The thirteenth step of my journey was a difficult one. What started as an attempt to strengthen my hip became so much more. Even as a novice, the practice of yoga helped me to become aware of and overcome the hatred I harbored for my own body.
When I injured my left hip while running, some of my new running friends recommended I go to the chiropractor for an adjustment. After multiple snap, crackle, and pops, the bone doctor suggested I supplement my running adventures with yoga. To be completely transparent, yoga is something I had avoided. I had a mental picture of yogis as aged hippies, stick thin and practically double-jointed with flexibility. In fact, I almost expected them to float on clouds with their legs twisted behind their ears. All while chanting “ooooohhhhhhmmmm,” of course.
I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear my imagination was a bit overactive. I entered the studio well before the scheduled class time and met with my yoga instructor, Jourdan Moore. She questioned me on any limitations or injuries I might have, and let me know I was free to opt out of any poses that were too difficult for me. Fortunately, the first class I attended was perfect for my condition: it was a hip and shoulder liberation. More yogis filed into the classroom, and I was surprised to see people of all ages, shapes, and sizes. A few, like me, had never attended a yoga class before.
My fear was that all eyes would be pinned on me, the interloper. The newcomer. The novice yogi. But yoga appears to be a complex discipline that is never fully mastered. Each person in the room was completely focused on bettering their own poses. They had no time to criticize mine.
A strange new world
The yoga environment was a bit novel for a newcomer. Our first challenge was to sit in a comfortable pose, which was “criss-cross-applesauce” for me. Although I’m not sure how comfortable it was when I also had to sit up straight with my shoulders back. This should have been the easiest thing I did in the entire class, but I felt like I had a knife in my back at the level of my shoulder blades. Then, we were instructed to practice our Ujjayi breath. Ujjayi is created by constricting the muscles of the throat while breathing through the nostrils, and the resulting sound is similar to one I make when my children forget to clean their rooms.
So there I was, in a dark room filled with heavy-breathing strangers, a little concerned about my choices in life.
It’s all about the music
But…then I noticed the music that was playing. Most of you already know that I am a movie buff. So it should come as no surprise that I was able to place the sound track to one of my favorite movies, Pride and Prejudice. The music was selected from a particularly beautiful scene, with Keira Knightley poised on the cliffs of Stanage Edge in Derbyshire. In the movie, Keira raised her hands and embraced the wind. Just as simple as that, I was able to embrace the remainder of my yoga class.
I posed my way through selections from The Natural, and then enjoyed the music from Dan in Real Life. When we came to particularly difficult poses during selections from Up and Pocahontas, Jourdan subtly repositioned many of us who needed a slight modification. But by far, I was able to relax into my poses. Mostly because my new yoga instructor seemed to be a like-minded fan of Pride and Prejudice. Truthfully, I was able to make it through the session because Jourdan scaled the workout for beginners and experienced yogis alike, with many suggestions made for those who wished for more challenging poses.
I finished that yoga session determined to come back. Stretching and pushing my muscles through their full range of motion was liberating. I felt stronger and calmer than I had when I entered the building. As I was bending and twisting, breathing in light and hope, while pushing out stress and negativity, I had a revelation. For years, I had hated my body. Hated it for betraying me, and for bulking up with extra pounds. Hated it for telling the world my secrets. Most of all, I blamed it for failing to nurture the baby that was wanted, but never had a chance to draw a breath. And when it hurt, when it was sick, or when it screamed in pain, I believed that my body deserved it. The pain was a just reward for my body’s betrayal.
While I was stretching and contorting my muscles, I realized that my body was actually amazing. Despite all its imperfections, it had endured. Despite the fact that I had filled it with toxic foods and deprived it of life-giving water for more than a decade, my body had survived. Even though I had not stretched or strengthened my muscles in years, my body had continued to take me from one place to another. It had joined hands with the most wonderful man in the world, and promised to love and cherish him. This body had given life to each of my children, and sheltered three of them until they were ready to breathe for the very first time. And although it had failed to bring one of my babies into this world, it had managed to nurse three of them, and to protect them from harm.
My body deserved to be loved
A song from my childhood rose within me: You created me within, you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully made. Your works are wonderful. Those words slapped me in the face with a revelation.
My body was meant to be loved rather than hated.