I am that girl next you in the studio.
My leggings do not spindle down my legs gracefully, I wear a loose t-shirt to avoid any unwanted bulges sticking out in downward dog, I have to modify anything that involves twisting my arms around any body part because certain parts bulge and take up a little more space than I would like.
I head to the back of the class in order not to call attention to my wobble, and I cannot do certain positions based solely on my Kaphically-blessed body.
But I am still a yogi.
I was recently invited to a yoga retreat held out at a lush and sprawling property west of where I live. I had been practicing for nine months and never had I dreamed I would muster the guts to accept an invitation like this.
My yoga journey started after a medical condition left me almost totally physically incapacitated. I began by attending restorative classes where there was little to no competition among classmates to execute the perfect pose. I fell in love with what yoga did for my mind, body, and soul. I was hooked and wanted to move my way up into a few Hatha classes.
That’s when things got tricky.
I remember walking in and thinking “Where are all the restorative people?” These yogis in the room did not match my original perspective on the who, what, and why of yoga. I am a relatively new mother, with a baby belly that hangs lower than what I would like, and even before that, my body was never destined for the ballet. I wobbled through my first few classes.
Something about those grounding classes kept me coming back.
I still stayed in the back of the room, where I could modify and rest without fear of judgement, but I began to grow stronger. So I progressed from Hatha to Vinyasa and eventually to Forrest. My journey through the different and ever challenging classes made my body physically stronger and more fit, but my composition did not change much. I would leave class and head home to a giant comforting meal, or grab a warm and creamy chai on my way home.
The goal of my practice was never to lose weight, it was to get in touch with the center of myself, no matter how far in there it actually was.
When I showed up at the retreat knowing no one I was a bit intimidated at first. I walked into the giant room where we gathered to introduce one another over a sprawling table of delicious and healthy food and was greeted by these lithe, fairy like bodies. The people looked as if they had been practicing all their life. Their faces were clear, cool, and calm. Their clothes fit nicely and creatively over their sleek physiques.
I was intimidated. I had to remind myself despite my fear of not fitting in that we were all there for the same purpose—to retreat into ourselves, to uncover positive aspects buried within our hearts and our minds. That no matter what shape we were in, we all had hearts longing to be known.
The retreat proved to be one of the greatest events in my life. I made friends with the people whom I thought were super yogis destined to soar to the heights of asana (posture). My body did not keep me from enjoying the increased awareness that came from each class.
When I came back home, I decided to meet with one of my former instructors. I had always loved her challenging classes and had deep respect for what she taught. I asked her, “Is there anything I can do this season to improve my practice?” She looked at me, and with condescension in her voice she said “I recommend you go on a cleanse.”
A cleanse? Was she implying I was too big for my britches? Even if she was not, I was immediately turned off. I had just come back from a weekend of love and acceptance and was sent back down into the depths of my insecurity that had started me out on my yogic journey in the first place. I immediately decided I would no longer practice with her. Yes, perhaps a cleanse would be a good idea at some point in my life, but at this point in time, when I was just getting used to being a bit bigger and bound to bodily restrictions, it was not what I needed to hear. Most of the friends I had made on the retreat were yoga instructors themselves, and despite our difference in size and appearance, they were deep sources of confidence and encouragement.
Yoga is for all people. It is a life practice that unites the body with the brain, and spurs the soul up and out of its box of false obstacles. Yoga, for me, was a form of healing from the inside out.
I could diet, I could run a 1000 miles, I could go on a cleanse, but none of those things would heal the brokenness that comes from living in a society of harsh criticism and judgement.
I have many friends who are simply turned off because they believe their bodies are not designed for the mat. I find it important that those in the healing arts stay true to the yogic philosophy rather than use it as a method to intimidate people who would join but fear they may not fit in.
Learning to be okay with who you are is the essential truth of yoga. I am hoping that as it becomes an increasingly popular lifestyle choice, those who are teaching and educating people on its benefits remember the principals on which it was founded, rather than intimate the average person out of a class.
I plan to continue my practice, finding classes and instructors that practice that principle first. They are out there, and as our culture of competition begins to pervade the world of the healing arts, I am hoping more people like me will begin to practice and show that it doesn’t matter what you look like, wear, or how you modify or wobble your way through.
What matters is that you show up on the mat as your whole self, ready to accept all of your attributes and engage positively with the core of who you are and who you are destined to be.
Author: Quenby Teague Schuyler
Image: Author’s own/Elephant Journal on Instagram
Editor: Katarina Tavčar