In my recent efforts to be more radical about loving the body I was given, I decided to have my picture taken more often. My reason behind this decision is simple: I want to face what I look like. No more shying away from cameras, no more cringing when I see a photograph. I have become determined to create a collection of images of myself and take a good look at each and every one of them so I can see – and learn to love – this body.
After the very first photo session something in the images jumped out at me. I was hunched over in all of them. I looked heavy – not necessarily fat, but heavy.
Energetically speaking, this is what we do when we feel vulnerable; scared to show ourselves and unhappy with who we are and what we look like. We collapse through the midline. It feels protective and necessary when we first start to engage in this habit, but in the long run we become a star collapsing in on itself.
In Anusara yoga, "hug the midline" is a common prompt that teachers give their students. It is one of the five Universal Principles of Alignment and comes from the belief that we can draw energy from the outer sphere of the body into a central focal point in order to increase stability and strength. Because yoga helps us bridge the gap between our spiritual and physical experiences, this practice of "hugging the midline" allows us to achieve strength and stability in our off-the-mat time as well.
As I continued with my self-portrait practice I would whisper to myself, "Spine straight, shoulders back, hug the midline." I could feel my energy collecting and rising. I could sense that I was more "visible" somehow.
It is scary, no doubt, and that is the challenge. When we adopt the habit of collapsing through the midline as a form of protection from our poor self-image, the practice of releasing this habit can be terrifying. We realize that in order to rise up through the midline and experience life in a much brighter, more engaged manner, we will have to allow ourselves to be seen.
Thankfully, however, a little bit of magic happens when we begin to engage the energy of the midline. Our hearts become more exposed, more open, shining a light far and wide, for all to see. This light is more beautiful than any perceived flaw we might have. It gives us a beauty we never realized we could achieve.
Looking at my own photographic experiment, I could see the evolution of my midline becoming tighter, brighter and taller. I began to practice during the day while sitting at my desk, taking a walk or just waiting in line at the grocery store. As time went on, it shifted my perception in a profound way. The emphasis moved from extreme discomfort about my appearance to seeing myself as a flower, always given the opportunity to curl up or unfurl.
I realized we don’t have to hide when we feel bad about our appearance. Instead, we can hug up through the midline and ask ourselves this question: "Am I willing to share my beautiful energy with the world today?" And the answer easily comes. "Yes."