Picture this: I’m in a new yoga class and I’m surrounded by lithe, fit, 20-something yoginis.
Understand that I am a luscious, healthy and curvy forty-something woman who has always danced, but has also always struggled with body image.
Their asses seem to me to be tiny temples of perfection, whereas my ass is the big new public housing development that everyone voted against but which was constructed anyway.
Does the sight of all these young lovelies expertly moving into handstands inspire me to my personal best? No, it does not. Instead, it summons my personal demon of criticism and self-judgment to appear on my left shoulder and yammer helpfully,
“You flabby middle-aged matron! What happened? You used to be able to do all this stuff and now you’re on the sidelines, watching in awe and ah-ing in pain. Just yesterday you were a club kid and now you look like the club kid’s mommy. And how is it humanly possibly that when she does a forward fold her tummy remains perfectly flat while yours connects into three happy little rolls?”
By the way, in my day job, I’m a therapist. And please understand that if one of my clients spoke about her body this way, I’d be up in her fizzle faster than you can say “Crow Pose”.
But of course it’s always harder to catch one’s own negative self-talk.
Years ago, these thoughts would have swamped me and drowned out my experience of yoga class. But today, after having worked on “taking tea with my demons,” I was able to say “Hello judgment, hello anxiety, hello comparing mind, nice to see you”.
Just this little moment of acknowledgement was enough. I felt a delicious space open up within me. I could drop down into my own version of Crow–Level 1, thank you–and while all the lithe uber-flexible yoginis were twisting themselves into rubber pretzel shapes and doing the extra “arm binds” I was discovering just how much my arms and shoulders could enjoy their own stretch.
My own practice became a delicious dance, sweaty, and satisfying and completely my own. I wasn’t trying to muscle my way through, I was allowing my body to show me how it wanted and needed to move into the pose.
And that nasty judgmental voice? I didn’t try to muscle past that either. But I also didn’t cower in front of it like a timid slave, believing everything the vicious overseer said.
In the Dance Your Bliss workshops that I teach, my students also struggle with comparing mind. One woman will look across the room and see another dancing the wild, beautiful, free dance that she wishes she could do herself.
I tell my students that this is a great opportunity for them to take tea with their own demons, or even include them in the dance for a moment. In the swirl of the dance floor, in a safe protected environment, you can doh-si-doh your anxiety and self-consciousness and body-shame — then release them.
Yeah, I’m not going to lie; my demons haven’t gone away completely. And I’m not holding my breath waiting for the day when they do. Because I know there’s no escaping my shadow, I choose to dance with it. I invite you to dance with me, too, and invite your own shadowy demons to come along to the party.
So many of us are trying to hide the secret of our wonderful weirdness and our perfectly imperfect human bodies. In doing so, we cover up the very things that make us unique. And in the absence of company, our pain and fear and longing become alienation and envy and competition.
As we hide our truths from one another, we do each other a grave disservice. And as women, there’s always something about our bodies that we are trying to hide.
Despite years of vigorous exercise, my upper arms are soft and fleshy, like a grandmother’s. I call them my “bat wings”, and when I complain about them my husband says, “But darling, they help you fly!”
I’ve discovered that by joking about my own body I can make bridges between myself and my students. I tell them that however strange and awkward their own dance is, I will match them in weirdness.
Sometimes I’ve danced so wildly I’ve ripped my pants.
I love to surrender to the power of bringing together body and spirit, wholeness and brokenness, into one glorious dance. By embracing my own inner strangeness and taking my demon to tea, I am able to offer cake and crumpets to whoever shows up in class. And this is how we access the infinite resources at the core of our nature.
Now I can laugh tenderly when I see my bat-wings fully expressed in flight.
So try this: put on your favorite music and let yourself move with abandon. You just may fall in love with that real and true human being who is having too much fun to worry about how she looks.
Author: Rachel Fleischman
Editor: Alli Sarazen
Photo: Courtesy of Author