I have a yogi friend that I follow on Instagram. He posts photos of beautiful, gravity-defying poses that take my breath away. How does the human body do that? I have another friend that I’ve known since high school. We both started practicing about 20 years ago, but she does it #everydamnday and can turn her body into a pretzel. These are not the reasons why I do yoga. I’ll never be able to balance on one hand or flatten my splits to the floor. But I still do it. Week in, and week out—I do it, while my body stays pretty much the same. Because there’s a more important reason why I do yoga.
I don’t practice yoga because I think it will flatten my stomach or shrink my ass. A few weeks ago, at her request, I accompanied my teenaged daughter to a complimentary personal training session at a gym. We had our body fat analyzed and were asked to assess a chart of female figures—ranging from anorexic to obese—and point on the chart to “where we wanted to be.”
I pointed to a figure who was probably a size or two smaller than me—and then stopped. I flashed back to the years of excruciating body anxiety that I experienced as a teenager and wondered what kind of example I was setting—choosing as an ideal a shape that wasn’t mine.
Then I remembered a recent conversation with my daughter, who tapped me on the behind and said, “Mom, you have a big ass.” I turned on her—furious at the insult—and she laughed and said, “Relax, mom. That’s a compliment!” What I see as too big, she embraces as “bootylicious.”
My new affirmation? I may never be skinny, but I can be strong. It takes years and years to undo the negative body images that we create as children and teenagers. That’s one reason why I do yoga. After a few sporadic starts in high school and college, I started practicing regularly in my 20s. At first, even down dog was excruciating. But I quickly became addicted—to the feelings of peace and calm that I experienced during and after class, the way that I began to use my breath to pause and regulate stressful situations, and the physical changes in my body. I watched my naturally muscular legs gain definition, and my shoulders broaden—soon, I was holding plank for minutes and could balance on my palms.
And in creating that strength, I learned to stop hating my body. I stopped starving and bingeing. I threw away my scale and began to…I wouldn’t say embrace, but definitely accept, my curves. My new affirmation? I may never be skinny, but I can be strong.
I don’t practice yoga because I think it will flatten my stomach or shrink my ass. Why I do yoga is because I believe it will be the boat that I ride into old age, protecting me from an ocean of physical pain and emotional isolation.
I believe yoga will be the boat that I ride into old age, protecting me from an ocean of physical pain and emotional isolation. I do it because of people like my aunt, who has been practicing daily for nearly 50 years. In retirement, she is amazingly busy. She gardens and writes and is never afraid to wade into a new group of people, making friends as she goes. And at nearly 70, she is still strong and limber enough to hold utthita hasta padangustasana (yes I had to look that up) on the beach, in a bathing suit, just months after a double mastectomy.
So when the personal trainer asked me what I was going to do to achieve my goal, I laughed and told him that I didn’t expect to. “I eat healthy. I walk and do yoga several times a week. This is the shape I’m meant to have—I’m happy with my body.” My daughter smiled.
I wish I’d said that in the first place.
P.S. That’s my aunt in the photograph. Amazing, right?