Sometime mid-June, my friend convinced me to sign up for a month of yoga. This was a huge deal. I had spent a very long time scoffing at women in yoga pants at the grocery store. I was pretty sure it was just a hipster fad, which meant it was 100% not for me.
But I had been running for six months, and I was becoming a bit disenchanted with it. I had pain in my hips and shins, and I started to feel like I needed something to supplement running, if for no other reason than to give my pedicures a fighting chance. I had some friends who were not hipsters but also really loved yoga, and invited me to come along for one Saturday morning class, just to see how I felt. With a promise of brunch to follow, I tagged along.
The class - hot yoga vinyasa flow - was a bit strange (who actually thinks that much about their breathing?!). The poses were foreign to my body and so much more difficult than I had anticipated. I spent a lot of time in child's pose, recuperating. Most significantly, I had never sweat so much in my life! But I left feeling challenged and energized.
I took the plunge and paid for a month of unlimited classes.
Just over a week later, I was I was five minutes in to a Yin class (Yin yoga is slow, deep stretching that lets you hold positions for much longer than you would in a flow class). My friend couldn't come with me, so I was going it alone for the first time.
I chose a spot in the corner of the room, and I was lying in supine butterfly. The room was almost entirely silent except for the unmistakeable sound of purposeful breathing you can only hear in a yoga class. The instructor swept in and asked that we remain in supine butterfly for a little while. "As you're breathing, let the floor take the entire weight of your body," he said. "Just completely release. Take stock of how your body is feeling. Take a minute to notice how this day has imprinted itself onto your legs and arms and feet. Let yourself be completely aware of your body."
It was that last sentence that triggered something in me. As my feet pressed gently together and my arms hung loosely by my sides, it occurred to me that this was the first time I had ever been completely aware of my body.
As a woman, and especially as a fat woman, I have spent my entire life trying to make myself smaller. I have crossed my legs and squeezed myself as close to the corners of sofas as possible. I have worn undergarments that pull and suck and reduce. I have turned my breathing to shallow gulps; I have pressed myself against walls and chairs, I have interlocked and interlaced my limbs. I have tried to reduce myself. I have tried to make my body as close to invisible as possible.
All of this adjusting and compacting has left me grossly unaware of what space my body actually occupies. I know how I've tried to make it fit, but I have denied myself the freedom of simply being.
And lying on a rented mat in a hot room full of strangers, I was being invited to be aware of my body. Not so that I could reduce the amount of space I took up, but so that I could truly occupy the space my body needed. Just so I knew. Just so I understood my body better. Just so I was comfortable.
I had never been invited to be comfortable before.
I felt my body unclench. It was a tightness I'd become so familiar with that its release felt unfamiliar. My stomach grew to it's full size and my legs relaxed and my arms touched a lot of floor. Because they needed to. And I had the thought that this tension I'd been wrapping my body in was my apology. "Sorry, World. Sorry I am fat and female. I'm sorry I need so much space to live in. I will do my best to eliminate my hugeness. I will be uncomfortable so you don't have to."
That class was extraordinary, and I felt different as I left. I felt a renewed connection with the fat body that I had been at war with for 20 years. I felt challenged to awareness. I felt excited to start occupying the physical space I needed and not feel guilty.
I felt comfortable.