight or unhealthy, I told myself that I don’t belong because I don’t into fit the stereotypical “yoga teacher” mold, I convinced myself that if only I were smaller I’d have more students come to my classes, that it was normal to skip meals and weigh myself every day and to punish myself by starving or running on the elliptical if the numbers on the scale didn’t adjust to my liking. Publicly I had been teaching my students about self-acceptance, self-care, and self-love while internally I had been waging a long-held war.

A common theme in my teaching comes from the Bhagavad Gita: “you have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions.” I often paraphrase this idea in my teaching and ask my students to be interested in the actions behind the pose they are doing rather than seduced by the outer shape of the pose. Now, I am trying to take a page our of my own book and am asking myself - can I be more interested in actions of my body, what makes it feel good, how it wants to move, what food fuels it in a pleasing and effective way?

I know this is just one step on my road towards less disordered thinking towards my body (I am an imperfect human after all) but just like yoga, it will have to be a practice. So, here’s my pledge to you and more importantly to myself - I am going to practice yoga in the most authentic way I can and work to be more interested in nourishing and befriending my body just as it is and to be less interested in its outer shape.

ps. If you are struggling with some of these same thoughts and feelings, this book did a lot to help me as I've been working through these issues:

Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight-- and What We Can Do About It