Redefining Self Worth

In my early twenties I worked in a bank. I was opening a new account for an elderly Chinese couple one day as the husband stared at me. Finally he shared what he was thinking and asked, “Why do you look Asian?” I responded proudly and with a smile “Oh, because I am!” He then responded in disbelief, “But…’re so BIG!?!”

At 18 I went to visit family in the Philippines with my mom. I would pass strangers as they turned to get another look at the Pinay (Filipina) American. Comments that included “laki” or “taba” in Tagalog which translates to “large” and “fat” would often follow complete with hand and arm gestures pointing in my direction.

On this same trip I was able to meet new family members who were just babies when I last visited as I was only 6 years old during that time. As we were getting to know each other one of them made sure to tell me, “You would be pretty if you weren’t so fat”….as if it would be helpful for me to know. And these are just a few of the “you’re too fat” references that have paved the way for my journey today. It doesn’t even include all of the similar memories I have from my childhood and none of the experiences since.

Maybe your history includes a different story but I’m sure you can draw up something you were repeatedly told based on others’ beliefs and perceptions about you. Maybe for you it was about being too skinny instead. Maybe you were told (directly or indirectly) that you weren’t feminine or masculine enough, too good or too bad, too tall or too short, too sensitive or too cold, not smart or talented enough, or just “not enough” period.

These memories and experiences have all made imprints in our mind. Impressions that have stayed with us and shaped us known as samskaras. The power of recognizing some of these imprints and how they influence who we are from day to day is to, over time, recognize that these stories we were told were just that—stories. They are illusions based on other people’s beliefs and perceptions of what should be valued. They are NOT based in truth. They are the subjective opinions of others and we DO NOT have to own these beliefs for ourselves.

The initial reaction to hearing stories as my own, I can imagine, may feel horrible. People may feel pity for me or just sadness. If it hits a samskara of their own, feelings of rage at the audacity might come up or even shame in the recognition of what it probably felt like to be on the receiving end. But the first thing to practice in any situation that might elicit strong reactions is to remember that we do not have to take anything at all personallythe second agreement.

Armed with the practice of separating these stories from our own truth, and also not judging anyone else for whatever issues they carry themselves and instead choosing equanimity, we are now ready to begin changing the narrative of the ideal.

Diet Culture has told us over and over again that beauty and now “fitness” and “health” has one acceptable physical standard. It says that unless you fit within a certain box of long and lean, slender with maybe a little curve but not too much and only in the right places, defined muscles or at least a flat tummy, and preferably toned arms and legs then you are not good enough. Diet Culture says that because you are not good enough you must lose weight, go to the gym, stop eating carbs, work out harder, count your calories and your steps, put down the fork, never enjoy dessert or food in general, make fun of yourself and others who are also not good enough, and oh yeah, celebrate, glorify and continue to covet those bodies that do fit in the box while you look on in shame.

If the previous paragraph did not convey enough obvious sarcasm I will state as clearly as I can now and again and as many times as I need to in order to get this across: Diet Culture is BULLSHIT.

Diet Culture has made it possible for a billion-dollar-plus industry to exist only because those who buy into it keep going back. Entire lifestyles are centered on these false beliefs and have become a breeding ground for eating disorders and general behavioral patterns that perpetuate this cycle of not valuing who we are and not seeing our worth beyond our body’s shape and size.

It’s time to redefine self worth and stop buying into the B.S. Save your money, save your heartache, save your mental anguish, and let’s begin to heal the wounds that have created this world where it’s okay to talk trash about yourself and others.

Stop sharing stupid jokes or memes that are self-deprecating and reference your body, dieting or anything that you “should” or “should not” be doing. Pay attention to when others make similar comments and don’t engage in that type of talk anymore. Don’t support the idea that your worth, or anyone’s worth, is defined by your weight, the size or shape of your body, and whether other people can accept you and see you as beautiful. You are not ugly. Your are not stupid. You are not disgusting. You are not a joke. Self-acceptance and self-worth can only come from within—we have to stop looking outside of ourselves to find it.

In the practice of yoga, we have whatever time we spend on the mat to still our mind, whether sitting in a seat for breath work or meditation or moving through postures that help us to be more in our bodies and in the present moment. Take that time to let go of anything outside of yourself and be with your body and your breath. Meet your thoughts and feelings with openness, compassion, and most of all curiosity.

Begin to identify that this is the practice of self-care and self-love. Allow yourself as many moments of stillness in body and mind to begin creating a new reality—one that is pure of heart, honest, and clear. One that is not influenced by those around you but rather developed by standing in your own light and finally owning your power.

And as you do, one day with consistency and determination, you will not feel hurt or struggle to look back on those impressions that once caused you pain and sorrow. Instead you will be able to reflect on those memories with neutrality and even in gratitude. You will learn to embrace all of those experiences knowing that each one of them helped you to grow into the person you have become.

The Power of Equanimity

When we think about what causes us distress it is typically our reaction to the cause which feeds into the anxiety, sorrow, or pain that takes us far beyond where we intended to go. In order to find balance and stillness within our lives we must first be willing to see clearly the cause and then ourselves with firm objectivity.

First we practice separating truth from illusion. We identify the words and phrases we use so we can speak more clearly and live more truthfully rather than exacerbate false beliefs about ourselves or others. This practice reminds us that we create our own reality…that if there’s something we feel needs to change we can begin to shift the direction of our life with our current thought patterns and what we choose to speak out into the universe.

Oftentimes what challenges us with this practice is when we are faced with the feelings that come up. We have learned over time or as children that some feelings are “good” and some are “bad.” We think that if we feel sadness, anger, or frustration that something is “wrong” and has to be “fixed”. We immediately judge the emotions that create discomfort within ourselves and those around us and so begins the self-induced torture of simply being human.

What if instead we began from a clear, neutral state—like a still pond, or a clear sky? What if we allowed ourselves the experience of keeping our mind and body still and allowed our heart to feel whatever it needed to feel to live out its truth? And when the storm comes in and creates ripples in the water or darkens the sky, what if we allowed it to pass through—without reacting to its thunder no matter how loud? If we could do this we would have the opportunity to truly grow without the distraction of added chaos. This is the power of equanimity.

When we give ourselves the chance to develop strength, flexibility of mind, and the softness of heart we have the ability to take action…to change direction…to create the reality in which we want to live. In our daily lives we can practice equanimity within a wide range of situations. Everything as small as waking up later than intended, to experiencing the traffic on the way to work, to having a disagreement or even a full-blown fight with a friend or loved one can be met with steadiness of mind.

Our emotions will rise first, signaling our distress. Maybe our heart rate will rise, maybe our cheeks will flush, maybe our body heat causes us to sweat. From there as you notice your physical reactions take over, pause whenever you can and choose to shift what you say and do next. In the beginning old habits will step in but you have the power to choose equanimity and the more often you do the more new habits will replace the old.

In the beginning of the Yoga Sutras it is Chapter 1.2 that says yogaś-citta-vr̥tti-nirodhaḥ which translates to “yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind” or “yoga is the stilling of the changing states of the mind.” When you are practicing asana (the physical postures of yoga) you are repeatedly putting yourself in situations that require effort. In order to find ease you are not able to do so if you allow yourself to attach and react to all of the sensations that come up.

This happens very often in the beginning of one’s experience of practicing yoga asana. As humans we are so good at identifying what we believe is wrong with us—when we think we’re not good enough, when we think we can’t do something. We declare it and speak it out loud as if everyone around us needs to know. We apologize to others for being who we are.

But when you hear yourself react in this way on the mat I will remind you that you have a choice. You can instead let go of that story in your head. Let go of believing that you can’t, or that you are not enough…let go of thinking you need to lose weight or gain more muscle…let go of thinking that your body fat matters at all, or that you need to be stronger or be more flexible. I will help remind you to let go of your attachments to beliefs that no longer serve you.

This is where that practice begins. Hear yourself speak non-truths, and begin to replace those thought patterns with ones that help you grow. Allow yourself to pause and be still in body and mind. Stop fidgeting or moving around because of the discomfort—be where you can breathe deeply and, again, be still.

Stop your racing thoughts from getting away from you and just follow your breath in and out. Notice the sensations in the body without judgment. Allow yourself to experience each movement and take note of what your body is telling you. When there is restriction it is simply your body’s way of protecting you. Practice where you are and take note so you can work to grow from there. There is no rush to building strength and flexibility…but we won’t build it without doing the work.

The practice looks the same off the mat as well. You do not have to hold on to beliefs that cause you pain and suffering. You can choose to see yourself and others more clearly when you do not immediately judge what you see. Choose equanimity, steadiness, and be still like the sky. Allow yourself to be where you are. Do not suppress it. Do not resist. Do not judge. Do not react. Just breathe.