In my classes this week I have been inviting my students to use positive affirmations as we move through our practice. One mantra that I use to help empower my mums-to-be in pregnancy yoga is: “I am powerful, I am beautiful, I am strong, I am enough”. I recite this to my students confidently, proudly, passionately, almost bellowing it with my enthusiasm for them to own it, feel it, to truly believe it….. sorry about that!
It’s a surprising thing for me to do really as I am the girl who cannot take a compliment! Take this as an example, a rather British rose fair-skinned friend of mine once complimented me on my natural all year round tan. In response I spluttered and launched into a long-winded practical explanation that I had been born six weeks premature, with jaundice, shoved under a UV light and therefore have a base tan and continue to tan well as a result… Her response was: “you could have just said thanks….” And she is not the only person to have heard that explanation in response to a kind remark about my complexion! Generally, when I am paid a compliment I go bright red, splutter and come up with some sarcastic self-deprecating response to explain why they are wrong. I believe people do actually pay me compliments sometimes just to revel in my entertaining awkwardness… In any event, I am working on this and for some time now I have been practising letting those automatic defences settle in my head as I look at the floor to open up and mutter a thank you…
I should also explain that I’m a not a natural receptor for positive affirmations. I dislike cheesiness. I’m Northern for a start. But despite my hard nose, I am rather sentimental and romantic but I am not into cheesy phrases and over-sized cuddly bears nor do I indulge in reading romantic poetry. I’ll take the diamonds, the champers and sincere romantic gestures – I’m basically more of a materialistic Pam Ayres than Shakespeare’s Sonnets kind of girl. I mean, if a suitor seriously said: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”… Eh? A wet weekend in Southport? No thanks!
I’ve explained before that I’ve had issues with self-esteem and I know lots of women and men of all ages who do. I know it has been flummoxing for some people around me to understand why I did as objectively I’ve never truly had a weight problem (first year Uni bloat was due to greed and doner kebabs for midnight snacks) but even slim or skinny people have anxiety and self-image issues. No one owns insecurity and we’re all bombarded by the same media campaigns that tell us we need to work on something or buy that lipstick or tone our abs to look normal, to look good.
Accepting myself has been something I’ve tried to deal with since being an over-sensitive teenager through to being an over-sensitive 30 odd year old and it finally came to a head in India last year during my Yoga Teacher Training. I have always ALWAYS had HOT friends. Seriously hot. And smart and beautiful inside too I must quickly add. And this pattern was repeated when I met my roommate for the Yoga Teacher Training course – my dear dear soul sister Wee Beastie (that is actually what people call her). Strange name aside, Wee is beautiful. She has a quirky style, small elfin facial features, beautiful clear skin, boobs and curves but balanced on a trim athletic frame. She draws like a creative demon, has a cracking personality with sparking Scottish wit and a big old heart. You hate her too right?! ; )
We shared a room for 6 weeks and then travelled together for a wee while longer (see what I did there?). During the Yoga Teacher Training she and I faced up to a lot of our issues and for me that included standing next to her sweating like a beast in the Indian Sun without a scrap of make up on and a fringe I was growing out while she styled out her fishermans trousers and slicked her hair back into these kind of cool bunches (which I could never pull off – we must all admit our own strengths and weaknesses). In the spirit of openness and new friendship and the sheer madness of India I told her I was struggling with my self-esteem especially standing in her light and she b*llocked me, gave me a talking to, a rather suffocating hug and told me I was beautiful and needed to start to believe it.
Following that I embarked on an excruciatingly awkward campaign of using positive affirmations. I refused to put make up on to hide my face and instead each time I cleaned my teeth or washed my hands I would look in the mirror, cringe slightly at first, and then begin to stop the internal monologue of “I have spots, my nose is too big, I have bags under my eyes” and repeat with a smile: “I am as God intended.” I couldn’t go straight for the “I am beautiful” or more poetic (obvs) of the positive affirmation spectrum but for me by letting the responsibility for my face rest in God’s hands (and I wasn’t even sure I was Spiritual at this stage either) helped me to accept myself as I am. That then took the pressure off in terms of how I could and should make myself look and feel better. Using the positive affirmation also meant I had no space for my thoughts to drift off and to start comparing myself to those I thought more naturally beautiful. And after some time, it then started to get easier to say it and then to feel it sincerely as I said it, and then I no longer needed to say it all.
I now look in the mirror most mornings with a smile. Honestly I do. I barely wear make-up now as I look at myself with far more acceptance than I used to. Over the last six months, a few people have told me I have this ‘glow’ (not the tan) and that I’m looking better than ever. Imagine how I responded to that in my head?!
In truth, I’m the same shape and size and roughly the same weight I’ve been for the last 10 years. And I still have days where my ‘issues’ will re-surface and that’s a day for big pants and an extra coat of mascara! Only the other day I let my Buddha belly hang out to the extent my Dad asked me if I had something to tell him… (I’d eaten a loaf of bread).
The real change has been in how I feel about my body. I accept it and I now take care of it. I have less stress in my life for sure but objectively I do less cardio exercise then I ever have (I only do yoga), I do not punish my body and wish for it to change, and I no longer diet or calorie count. I take care over what I put in my body overall but I still indulge in chocolate, cake, cheese, alcohol and chips but when I do I do it guilt free. I thank my body. I respect it for what it does every day in every moment and for what it allows me to do – to walk, to breathe, to stand on my head. And I let it rest, on a mat, often with a lavender eye mask.
My little experiment with positive affirmations worked for me and it’s why I bring them into class and say them to you from my heart. I am as God intended. I am powerful. I am beautiful. I am strong. I am enough. And so are you. Just recite it. And then let yourself believe it.