This week two young men came to my yoga class. They were total newbies but they were game for everything I threw at them. They settled strongly into their first-ever utkatasanas, and when we transitioned into a prayer twist, they were able to twist with almost perfect alignment. I couldn't resist adjusting the placement of their upper arms on their legs and helping them use the resistance to twist deeper. That's not an easy pose for a beginner. I had to take a moment to admire, and if I'm honest, be a little envious. I can't get my arm firmly outside my thigh in that twist, so I can't use it to get the deep rotation my newbies were enjoying.
In the early years of my yoga practice, it would have been a great motivator to see those two guys in their deep twists. I would have thought, "All in good time. When I lose the weight I'll be able to do that too." When I started yoga, I was looking for exercise I enjoyed that would help me lose weight. After two years of settling into bad habits, I'd gained a lot of weight without really noticing. I decided to get myself "on track" so I didn't end up diabetic or worse.
I did lose weight (from yoga and lap swimming and changing my eating habits) but the best thing that came from my yoga practice was body awareness. I checked in with the scale every so often, but eventually, even as I noticed that my clothes were fitting looser, I put on a bunch of badass muscle and the number on the scale seemed to be the same no matter what. It bothered me, and I could have redoubled my efforts to lose weight (fewer calories! take up running!), but the body awareness I'd gained from my yoga practice led to a shift in priorities. Because of my yoga practice, I can feel small changes and fluctuations in my body, and I know what to do if I start feeling bad. I don't need a nutritionist or a scale to tell me if I'm making good choices. I notice.
Even better, this body awareness led me to appreciation for my body. After all the abuse that I put it through, it keeps carrying me through life. It is something to be grateful for, not ashamed of, frustrated by, or starved in the name of future perfection.
I am not on any strict diet (I eat vegan but I still enjoy an occasional treat) or exercise regimen, and there are definitely times when I get lazy. Sometimes I wake up feeling a little lighter, and other times I don't. But I am in much better health than I was when I started yoga, and that was my goal. My blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels are healthy (and much better than quite a few skinny people I know). I don't envision a thinner future self, and I don't punish my body for being what it is. I live in the moment and do what I can with the body I have. It feels good to do yoga for yoga's sake. If weight loss happens, great. If not, that's okay too.