How One Yoga Teacher Reclaimed Her Healthy Body Image in the Face of Shaming

Energy Medicine Yoga founder, Lauren Walker, bases her teachings on the power of self-love. And here, she opens up about a recent moment when she was reminded just why it’s so important.
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I eat like a little bear cub all summer long, stuffing myself with berries, fats, nuts. All summer, I roam through farmers markets, yoga festival food stalls, food trucks, East Coast lobster shacks dripping in melted butter, and New England farms where apples snap like firecrackers.

I put on a nice little layer of fat—all over my little body. My muscles get a little softer in the summer too, slothing around as I do. Teaching, sure, and practicing, always, but slow the summer days go, and I get round and fleshy with the bounty.

Just like a little bear, I prep for winter. For me, winter is the time of highest energy output. Unlike the bears who live where I live, I become extremely active in the winter. It’s the active yang to my summer’s yin. It’s backward of most folks, and even of the seasons themselves, so I try to minimize the downsides of this, and fattening up all summer and fall is one way to do it.

But my little bear self was confronted by more than just the coming of a cold winter last summer. I had just finished writing my second book, a prescriptive living manual for health and achievement. And my publisher was going to shoot more than 200 pictures of me doing Energy Medicine Yoga (a combination of traditional energy medicine, yoga, and key principles of Ayurveda) poses for the book.

The cushy, life-supporting, layer of fat was not going to photograph well. And several people told me so.

Now, I’m a hybrid yogi. I was born and raised on the East Coast with a stint in New York City (where I learned yoga for the first time), but I’m also a Montana ski bum with an utter disregard for fashion or appearance other than pure functionality and comfort. Soft, natural, cold-weather fibers are my preferred swaddling for days of skiing, skating, shoveling, and playing in the snow.

Even though I was practically a thoroughbred Montana girl by this time, my East Coast vanity couldn’t help but assert itself.

I struggled seriously for a day or two, wondering if I should do a big cleanse, try to slim down, work out more. I’m in good shape—strong, with a healthy breath capacity, flexible enough to do Handstands and Bow Pose, and resilient enough to keep healthy as I travel around the world teaching yoga. But that’s different from camera-ready.

See also A Practice to Help You Break Up with Your Bad Body Image Once and for All

Confronting the Complexities of Healthy Body Image Head On

In a world that still treasures super-skinny women, six-pack abs, knife-edge jawbones, muscles cut like jewels, and large, round breasts, all I had was, well, the large, round breasts.

A big part of what I teach is healthy body image. I grew up and spent a large part of my adult life being ashamed of my body. I always thought I was fat and tried every diet and cleanse and purge under the sun to try to make myself look like those girls in the magazines. But all I ever felt was miserable.

It wasn’t until I started practicing yoga and then started skiing all winter, that I became truly happy with what my body could do, and the amount of joy my body could hold.

But flash forward 20 years, and so much of yoga is now about body-shaming, much like the trendy fashion magazines of my youth. So all over again, I’m confronted with images of super-skinny, hyper-flexible girls and women doing poses I’ll never be able to do in a body I’ve never had.

Aside from yoga and skiing, the single most important thing that saved me from a life of starvation and self-abnegation was discovering a raw fat diet that actually nourished me instead of punishing me. I also learned, in my many years of studying nutrition and women’s health, that a healthy woman’s body needs and wants a layer of fat on it. Fat is protective. Fat creates and digests hormones. Fat sequesters and gets rid of toxins. Fat allows us to get pregnant, grow a baby, feed a baby. Fat lets us age well and stay healthy. Fat creates all that powerful resilience that so many of us are looking for.

So when I look in the mirror and see that layer of soft, cushy, fat all over my body, to me it reads: Strong! Healthy! Powerful!

And yet it is hard to separate ourselves from the environment in which we live. Just like a fish doesn’t know it lives in water, we are submerged in a culture of thin, angular, almost impossible beauty standards. So on the one hand, I know I am healthy and strong, and I feel beautiful and purposeful in my body. And on the other hand, I am inculcated and inoculated with the idea that thin is beautiful.

But here’s the rub: Even the ones who are thin, even the ones who are tall, even the ones who are short, or brown, or black, or red, or yellow, or white, or green, think that they are not enough. The young ones wish they were older, because they think that’s where the power lies. The old ones wish they were young, because they think that’s where the power lies. Some of us wish we had never been born. We are sad, or we’re too joyful; we’re nervous or we’re afraid. We try to kick ass despite ourselves, and we cry at commercials.

But we all limit ourselves because we think we aren’t enough. No matter what. No matter where we are in our lives.

Here I was, a published author, a successful, international yoga teacher who created a new and powerful method for helping people heal, transform, manifest, and achieve. Here I was in a room with professional photographers, stylists, editors, and designers, and I felt uncomfortable, uncertain, and…fat. I knew that I had to dig deep.

See also Why Negative Body Speak Is Ruining Your Life (+ 3 Ways to Stop It Now)

The Most Difficult Pose in Yoga

I went into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror, right in the eyes, and I saw myself. I saw the young girl who had struggled with her weight. I saw the young woman who had felt ashamed and disgusted as she was objectified and sexualized by men and women both. I saw the 30-year-old woman start to stand in her power and realize her own inner strength, inner courage, and yes, inner divinity. And I saw the woman that I am today, with all of those others folded into the lines on her face, the curve of her belly, and the glint in her eye.

At the root of my method is the power of loving yourself, exactly as you are, right now, in this moment. This is perhaps the most difficult pose in yoga. This is the pose that every single person must find a way to do. And my experience teaching all over the world for 20 years has shown me that every single person struggles with this. Every. Single. Person. If we can remember that, we can remember to be a little kinder to the person next to us. We can remember not to judge anyone from where we stand. And then we can also be a little more kind to ourselves.

So I started to do what I know best, the methods I teach for overcoming your crap. I tapped the points I knew would help me move beyond those old feelings of inadequacy, fear, shame, and fatigue. I tapped the points I knew would help me access my innate feelings of self-worth and self-love.

This is what we all can do, must do. The world needs each and every one of us right now. The world needs the light of our billions of bright, honest souls. The world does not care if you have wrinkles or rolls, fears or shame. The world can see beyond all that, into the truth of your heart.

We must rip off the Band-Aids, cross swipe our swords, and do what we need to stand up and do. Through the discomfort, through the fear, draw up courage, with a thump and a cross, and away we go. Not despite our fears, but holding them close, loving them but not letting them rule.

So I lifted my shirt and bared my bear belly—round, ripply, stretch-marked, and soft—and took the pictures that show how to strengthen your core. Not how to get six-pack abs, but how to get strong, centered, and real underneath all of it.

See also Astrology: What Your Sign Says About Your Diet + Body Image

A Tapping Practice to Increase Self-Love

This powerful tapping protocol shifts your habit fields, your morphic fields. It’s called the Temporal Tap. Tapping along the cranial seam on the temporal bone helps to calm the fight-flight-freeze stress response and helps shift habits. Tapping along this pathway calms the Triple Warmer meridian, the system that holds habits. By tapping backward along this path, you momentarily stop the input of the millions of bits of information flooding your unconscious and insert a new thought “habit”—directly impacting your unconscious programming.

Loving the self is such a universal challenge due to the core paradox that we are wired to evolve beyond the self and at the same time we need to love and accept ourselves. So this is where we start:

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  1. Stand in front of a mirror and look yourself in the eye. This seems to increase the power of this practice.
  2. Bring the thumb and first two fingers of each hand together into a little ‘beak’ and tap each ‘beak’ firmly along both sides of your head, from the temples, around the ears, to the back of the head.
  3. Tap with a bit of firmness, and at the same time repeat the phrase “I love myself” or “I am happy” or “I am peaceful.” You are tapping in an affirmation. Your phrase should feel possible, positive, and desirable. State it in the present tense, for example, “I am healthy” or “My life is full of abundance” or “I am peaceful.”
  4. Repeat the phrases and the tap at least 3–5 times while looking at yourself in the mirror.

Practice excerpted from THE ENERGY MEDICINE YOGA PRESCRIPTION, by Lauren Walker. Sounds True, September 2017. Reprinted with permission.

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About the Author
Lauren Walker is the author of The Energy Medicine Yoga Prescription and Energy Medicine Yoga: Amplify the Healing Power of Your Yoga Practice. She’s been teaching yoga and meditation since 1997 and created Energy Medicine Yoga while teaching at Norwich University. She teaches EMYoga across the US and internationally and has been featured in Yoga Journal, Mantra Yoga + Healing, Yoga Digest, and The New York Times. She was recently named one of the top 100 most influential yoga teachers in America by Sonima. For more information, visit EMYoga.net.