The other day I hosted a sexuality education class for 10-year-olds and their moms in my living room. A sexuality educator came equipped with a pink knit uterus, flash cards, a maxi pad and tampon demo kit, and group movement exercises.
We learned about pubic hair, breast buds, body odor, crushes, bullying, and the false images created by Photoshop in the media. Girls got to ask questions about puberty and they got to secretly ask questions via index cards that they were too shy to disclose out loud.
At the end of the two hours, the teacher took out a Koosh ball and threw it into the crowd of girls. "When I throw you this ball, I want you to say something about yourself that you like." Of course a few girls whined, "What if I can't think of anything?" "Just throw it back to me" she kindly invited.
As the content of the session grew more detailed and graphic, I noticed around the room that many of these "too cool for school 10-year-olds" who normally wouldn't be caught dead sitting next to their moms, were literally crawling their long legs and torsos into their mother's laps. By the time the Koosh ball was thrown, many of the girls were wrapped in their mother's arms.
When Lucia got the ball, she leaned heavily into my chest and very, very quietly said, "I like my long arms and my long legs." When I was ten, a long-legged, long-armed bean pole like Lucia, I could only compare myself to my fraternal twin sister who was much shorter, and I thought, much cuter. So I was proud and happy that Lucia owned her length and declared it as a point of pride. The ball went around the room. "My hair" won as most frequently proclaimed. But there were others too-- "my brown eyes", "my eye brows", "my nose." There was joy, contentment among the girls who declared something they liked about themselves. After a pretty intense two hours learning about hard stuff, a lightness filled the room. What a great way to end the evening.
The grown ups in the room were not invited to share what they liked about themselves, but if they had been, I think there would have been some struggle, perhaps even more than the young girls had shown. This morning I woke up thinking about what I would have said if I got the Koosh ball. Would I be able to declare out loud in front of twenty people that I like my ankles? My neck? Maybe, but I would also feel self-conscious about it. I would likely feel awkward and embarrassed.
Maybe if we'd all practiced acknowledging what we liked about ourselves during puberty, when our bodies were really changing we were emotionally unmoored, it would be easier as adults. But most of us didn't get that practice, so it feels like pulling teeth to publicly proclaim our strengths, our positive characteristics.
How I would love to invoke the Koosh ball while teaching yoga. So often when I teach, especially newbies, I notice that people do everything they can to not focus on themselves; they employ every possible tool to distract themselves from being with themselves. I do it too, often when I practice. But I want to invite the idea into the room (and I will people, just wait) to periodically throw yourself a Koosh ball. Sometimes you'll have to throw it back; it will simply be too hard to conjure a compliment to yourself. But keep trying. Find something; remind yourself what you like about yourself. Yoga practice, just like a two-hour puberty class, can be hard. Give yourself some love. Throw yourself some love. It might lighten your practice a little bit.