On her popular lifestyle site, My Kind of Life, Emily Nolan inspires her readers to be gentle—with themselves and with others. Here, the blogger and model shares a piece of her personal journey towards a kinder, more loving body image.
Yoga: a hot mess of sweat, with a hyper-fit instructor repeatedly leading the group into awkward and uncomfortable positions on a tiny mat for over an hour. How could someone pay to do that? Not me.
That’s how I felt 10 years ago.
Looking back, I know now why staying on the mat was so hard for me, even for just a few minutes: It required me to live with myself. And I was unhappy with the body I was given (soft, but athletic). Unlike the graceful women in dance class, I was the strong, athletic softball player with rock-hard thighs that almost always outsized those of my boyfriends'.
But happily, my first attempts fulfilled me just enough to keep going back. For me, yoga became not just a movement practice, but a place where I could work through all of the crap I had never wanted to deal with: eating disorders, the female athlete triad, body dysmorphic disorder, stress, love, joy, wanting, acceptance. Despite my constant internal struggle to show up to practice, I knew it was something my body had long been yearning for.
As I learned to sit with my own silence and clean out my dusty drawer of thoughts, I began to find solace in yoga. In 20 years of life, it was the first movement practice I participated in that was inclusive—where I could be any age, size, or color.
In the beginning, heaps of emotions would find their way out of me and onto my mat. In moments of stillness and body-drenching sweat, my mind would finally find the space to feel happy. To feel worthy enough to be just as I am: a beautiful, strong body without illness. A mind and body that does not need any fixing, because it’s perfect just the way it is.
After years of dumping my daily stressors on a small mat fully committed to giving my body a safe haven, I noticed that I had never noticed something. I had been totally unconcerned with whether or not yoga had a “size” (like everything else in life—especially in my profession as a model). Quite possibly, that’s why the flow was so healing. It was the first movement in my life that was non-violent, incorporating my body and mind as one.
Yoga was so far from six-pack abs and college boot camp, yet when I practiced, a toned body and a healthful lifestyle were added benefits. My healthier decisions were all choices that I made on my own—not because I was seeking validation, as with almost all of my pre-yoga decisions. The healing practice gave me the confidence to feel worthy again. Worthy when, at times, I doubted I would ever again love myself the way I did as a young, uninhibited child. Of course, it was my decision to continuously practice, but the community of yogis—all of you guys—changed the trajectory of my body confidence. You loved me then, and still.
Most of us go to yoga because our day stops (for a while) and our health accelerates. We go to yoga in search of community—not judgment. We go to yoga because it’s healing. And most importantly, we go to yoga because it’s an expression of gratitude for the healthy body with which we’ve been blessed.
As humans, we are connection-seekers. Since when did movement become this unfulfilling word, “exercise?” Since when did we start exercising to seek a new body, and stop moving with fulfillment to appreciate the body we already have?
As life flows in and out like the tide of a wild ocean, we all change. Our bodies morph. Our strength grows, and it also weakens. Our endurance ebbs and flows. A practice that is inclusive to all is a practice that will last as long as our bodies do. There is no “size” of a life, unless you measure our light, our compassion, our love. If yoga could speak, I bet it would agree.
It would probably say something like, “You are perfect, just the way you are.”
photo by Michael Weschler