April 29, 2010

The Fat Yogini: Making Peace With Our Bodies.

“I sensed that there was something going on behind the towering brick walls and I wanted to experience it.”

Last week my cousin sent an E-mail describing her day at the Kripalu Yoga Center. Her words evoked a memory of my drive by encounter with Kripalu and my first Yoga class.

I was visiting my grandparents in the late 80’s. During one of our leisurely drives that followed Sunday dinner, we passed the sign for the Kripalu Yoga Center. I begged my grandfather to turn into the driveway.

I was amazed at the massive structure that was situated on several acres of land that overlooked the Berkshire Mountains.

My grandfather explained that the facility was originally built as a Jesuit seminary in 1957. After the seminary closed the building stood vacant for thirteen years, the property was briefly considered as a location for a state prison before Kripalu purchased it in 1983.

As we quickly drove by I had the urge to leap out of the vehicle and run towards the building. When I expressed my feelings, my grandfather responded to my excitement with disdain. “That place is not for you.”

I wondered why it wasn’t for me. I sensed that there was something going on behind the towering brick walls and I wanted to experience it.

I wouldn’t encounter The Kripalu Center again until years later when my husband and I moved to Lenox, Massachusetts.

Before our boxes were unpacked I began attending Kripalu’s community classes, evening chanting and morning circles. I immersed myself in Yoga philosophy. At the time I couldn’t name what I was after, but it was the same feeling I had experienced while driving past the center with my grandfather.

I was present at author’s book signings, health classes and every seminar that I could get to. I volunteered in the mailroom in exchange for classes. If I wasn’t sleeping I was at the center.

The classes with asanas, (yoga poses) were the ones I avoided due to my weight. I was afraid to face my body on the mat, so instead I learned what postures where best for a wide variety of illnesses.  I read enough books to fill a library.

I attempted to become a Yogic scholar, but the imbalances within my own body never healed. As I continued expanding in all areas of Yogic philosophy, my body continued to expand too.

It was during this time that I ruptured a disk in my back while shoveling snow. An accomplished Yogini from Kripalu came to my house and helped me to recover by demonstrating gentle asanas, (yoga poses).

I was forced to inhabit my body.

Shortly after my back healed I decided to take my first class at Kripalu that focused on the physical poses.

Somehow, out of the long list of class choices, I managed to choose one that shined a spotlight on my body and my limitations.

I positioned myself at the back of the expansive room in-order to try and make myself invisible. What I didn’t realize is that long rows of bodies would block the exit door. I was trapped in this room by dozens of students, all of them men.

The teacher was accomplished. He twisted himself up into shapes that are only seen in magazines. The students were all dressed in tiny spandex shorts in-order to show all the definitions and alignments of the poses.

In an attempt to include me the teacher kept pointing at me and saying, “Yoga is not about competition. If all you can do is this, (he would then demonstrate some simple movement) then be happy. Meet yourself where you are.”

The room was broiling and quickly began to smell. I was sweating. The instructor circled me and shouted, “Embrace where you are.”

The students balanced on one hand and twisted themselves into alphabet letters.  As I watched their bodies form unusual shapes, I half expected their postures to spell words or sentences. I experienced it like a full body sign language that spelled out how ridiculous I looked. The message that kept playing in my head was, Fat Bitch.

The teacher was not mean. I could tell he wanted me to feel comfortable, but the more he kept pointing me out the more he brought my attention to what I could not do.

The worst part was when he kept adjusting my body. He had to step over rows and rows of sweaty half naked men to get to me. He had long skinny legs that gave his body a stork like appearance. “It’s wonderful that you are here. Keep trying. Just do what you can,” he yelled.

Even in the midst of sweaty bodies and the sea of yoga mats I was able to recognize that I was being offered a choice. I could accept my body and its limitations—which meant I had to be with myself just as I was, or I could continue to dislike my body.

Since this experience I have come to understand that acceptance is not a one-time deal.

I am reminded of this each time I roll out my Yoga mat.


Anita Johnston’s book, Eating in the Light of the Moon

Know Thyself: What is Beauty? Chelsa Komlo

The Yoga of Eating: Transcending Diets and Dogma to Nourish the Natural Self by Charles Eisenstein

Man Loses 365 pounds by doing Yoga.

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