I don’t know of a lot of obese people who feel super confident about themselves athletically. I’ve not always been obese, but I certainly haven’t ever felt good about myself as an athlete of any sort, always having been just slightly less than comically uncoordinated. For that and countless other reasons, when I got excited by the idea of yoga a dozen or two years ago, I knew it would be something I did in private, with video tapes and prayers that what I was doing was right and not somehow worse for my body. It was something I found I liked but didn’t stick to with any sort of regularity. A few friends told me about classes they took with various yogis and invited me to join. Outwardly I was grateful but politely declined or came up with reasons to not attend. Inwardly I was running away screaming at the idea of doing something I perceived as graceful in full view of other people. Some of them strangers. Yikes.
Then, a few years ago, I was introduced to a lovely woman who happened to be a teacher of yoga. She was everything I imagined a perfect yogi to be: graceful in movements small and large, calm, full of quiet joy, and virtually glowing from within. I was entranced by her, as were many others. She began running a little yoga group at my school in a classroom after hours once a week. I entertained the idea, but was secretly relieved to find it was running at the same time as a club I ran for students. I could not attend. Still, I watched my colleagues go into that class with the tensions of their week and come out refreshed. They had worked and had left their worries on the mat. They were revitalized. By exercise. Super weird.
After a school year of seeing this, I had to try. The next year everyone’s dates were changed and I could attend the class. In my personal life, things had taken a turn for the dramatic in a way that was overwhelming. It was the year that I began to feel utterly devoid of value. The year that thoughts of suicide plagued me almost daily. It was the year that I forgot that life is a gift. I was lost in so many ways that year, and no one could find me. Husband tried until he wept with feeling useless. Friends held my hand and told me they cared. I was deaf to all of it. That year I stopped doing so many things that gave me joy. I almost never listened to music. I hardly read (for me- not for, like, a normal person). I vividly remember times when I genuinely laughed because they were so infrequent. I just didn’t have the desire to seek out joy.
For some reason, though, I often still went to the yoga practice.
One day, I was chatting with this lovely class leader about nothing in particular. I don’t even know how it came up, but she said something that changed me. She said that she loved to see me in my practice. She said that I was beautiful. Even now, years later, those words hit me enough to knock the wind out of me. She said it with such sincerity and intensity that I believed her. I felt beautiful.
On days when I feel awful, when I feel less than who I was, when I feel not a whole or real woman anymore, I try to remember that moment. I work to capture that feeling again. I do a pose. I do a breath. I honor my self and my body. I try to remember that life is a gift and that, no matter how it plays out, I must be grateful for the gift I was given.