How yoga has transformed my body

How yoga has transformed my body

I first started practicing yoga because I was on a quest for that yoga body.

In the mid-2000s, the "yoga body" that seemed to be displayed everywhere was everything I wanted to be — a fair-skinned woman with a thin frame, long lean muscles and a perfectly messy top knot. Lululemon wrapped up her perfectly compacted tush and you could see both her abdominal muscles and her rib cage in her matching Lulu bra. 

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It's been eight years since I began that quest for the yoga body and about three years since I started truly dedicating myself to the practice. I changed from a casual yoga newb to a once-a-week practitioner to a #yogaeverydamnday yogi to a teacher. In that time, my body has changed.

But not in the way that I originally hoped.

I gained weight.

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Generally, my weight fluctuates up and down a few pounds (I don't weigh myself often) but overall it hovers right around the same number ... a number that is much higher than when I first began the practice. 

Before I started practicing yoga I was battling an eating disorder. Retrospect allows me to see that I already had that thin body I desired. And yet I wasn't happy. I was completely disconnected from my mind and my body and spent more time hating what little bit of fat I could find to pinch than just about anything else.

That's me with the spine on the right. During recovery, I deleted all photos of my thin frame but this photo gives you some idea — I clearly wasn't "fat" (though I was convinced I was).

That's me with the spine on the right. During recovery, I deleted all photos of my thin frame but this photo gives you some idea — I clearly wasn't "fat" (though I was convinced I was).

As I went through recovery, yoga helped me connect to my body. Our bodies talk to us all the time, but the sickness that had taken residence in my mind screamed hate-fueled words at my physical appearance. I didn't hear any of the cries for help my body was trying to send. How could I? The hateful screams drowned out everything else.

Over time, yoga helped me clear out those ugly screams so I could begin to hear and listen to my body's cues. I started to understand when I was hungry or full or tired or energetic. I started to feel emotions again. I started to feel in general, something I had avoided during those years of addiction.

Through this process, I gained weight. A lot of it. Ironically, my body became less like the one I first desired and yet I am at peace with that. I have a newfound appreciation for my body and know that I do a pretty good job of taking care of it — much better than I did 50-some pounds ago.

I gained muscle.

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A lot of the weight I gained was fat. But some of it was muscle. Sometimes I'll see a yoga selfie and notice that I've gained more muscle definition in a certain area but mostly I feel this difference in my practice.

A photo posted by Cara McDonald (@caramcdo) on

One thing that's rad about yoga is that you're working on strength and body awareness at the same time. So as you grow stronger, you can actually feel it.

I can feel it in inversions like headstand. I progressed from fearing this pose to kicking up into it to slowly pressing up using core strength. That core strength wasn't available before. I still need to kick up for other inversions like forearm stand and handstand, but I know that with practice eventually I'll have the strength and body awareness to press into those as well.

And yet, it's not the point.

What I've gained most isn't physical at all.

How yoga has transformed my body

Look, I would be lying if I said I didn't care about how I looked. I'm not interested in strict diets or scales or the "no pain no gain" mentality, but sometimes my motivation to work out at the gym or eat certain foods is about my physical appearance. I do have a desire to improve my physique.

However, this desire is fueled by love, not hate, and I can honestly say I don't step on my yoga mat (or the trail or my yard — the world is all a yoga mat, right?) with those goals in mind. Not even a little. 

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Some people do, and that's totally cool. As a teacher, I've seen students get into amazing shape by practicing yoga.

But for me, yoga has become so little about a physical work out and so much about a mental, emotional and spiritual work in. It helps me connect to all the stuff going on inside my mind and body. It helps me release what I need to let go of and it helps me experience what I've shoved in dark corners or my mind. It helps me feel human. It helps me feel whole.

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My body has transformed during my yoga journey. It's kind of a reverse success story from the weight loss journey you usually think about. So as an outsider you might say that yoga made me gain weight and some muscle. But the real transformation was going on inside.

And it still is.

It's a journey. There are challenges. There are times when I struggle to be present, authentic, compassionate, loving and all the other qualities the yoga community values. I don't believe that makes me less of a yogi. I believe it makes me human.

What makes us yogis is recognizing when and where we could focus our energy so we can continue to evolve.

What makes us yogis is being curious about why we feel the way we do and addressing those feelings. Giving them space.

What makes us yogis is our commitment to the journey, not the reach toward the finish line.  

Here's to the journey. Wherever you are in yours, I hope you're embracing the highs and the lows and finding peace in it all.  

Namaste.

2017's mantra

2017's mantra

Change your resolution to a sankalpa

Change your resolution to a sankalpa