By Valerie Brusamarello
About five years ago, I used to think that practicing yoga was for people young and limber. I also believed that my thighs were the size of tree trunks and the ham hocks I called my upper arms needed to be covered with sleeves. It wasn’t until I became a dedicated yogi (at the age of 37) that my self-image changed and I realized how amazing my body is.
It all started when my friend convinced me to attend a pop-up yoga event at my local park. If you haven’t heard of pop-up yoga, it’s where someone posts on social media the time and place of a yoga session lead by a local instructor. Those who join give a small donation in exchange for a class.
I was apprehensive at first. “I don’t know the first thing about yoga!” I nervously explained to my friend. “I’m going to have to practice in front of people I don’t know. What if they judge me? What if I make a fool of myself?” Fortunately, my friend persisted and I arrived at the park skeptical and self-conscious.
In just one afternoon I felt a change. I’m not sure if it was the smell of freshly cut grass, or the feeling of being completely at peace, but I was hooked. It felt like my mind was cleansed and replaced with positivity. Immediately after my first pop-up yoga session, I enrolled in classes at a yoga studio near my house.
Besides making me feel healthy, rejuvenated and great (physically), I’ve also experienced spiritual and psychological rewards. For the first time in many years, I feel more present in everything that I do, as well as less stressed and very optimistic despite the daily punches that life throws at me.
But the best gift so far stems from the fact that yoga has taught me how to love my body – despite its numerous imperfections.
1. I am more appreciative of what I can do with my body.
My yoga practice has made me very appreciative of what my less-than-perfect body can do. My tree trunk sized thighs are now strong legs that allow me to climb a mountain or sink fully into Virabhadrasana. Those ham hock arms are now what support me in Chaturanga Dandasana and give a much-needed bear hug to a friend in need. Yoga taught me that what I thought were flaws in my body, were instead strengths.
I started to go to yoga class every day. I loved the positivity and impact it made on my life. In fact, I loved it so much that I signed up for a yoga teacher training in Dharamsala, India.
I couldn’t help but be blown away by the realization of just how much my resilience under some of the most strenuous yoga sessions had grown over the years. Finally, after three years of consistent training and perseverance, I felt that I was physically fit and strong enough to see it through difficult exercises and even match up to fellow yogi counterparts who were almost half as young as I am.
At times, during Savasana – at the end of a very difficult practice – my body has a way of reminding me that I am still breathing and alive despite having spent more than four decades on earth. In those moments, I can feel life and enthusiasm pumping through my veins in a fierce succession. It’s a feeling that I think everyone should try to appreciate, which is why I decided to become a yoga teacher.
2. I have grown to accept that we are all uniquely different and have very different bodies.
Before I started practicing and teaching yoga a few years ago, I had a very dim and pessimistic view of life. I had serious self-esteem issues and could barely look at my reflection in a mirror without breaking into a spell of despondency and self-pity. I constantly compared myself to Victoria’s Secret models and famous actresses.
It was only when I took up yoga, that I noticed that each one of us has bodies that are different. We all have bones that fit together in a unique jigsaw-like pattern, but not a single body is the same. That’s the reason no matter how much you practice Baddha Koṇāsana (or the Cobbler pose), you will never be able to complete the pose in the same way as the next yogi.
3. I have more respect for myself.
Call me an idealist, but yoga – stretching and sweating it out in a hot room – has made me recognize the benefits of treating myself positively. This has effectively translated to viewing myself in a higher regard than I have ever done before. I eat healthier, sleep better at night, and have also let go of the negative vibes that were holding me back.
Looking back, I realize how unhappy I was and how I didn’t respect myself. I use this knowledge to try to identify other people that may be struggling with their inner demons. Helping and empowering people through yoga brings even more happiness to my life. I feel like I’m taking small steps towards making this world a better place.
4. I eat healthier and live a more wholesome life.
In line with the spiritual enlightenment that yoga has added to my life, I have also noticed that I strive to fuel my body with healthier choices. As much as I love a Crunchwrap Supreme from Taco Bell, I couldn’t tell you the last time I had one. It’s not because I’m depriving myself, but because I know that cheesy, gooey fast food will only make me feel sluggish and most likely ill in about 30 minutes.
I think about how my twenties and thirties were so focused on dieting and losing weight. I used to think that losing 5 pounds would make me happy, but I was actually combating self-confidence issues and focusing on the wrong goals.
I love that my healthy eating choices stem from the fact that I want to feel good when I squat on my yoga mat, instead of focusing on how I look in a mirror.
5. Yoga has taught me the virtue of accepting where I am in life.
Finally, if there is one thing that yoga training, teaching, and practice have taught me over the past two years, it is that good things always take time. Sometimes when I’m feeling frustrated in yoga or life, I think back to my yoga breathing techniques to calm myself.
Even if I would really like to master a pose within a few days, I have come to accept the fact that it always has to be a work in progress. Nothing worthwhile in life works overnight. And, as a direct result, I now employ the same school of thinking to my once unhealthy relationship with my body. Yoga has taught me to love myself for who I am.
At 42, I’m in the best shape of my life, mentally and physically. I cut out toxic thoughts and relationships to make room for more positivity and growth. The imperfections of my body are no longer an issue and I view myself as a strong and beautiful woman. I no longer try to compare my body with those of famous models in magazines, I love my body for its strength and potential instead.
My hope is that other women find ways to positively impact their life. Love their bodies the way they are and treat themselves like they deserve to be treated.
Valerie is on the content team for Siddhi Yoga. She enjoys finding new depths to her yoga practice, hiking in Colorado, and walking her dog, Rita. Val continues to spread her love for yoga around the world.