Originally posted as Thought for the Day on Yoga Teacher Journal. This post has been edited by the author.
Since I was 10 years old, I have been aware that my body was bigger than others my age. I hated my body. I hated it mostly because it made me different in a bad way. It made me feel awkward, outstanding; like a freak. It brought me unwanted and anxiety-ridden attention. I never felt like a cute little girl, a pretty girl, a beautiful girl. It meant I did not deserve to be a cheerleader, go to a pool party, or buy a princess dress to wear to my senior prom.
I have tried to change my body for three decades.
My initiation into the world of poor body image was on my twelfth birthday. I got my first gym membership to Gloria Stevens. It was given to me with good intentions, but, for godssakes, my 60-year old grandmother met her best friend there daily for a light workout and the latest gossip in her tights and body suit.
Like most people with an eating disorder or distorted body image, I tried every gym, pill, and diet to make myself a better person, a person other people would accept. With each failed attempt, I gained more weight and less self esteem. Because of my obesity, I have always avoided mirrors, cameras, and large groups of people. This self-hatred had me diagnosed with anxiety, panic disorder, depression, and binge eating disorder by the time I was 25. I reluctantly maintained these diagnoses for 15 more years.
In 2004, I took my first yoga class at Bikram Yoga Portsmouth, my little sister’s new studio. I tapped out at Full Locust, over two-thirds of the way through the class. I didn’t know this was an accomplishment for someone who hadn’t exercised in years. All I saw in the mirror was a fat loser. What I didn’t know at the time was that I had planted a seed of hope in myself by taking that class.
It took me years to attempt another class. I was ready for change. Somewhere deep inside, I knew this yoga could help facilitate that change.
My first three months of practicing yoga regularly I was my enemy. Every single class for 90 minutes, five days a week, I criticized my body.
“You are too fat to do yoga.”
“You are not good enough for yoga. Look at your fat stomach. Look at your fat arms. No wonder you can’t put your head to your knee in any of the compression postures. How dare you practice in the front row when you can’t even grab your foot in Standing Head to Knee? Who the hell do you think you are? You disgust me. You disgust others. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
For months, I dragged myself to class wishing every single second of every single class that it was over.
I swore at the teacher in my head. I hated the teacher. I hated the yoga. I hated myself.
I hated every thing about my life. I cried. I cried during class because I hated the yoga. I cried because I knew I would have to do the yoga for the rest of my life. I cried because I felt sorry for myself. I cried some more. I just wanted it to get easier. Why wasn’t getting easier? I quit hard things. This was harder than anything I had ever done.
With every drop of sweat, I wanted to quit.
After about 100 classes, in pure exhaustion, the light bulb went on. If this was the hardest thing I had ever done, wouldn’t that mean that life outside this hot room would get easier if I continued the yoga? It started to sink in. I do not know how, but I just kept doing the yoga. The yoga changed me. It changed everything in my life. Like a flower growing out of concrete, my hatred turned into love. Maybe I could do this yoga.
The yoga started to fix my hamstrings, cure my panic, and alleviate my depression. My plantar fasciitis disappeared. The one motivation that kept me going to class was that this was my answer. I had faith in the yoga. I began to embrace the struggles and the change came. Even each of those moments of hating yoga, hating myself, hating the teacher and the postures, for the first time in my life this was exactly where I belonged. Even being the biggest person in the room, I belonged there. For the first time, I could see myself and I liked what I saw. For the first time, I experienced peace.
Yoga is my home. It is where I feel normal. It is where I fit in, not just with the other students, but with myself. My face, my body, and my postures are exactly where they are supposed to be. I have achieved marriage between my body, mind, and spirit. The yoga allows me to maintain that marriage, to maintain self love, which ultimately pours over into the rest of my life. Finding the time and money to live the yoga life is so much easier than trying to maintain my sadness, depression, and negativity.
Today when I look in the mirror and ask myself do you love me? The answer is always a resounding, “Yes. At last Gina, YES!”
Gina Ceppetelli is a Quality Analyst for RCM and avid yogi who lives in Southern Maine with her son, Khalil.