In the seventeen years since I took my first yoga class, my relationship with yoga — much like my relationship with my body — has been an on-again, off-again, love/hate, drama-filled one that would make many tragic Hollywood couples look downright loving by comparison.
I’ve spoken with enough people to know that far more than one might expect are familiar with the demons associated with weight, food, and body image. Please note my use of the term people as women do not have the market cornered on body image issues. The shame that surrounds this topic drives even the most vocal among us underground.
While vulnerability has been a powerful tool in helping dissolve shame, creating and enforcing boundaries have been equally key to my recovery. Today I am bumping right up against a deeply personal boundary for me because it’s the only way I can express the miracle of what happened when I taught my first yoga class last week. (Yes, I’m using the “M” word, and again — only because I know of no other way to convey what happened.)
Now that hell has indeed frozen over, I’ll cut to the chase: Somewhere in between Sun Salutation A and the final savasana, I got the answer to the 9,846,395 times in my life I’ve asked the question “Why?!”
“Why wasn’t I born with better metabolism?” “Why couldn’t desserts be healthy and leafy greens be considered a cheat meal?” “Why is my full gauge broken?” “Why…” whatever. You get the idea.
Because being a channel to pass along this gift to another person — the same way all the teachers over the years have been a channel for me — fulfilled something down deep inside me. Those internal puzzle pieces would likely have fit together had I been born into a different body, with a different metabolism, on a planet where kale and spinach are two of the four horsemen of the nutritional apocalypse. Yet, I doubt the moment the dots connected for me would have touched me at my core. My experience wasn’t the satisfaction that comes when cardboard puzzle pieces match up. It was a bank vault’s interlocking parts coming together with a gratifying thunk.
I know the despair of a scale that won’t balance — even after sliding the counterweight past 200 pounds — the medical assistant chipping away at my self-worth with each additional nudge. I know the seeming futility of putting one foot in front of the other, when each step forward is usually followed with four or five in the opposite direction. I know the terror of rolling out my mat alongside all the yogis, wondering if I was the only one in the class who wasn’t a retired ballerina or Olympic gymnast. Most of all, I know the unrelenting soundtrack of my inner critic that sent a continuous stream of scathing color commentary day after day.
I also know that as I continued to come back to my mat — sometimes with days, weeks, and even a year or two in between — the inner critic’s chatter grew quieter and became easier to ignore. I also know that time on my mat bought me peace of mind during class and additional space in my brain later on that day. I also know the shock of watching the weights on the scale continue to be moved in opposite direction. I’ve been slower than some to learn that the number on the scale is not indicative of my self-worth, and in the interest of full disclosure, I am grateful to report that I haven’t known my weight for several years now. I allow doctors and personal trainers to take measurements for their purposes with the caveat that the results not be shared with me.
The distance to the peak is further if your journey begins in a valley. One ascent is no better or worse — they both still require effort, commitment and courage — but the scenery on that first leg of the journey is different when you're climb begins from the pit. Despite all my begging, whining, and bargaining with the cosmos about how I thought things should be, I now see that everything really was happening as it should. Although not the path I wanted, it was the one I needed to be a more experienced, compassionate trail guide for others along the way.
Well-played, Universe. Well-played.