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“Feeling” to see good vs. “looking” to see good

On my recent trip to Costa Rica, I went through all my swimsuits to see what fit and wound up feeling rather disappointed. As a teen and through my 40s, I was very slender and mostly not concerned about my weight or shape. Even then, though, I valued my thinness as a prize that really had nothing to do with me as a person. I wasn’t doing anything that created that body; it was just the one I was born into. I even found myself worrying that I was “too thin” or “had no shape” like the other girls. Now, in my 50s, “looking” at this same body, I found a self-consciousness creeping in.

I’ve always been in awe of people that seem to be comfortable in their bodies no matter their size or shape. If you’ve seen these marvelous people, they simply seem relaxed and joyful, and their bodies are simply as they are. I see that I am drawn to their way of being, vs. the size or shape of their being. And yet, seeing this wisdom in front of me, I was feeling uncomfortable about my body. Shouldn’t the yoga teacher have the perfect body, from all of the yoga and perfect eating and meditating that they do?! Of course I could see that this is a ridiculous idea, and yet I found myself self-conscious about wearing a swimsuit at the retreat.

Having these insights, I started to shift my perception: Instead of “looking” to see how I was, I began “feeling” to determine how I was. How did I “feel” in my swimsuit? Was it comfortable, with no need to pull or squeeze? Did I “feel” healthy and vibrant and strong. Yes. And I simply stopped “looking”—I found it was really the absolute worst measure and was not serving me.

In yoga we study the Yamas, which are ethical principles that involve how we interact with the world around us. Aparigraha, defined as non-possessiveness or non-grasping, seemed a perfect catalyst for reflection in this case of my swimsuit wearing. Being attached (possessive, grasping) to how I looked in a swimsuit in my 20s was a challenge when age and menopause stepped in to reshape my body. As much as I tried to be accepting of my new shape, I could tell my mind was constantly grasping at how I could get back to the way I was. What had I done to get to this point; there must be something wrong or bad?

Add to all of this the trend in swimsuits to add a lot of elastic and squeezing and gathering to “keep it all in.” It is nearly impossible to find swimsuits that do not employ this new technology and I personally found it repulsive for two reasons: 1) It makes the swimsuit challenging to put on, and near impossible to peel off when wet, and 2) It simply squeezes parts of me into the suit, and oozes parts of me out of the suit, no matter my weight or shape, creating a strange, unnatural morphing of my body. How did I not add number 3?! 3) It limits my ability to breathe! I found myself having trouble even finding a suit that didn’t cause me suffering to put on/take off and wear. But I did, and I brought two suits that had absolutely zero squish factor. They felt good, and that felt good! 

Here’s the main point: all the squeezing and (attempted) containing cannot change the fact that our bodies change over time. Grasping for the way we looked at one time does not allow us the chance to see us as we are now, with every well-earned lump, bump, dimple and wrinkle, and to appreciate the bodies we are so fortunate to live within. Bodies that help us get to the grocery store, or to teach yoga, or to hula hoop in the driveway!

At Rio Chirripo Lodge where we held our recent yoga retreat, there is a river with a bone-chilling swimming hole that just might be one of my favorite places in the world. The rushing sounds of the river (and the initial brain freeze!) overtake me and the last thing I am thinking about is how I look in my swimsuit! I found this same experience when snorkeling on the Canos island in the OSA region of Costa Rica after the retreat. Exhausted and in awe of what I had seen, I had no concerns of how I looked sitting on the bench of the boat in my suit and devouring a burrito and drinking lemonade!

Around me were all different people, of all shapes and sizes, and we had all come to this trip because we wanted the experience, not to show off or compare our bodies. And, I’ll add, the heat adds a measure of relaxation of the body as well, and a relaxed body leads to a relaxed mind. Just try to care about how you look when you are sweating from every pore nonstop. Looking for a "bebido con agua" (a fruit drink pureed with water) becomes priority #1! Wearing as little as possible and not caring a bit about how you “look” is exactly what naturally occurs. How you “feel” naturally takes over.

So, back in the tundra of Minnesota, I continue to explore this idea. I embrace color and style over size, and wear clothes that help me focus on “feeling” how I am, not “looking” at how I am. I plan to keep on leaning into clothes that “feel” good, and thus let ME shine. How we “are” is simply how we “are,” and learning to love the way we “feel” more than how we “look” can help motivate us toward greater well-being and being able to accept our wonderful bodies exactly as they are. This is the new, non-grasping path I am now on. And it feels so good.

Are you a fan of the new swimsuit tech? Do you want to spend less time thinking about your body and weight? Do you find yourself "attached" to your 18-year-old body? Have you learned to accept your body? I'd love to hear your thoughts 😎😎

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