Fitness

The myth of the perfect body

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What makes you seem cool and popular may not always be what’s best for you health-wise

Open any fashion magazine today and you are faced with images of ‘perfect’ bodies. Drive to work and more perfection stares down at you from billboards and film posters. Open your computer and perfect abs, chiselled biceps and toned legs jump out of side bars and pop-up windows all over your screen. The reality is that if you look around your office, you will see many imperfect bodies all around you, but without fail it is the image of Gisele in a bikini that you will compare yourself to when you stand naked in front of the mirror.

The truth is that advertisers are forcing us to make a connection between this ‘perfect’ body and a hoard of other completely unrelated intangibles — health, well-being, a perfect life, status, coolness etc. It’s possible that a super bikini body will give you status and flaunting it will probably make you the coolest girl on the beach, but this is not necessarily true of health and well-being.

My personal path to fitness has been through yoga. Yoga takes a radically different approach to health and it has taught me many lessons and changed my attitude to fitness, health and overall well-being.

Health is about how you feel, not how you look. Don’t get me wrong: on my way to the New Year party, I want to look good as well as feel good, but life is not an endless stream of parties. Life is all the stuff in between and having perfect abs means nothing if you get up every morning feeling groggy and lethargic. Your perfectly toned legs are of no use if you fall sick every time the weather changes. My definition of true health is deeper — having a sense of vitality, feeling consistently energetic and enthusiastic throughout the day, being able to fight illness, having sharpness of mind, awareness of movement and a glow that comes from inside.

A little every day is better than a lot once in a while. Sometimes when I demonstrate an asana to students, they will burst out laughing and declare that they will never be able to do that. It’s understandable, some asanas look impossible, but slowly, with sustained effort or tapas, you will get there. Through yoga you learn to just do the work and not focus on the results. When you approach health in this manner, saying, “I am just going to show up and do what I can”, then you change the game. You are creating a lifestyle, not working towards a number on a measuring tape. My morning yoga practice is like brushing my teeth: I have to do it. Sometimes it’s a quick brush and at other times I brush, floss and gargle. The one thing I never do is miss it.

Faster is not always better. Vinyasa Flow Yoga has become very popular as it combines yoga asanas with cardio. I love a good Vinyasa Flow class and I teach them often, but at the end of the day, I know that it is harder to hold an asana than it is to do five of them quickly in a row. Holding a simple forward bend with complete effort and focus will have my heart pounding in the same way it would if I ran around the block.

Inside Out. Your inside is as important as the outside. Having a six pack doesn’t mean that your digestive system is functioning correctly. Having great thigh muscles doesn’t mean that your joints and ligaments are strong and stable. Yoga helps us regulate the functioning of our internal organs and very often this brings us closer to good health than having a perfectly sculptured exterior body. For example, by pushing blood into the abdomen area you allow the digestive system and elimination system to function better or by pressing your chin into the chest you stimulate the thyroid gland and regulate your metabolism. This holistic approach to health has a deeper, more lasting effect on the body, than an overemphasis on external muscles.

The best body is the one that you have. Every time I walk into a yoga class, I am surprised at the different body types that humans have. And then I am surprised at what these different bodies can do — elderly men with paunches balancing on their heads, thin girls lifting their own body weight, large women doing drop backs and muscular men balancing on their toes. Your body is a temple; just as you clean and decorate a temple, keep your body healthy from within and you will discover the divine within yourself.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 8:09:09 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/fitness/the-myth-of-the-perfect-body/article6690951.ece

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