I dip my nose toward the floor and let myself breathe in the musty smell of my yoga mat. So many hours of practicing here with this mat. In several cities. In different classes. With various people – strangers and friends. On my faded green mat.
Me, my body, my practice.
“And now upward facing dog or cobra. And then we’ll meet in down-dog” my instructor says. As I stretch and move my body in now familiar ways, I find myself in one of my many moments of yoga gratitude.
I started practicing yoga regularly – like go to a class 1-3 times a week regularly – in the fall of 2013. I had always desired to have a yoga practice that was mine and that I made a priority but I had never managed it until then. My first few classes, I was terrified. I imagined other students wondering what such a fat person was doing there. I imagined not being able to keep up and feeling humiliated and discouraged. I was starting with the basics, Yoga Foundations it was called at this studio. But still. What if even the basics were too hard? I wondered.
My life in this body, my life as a woman, and my life as a fat person is a constant struggle. On the one hand, I am aware of what my body can do, ways I enjoy being active and ways I have pushed myself in the past. I am more active than some of my non-fat friends. I love swimming, I’ve done a few 5ks and did a triathlon in 2010. On the other hand, I (and all of us) am fed a never-ending litany:
If you are fat, lose weight.
If you are fat, you must want to lose weight.
Be ashamed of yourself, fatties!
Women of size can’t be fit.
Get in shape as quickly as possible but don’t subject others to your
jiggly bits with tight workout pants
Be unhappy with what you look like but think of the happiness that will
only be yours if you:
join this gym
try this diet
cover up your “problem areas” with these clothes
And so it took me years to get to the yoga studio. But I did. In a moment I look back on as very courageous, I signed up and started going to this basics class, usually twice a week.
And I learned. I learned what my body can do. I learned the poses and the breath work. I learned what vinyasa means. I learned that I love high lunge and don’t care for child’s pose. And most importantly so I’ll say it again, I learned what my body can do. The answer? More than I ever imagined. And certainly more than society would say it
And so my yoga practice gave me permission to fall in love with my body. Because it can do these beautiful poses and usually hold them for as long as the teacher instructs, yes. But also because it teaches me to be in my body. To be as present as possible in my breath and in my heart center. When I am on my mat, I am still myself. I am still a fat woman. But it’s no longer a negative thing that I’m supposed to hate. It’s a fact that I can acknowledge and embrace. And, of course, yoga is so much more than the physical practice. Yoga teaches me to extend compassion to all of creation – to all living things. Myself included.
We all have a right to exist. We have a right to take up as much space as we take up. We have a right to love our bodies for what they can do and how they look. And we have a right to not be ashamed. Feminism is about the equality of all sexes, yes. But women and non-binary folks, as the long-marginalized groups, have a lot of work to do collectively and individually to take back our bodily autonomy, and our right to exist as we are. Learning to love my body no matter what – I can’t think of a more feminist place from which to begin my sharing with you.
Practicing on my mat is my way of saying: I am strong. I am enough. I am beautiful. My body can do amazing, gorgeous things – when I’m practicing yoga and when I’m not. I am grateful, I think, as we slowly rise to standing just to start another sun salutation. I am grateful.