I have always hated yoga.
Yoga is for other people. Thin people. People who get jazzed about things like smoothies with kale, who have candles for reasons other than covering the bad odors in their homes. Do an image search for yoga and it seems that yoga is best done in silhouette on the edge of cliff, a dock on the lake, or in the middle of a field.
And, well, I’m not one of those people. And also I live in a crowded city, nowhere near a cliff or open field.
Also yoga is about centering and mindfulness and releasing your body, and I have always had a really complicated relationship with my body. I’m not sure exactly when it started, but I still remember the shame I felt in gym class when I was weighed in front of my peers and my weight was a three digit number compared to their two digit numbers.
But the worst part about yoga is that no matter what class I attend, it is almost a guarantee that I will be the fattest person in the room.
I’ve spent the good part of my son’s two and a half years avoiding cameras, eating in secret, wearing layer after layer of clothing, and fantasizing about the someday when I will become one of those yoga women who can wear all white by the lake and hold a tree pose for as long as I want in the sand.
But I had been hiding a long time before that.
There have been a lot of diets. Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, The Weigh Down Diet, the Geneen Roth Diet, and the Luna Bars and Seltzer water diet (my personal method of dropping the freshman 15). There’s also been a lot of binging. More binging than dieting, if I’m being honest. There have been times when I am sort of okay with how I look, and times when it is hard to leave the house, especially when meeting up with friends I haven’t seen in some time, who will certainly notice my thirty pound weight gain.
I’ve also done a lot of therapy. I mean, A LOT of therapy.
It was in therapy, talking about all my attempts to stop eating so much food, when my therapist asked me, “Rachel, what else is as big as your hunger?”
Immediately images came rushing to my mind.
I could see my heart, my love for my family, my ambition, my joy, my passion for God, my passion for life.
And I saw my fear of being big. Of being loud and strong and beautiful and powerful.
After my session with my therapist I sat down and made a list of all the things that I want to be able to do without shame, especially without shame about my body. It included things like wearing lipstick, getting a tattoo, running as long as I want, wearing tight clothes, and eating as much as I want in front of anyone. Anything that popped into my head and was immediately met with “maybe when you lose some weight” went on the list.
Fifth on the list was, “Do yoga”.
I sat with the list for some time. I read through it again and again. I read through it enough times to confirm my realization that not one item on the list required me to lose a single pound or change my body in any way.
But a lot of them require me to be seen. A lot of them required me to let myself be big.
So I bought lipstick. I bought two shades one week, and went back for two shades the next. Lipstick was the gateway to makeup, which was the gateway to wearing clothes without additional layers. I sat and planned my tattoo, discussing it with friends to gather ideas. But I kept coming back to #5 on the list.
Finally, I called up my trusted friend and scheduled a time to go to yoga. We went.
And I was the fattest girl in the room.
There were moves I could not do, like grabbing both my ankles behind me in a reverse boat pose. I took full advantage of the teacher’s offer to return to child’s pose whenever a position was too challenging. An hour passed by, and I didn’t die. No one said a single thing about my weight or my lack of yoga skills. I did not fall on my face and break my nose, as I had worried I might. No one pointed and laughed at me.
In the last few minutes of class, tears rolled down my face. Tears of gratitude for a body that is strong and flexible. Tears of pride for finishing the workout. And tears for my body. A body that has served me and protected me. A body that has made me ashamed. A body that has kept me safe. A body I have blamed for so many struggles. A body that is mine.
Of all the dieting strategies I have tried, one I haven’t tried yet is to get bigger. To be as strong and beautiful and loud and powerful as I am.
Two weeks ago I walked past one of the assistant principals I work with, and she stopped in her tracks, looked me up and down with her eyes and her finger and said, “I see you, Rachel. I see you.”
It was terrifying. And it was exhilarating.
The next day she asked me what has been going on, why I’ve been “jazzing it up.”
So I told her the truth. I told her that I’ve decided to finally show up for my life.
And though I didn’t tell her about it, I’ve also continued to show up for yoga class. Maybe just to prove that yoga is for people like me, too.
P.S. I’m reading a great book by Jes Baker called Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls. It’s all about body love, for people of all shapes and sizes and it’s nice to keep in my purse for moments when I’m feeling like maybe shrinking, and all the baggage that comes with it, is actually a good idea after all.