I got up at 6:00 am (on a Saturday!) to drive 30 minutes to this class because I absolutely adore the teacher.
I normally take her Monday evening class but missed it this week, so I was more determined than ever to get my lazy butt out of bed to make it this morning.
I was the first to arrive and discovered the class was in a different room than I’m used to—and there were floor-to-ceiling mirrors along two walls. The significance of that didn’t really impress itself on my sleepy brain.
I unrolled my mat, did some cat/cow stretches, spent some time in child’s pose, chatted with a couple of ladies who showed up, and then settled into a pre-practice savasana to “get my mind right.”
All in all, I was feeling pretty good and pretty proud of myself for showing up with the hardcore crowd. (As much as I despise getting out of bed, I actually enjoy mornings once I’m up and moving.)
Then my favorite teacher arrived, and everything fell apart. As usual, she reminded us to listen to our bodies, to honor ourselves and our practices. Maybe I wasn’t listening. Maybe I didn’t take it to heart the way I should have. Maybe I was too busy looking at my reflection in the mirror.
Most days, I’m comfortable in my own skin. I’m carrying a few more pounds than I’d like, but I’m strong and capable, and that’s more important to me.
But seeing myself in those full-length mirrors, dressed in stretchy yoga pants and a sleeveless shirt… Wow. I knew I’d put on some weight, but I had no idea that’s what I look like every time I got to yoga, every time I go to the gym.
The part of me that strives to be more evolved and more accepting of myself and others struggled to regain my focus and return to my breath. I wanted to be present in that moment, but Monkey Mind had other ideas.
Monkey Mind chattered away about how I’ve been neglecting exercise besides yoga.
Monkey Mind suggested I should’ve stayed at home in my warm, comfy bed, curled up with my husband and kiddo.
Monkey Mind checked out the other early morning yogis and compared my body to theirs, my form to theirs.
Monkey Mind scoffed at the idea that I might one day stand in front of a class like this and presume to teach others.
Monkey Mind snickered at my attempts to wrangle my mind back to my practice.
Earlier this week, I spent about 20 minutes on the elliptical and have been nursing a sore hamstring ever since, so I wasn’t really surprised when I tumbled out of crescent pose.
I was smart enough to go to child’s pose, even though my pride was bruised.
As the rest of the class (some older than I, some heavier than I, some much newer to yoga than I) moved on, I remained tucked into myself, my forehead on the mat. I breathed. I pulled my thoughts back to what was happening with my mind and my body at that moment.
And then I nearly laughed out loud.
All week, I’ve been struggling to write about body positivity in yoga. I started writing about how the media portrays modern yoga as a sexy hobby for those who look sleek and trim in spandex. I intended to quote Jessamyn Stanley, that beautiful, humble champion of yoga for all body types. I planned to talk about the importance of suggesting modifications and the use of props in inclusive language that honors where each practitioner is in their practice.
I was even going to allow myself a little mini-rant about how Patanjali probably wasn’t sitting around in his loincloth 1600 years ago, jotting down notes for the Yoga Sutras, and thinking about how yoga mats would eventually be the accessory du jour for celebrities. (Or maybe he was. Clearly, the man was a visionary.)
Of course, I would end with a passionate call to arms for all yogis to accept and love themselves where they are today. I had all these great ideas, and yet I couldn’t put anything on paper that conveyed how vital body positivity is to yoga.
And now I found myself prostrate in child’s pose, devastated by my reflection because I’m a little heavier than I’d like to be.
I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing, and that levity energized me to meet the rest of the class in down dog and continue my practice.
As we finished the standing pose sequence, I thought about ahimsa. I don’t think it’s an accident that the first yama equates to Do No Harm, but most of us forget that ahimsa applies to how we treat ourselves, as well as how we treat others. Ahimsa means don’t punch a stranger on the street for littering, but it also means don’t engage in negative self-talk.
It means don’t verbally abuse the barista who botches your order, but it also means don’t forget how much love and light you bring to the world. Be kind to others and also to yourself.
I only recently made the connection that, at the end of practice, we move from our active poses to corpse pose to fetal pose to lotus (or easy seated) pose—life, death, rebirth, and enlightenment. Maybe the symbolism is obvious to most, but this realization was revelatory for me. How beautiful that each time we practice the asanas, we get to enact this perfect allegory of existence, emerging just a little closer to our true selves.
As you practice yoga today, regardless of whether that practice includes the asanas, please remember to be kind to yourself.
Remember that it is practice because none of us are perfect. You are where you are today, but this is only one moment. Practice ahimsa with yourself, on and off the mat.