Yoga teacher Dana Falsetti—a leading voice in the body positivity movement whose @nolatrees posts are a must-read among the healthy Instagram set—was once a (terrified) newbie “having my ass handed to me” in her first yoga class. Here, she takes us back to that day and describes how the practice slowly transformed her fraught relationship with her body.
I have struggled with body image and self-worth for most of my life. Around age 10, I hit puberty and rapidly started gaining weight, and within no time I was used to being the biggest kid in the room. As I got older, that sense of isolation evolved into a binge-eating disorder and other coping mechanisms to both self-soothe and self-destruct simultaneously.
I couldn’t figure out why I was so miserable, and thought if I could just change my body—just be smaller, look more like everybody else—I would be happier; if I didn’t have to feel like I was wearing all of my insecurities on my body, I would be happier.
I was proud of my weight loss because it was hard work, but I wasn’t happier.
After years of yo-yo-ing weight loss and gain, I hit a breaking point. Trust me, I tried everything from fat camp to Weight Watchers to crash diets and personal trainers. It wasn’t that I couldn’t lose weight, it was that I couldn’t keep it off. Nobody involved, myself included, acknowledged the psychological reasons behind what could be seen on my body.
I spent the next year working out and eating right, and over time I lost 100 pounds. The only problem? I had set such high expectations for myself, for my new body, and when I got there I realized nothing had changed. I looked different, but I was still me—and if anything, I felt worse because I expected an external change to heal years of internal damage.
At this point in my life I just felt lost. I was proud of my weight loss because it was hard work, but I wasn’t happier. I found myself right back where I started—trying to figure out how to be happy with myself and my body and my life.
I went home for the summer in between semesters and ended up joining a yoga studio by my house. I went to my first class expecting it to be fairly easy, and I absolutely had my ass handed to me. I couldn’t even hold the “easy” poses without shaking, and I just wanted to cry. It was hard, and I was at a point in my life where everything felt hard. But for the first time in my life, I faced the challenge head-on.
I started proving myself wrong on my mat, doing things I thought were impossible for me because of my body—and that really made me question everything else.
I kept going back to class, and over the course of a few months I started noticing things shifting. Not only were those awful poses starting to get easier, but I was starting to feel stronger in so many ways. And while it began in my body, by building physical strength I realized how strong I’ve always been as a person. I started proving myself wrong on my mat, doing things I thought were impossible for me because of my body—and that really made me question everything else.
I wondered how much I was holding myself back out of fear, because of the negative self-talk and the story in my head. My story used to be that I was fat and miserable, and that’s how I was supposed to be because I thought the two things went hand in hand. Now I realize they don’t.
I can practice yoga, eat mindfully, and work toward becoming the best version of myself—all while loving who I am in this exact moment. I don’t need to hold myself back, and I don’t need to let another person’s perception of me hold me back. Now I spend most of my days teaching yoga to students with all types of bodies and sharing the journey home to ourselves.
Make it a point to smile kindly to yourself next time you catch a mirror.
It’s a constant journey. I’m not there, because “there” doesn’t exist; not in my practice and not in my life. I still have bad days where I look in the mirror and don’t like what I see, but those days are steadily dwindling.
How can we keep the momentum going? Let’s support each other. It’s crucial that we have open dialogue about these challenges because, often, feeling isolated is the hardest part. And make it a point to smile kindly to yourself next time you catch a mirror. We can all use a little more self-love, a little bit at a time.