A few weeks ago, I broke my foot while dancing at my friend's wedding. Yes, that's really all there is to the story. I wasn't dancing on a table or wearing five-inch heels, I didn't fall, I just stepped funny, and I heard a pop and felt instant, scorching pain. The next morning, I headed to my doctor's office for an X-ray. To my surprise, it wasn't sprained but broken - fifth metatarsal, meaning several weeks in a boot and a long recovery.
When I saw the X-ray, the first thing I thought was "Holy shit!" and I said as much out loud, earning me a chuckle from the doctor. The next thought that passed through my mind? "I'm going to get so fat." That's right. I wasn't worried about how bad the break might be, or the difficult road to recovery. I wasn't freaking out about not being able to drive or missing out on fun activities. I was worried about the ramifications of the injury on my body, but I was focused on my physical appearance and not my health.
Now, to cut myself a little bit of slack, I'll say that exercise is a huge part of my daily routine. For years, I've worked out five or six times a week, balancing lengthy cardio sessions with weight training. I love going to the gym. Every day I enjoy the time to myself to listen to music, read books, and clear my head. It works for me. It keeps me sane and happy and (bonus!) fit. Over the years I've also gotten really into yoga, and have been practicing regularly several times a week, which does wonders for my mental health. Before breaking my foot, I was in a really good mental and physical state.
Or was I? Because the minute I realized I would be out of commission for a while, my hate brain kicked up a big, dusty cloud of self-loathing. "You're going to get fat!" I can't believe it was one of the first thoughts to cross my mind. There are a ton of perfectly good reasons I should have been sad to realize I wouldn't be able to get a good, sweaty workout in for a while, but that isn't one of them.
I'm sure this comes as a surprise to no one, but it really made me stop and think about the fact that, for women in particular, the pressure to maintain our physical beauty is so great that we worry about the way we look more than what's actually healthy for us. I was beating myself up over the fact that I would be neglecting my physical appearance when what my body needed most was to rest and heal. And the more I worried about how out of shape and unattractive I was going to become, the harder it was for me to rest and relax. A vicious cycle, to be sure.
Now, fortunately for me, when this accident occurred I was surrounded by loved ones who were willing and able to help me out in the first couple weeks, when I couldn't cook for myself or take the dog outside or drive to work. And not only did they help me with all the random tasks, but they also helped to prevent me from going TOTALLY INSANE. My fellow yogis and instructors shared great suggestions on how to modify my practice so I wouldn't fall completely out of shape (or sanity) during the healing weeks. A week after my injury, I was practicing for the first time and it felt so good to sweat, I nearly cried. At this point, I'm also back to the gym, using the recumbent bike with my boot on and doing some weight training. It's progress, but that little voice in the back of my head is always there, nagging at me that I'm not doing enough, that I'm letting myself go, that it'll be impossible to get back on track. It's untrue, but it's loud.
Several months ago, I found this image of the woman with "still beautiful" tattooed across her tummy and was struck by how sexy I found it. What's interesting is, whenever I'm in this position and my stomach folds in this way, I beat myself up about it, for not having a rock-hard set of abs, for not being so thin that nothing folds when I fold. I never see myself as beautiful; I always focus on the flaws. Yet here's a perfectly normal woman, sitting in a perfectly usual position and looking completely perfect doing so. I see no rock-hard abs, but I see sensuality and beauty and confidence, and it makes me think I should probably get my head out of my ass and appreciate my body for what it can do, not what it can't.
According to the Bhagavad Gita, "Yoga is the practice of tolerating yourself exactly as you are." I don't care if you've never found yourself on a mat in your life, each one of us has something we do that makes us feel comfortable in our own skin. It could be cooking or playing basketball or swimming or running or writing or building furniture or gardening or ANYTHING in the world that makes you forget about yourself and feel complete and total serenity. It helps you get out of your head and totally lost in a moment. And when something happens to prevent us from practicing whatever it is that brings us zen, it's completely jarring and heartbreaking. It's also harder to tune out the ever-present voices in our culture that tell us "you're not thin enough! you're not beautiful enough! you are not ENOUGH!" We know those voices are evil, but they can be so loud when we're not drowning them out with our healing activities.
It's a well-known fact among my friends and family that I'm ridiculously accident-prone, and unfortunately I've found myself benched from the things I love due to injury more times than I can count. The past few weeks have been a reminder that it's never easy to love ourselves exactly as we are, but there are so many lessons to be learned in the struggle: patience, kindness, empathy, and tolerance for ourselves during times of hardship or frustration. I know I'll be back on my feet (and on my mat) before I know it, and this broken foot is nothing I can't overcome, but I also know there will be more frustrating days to come before it's all over. And that's okay. I just have to keep my eye on the light at the end of the tunnel, and remember that it doesn't matter if I'm a little less fit today than I was last month. The beauty is on the inside, anyway. I know that. Sometimes I just need a little reminding.