Once upon a time, a dear friend of mine began dating a beautiful yoga instructor whose body could move like liquid silver. She invited me to one of his Sunday classes that were designed to be reverential and sacred. I felt intrigued and decided to go.
For me to attend this class, it required me purchasing yoga-appropriate clothing. Soft clothing that would move with my body and allow me to bend and stretch. It was something I hadn’t done for a long time because I didn’t like my body. I felt ugly. Fat. Undesirable. Inflexible. Stoic. Hard.
It was a battle in the fitting room as I groaned and stretched and made the material form to my body. When I finally found something I could wear that didn’t embarrass me too bad, I purchased it and sadly slunk out to my car, carrying my new clothes and my pride in the bag.
At the studio, I changed into the new clothes. There was something about the smell of the bag, the smell of the fabric, the feel of the smoothness that soothed me. I wriggled into the articles and looked at myself, surveying the damage. I was scared to leave the bathroom and, at the same time, suddenly confident in this body I had so long hated.
Before I could go into class with this magical instructor, he required me to read through and sign a waiver, releasing him from any liability should I break or damage any part of myself while in his class. In leaning over to sign the form, my cleavage was obviously clear to him, although I was oblivious to it. (So interesting how close “obvious” and “oblivious” are to one another!)
His newfound love, however, was not so unaware as I. She was standing beside me and had the impulse to take the folder she was holding in her hand and place it in front of my chest, as though I was an inappropriate magazine cover on the frontline of a stand in a conservative grocery store.
Her action both startled and shamed me.
“Cover your bare cleavage, Angie,” she said giggling. I’m not sure that her lover had noticed it before, but I’m certain he had looked then.
Me, on the other hand, attempted to laugh off my shame and embarrassment by saying some smartass thing like, “Well, if you’ve got it, flaunt it, ya know.”
But that wasn’t how I felt. I was crashing apart inside and feeling trembly and sick. I suddenly no longer felt confident, nor did I want to step foot in the studio.
But I did.
I went through the poses, feeling exaggeratedly conscious of my cleavage and my breasts as they cascaded down into my face in the Downward Dog and other “upside down” poses that we did. I was aware of my stomach meeting my thighs in the “fold over” poses. I was aware of the aching in my back, the burning in my quads, the pinching in my glutes. All of it. In one brief experience, my whole experience of yoga shifted into one of pain.
My dance with yoga has been a long, slow dance. The following is an excerpt from a final paper I had to write for my Yoga class a few semesters ag0:
As a teenager, I admired the musical, dance and artistic abilities, as well as the fashion sense of Madonna. She inspired me to excel in everything that I did. I remember that, after some time of her being on the music scene, she came out with a new look. She carried herself very regally, her body was chiseled and toned and she looked like a warrior queen. I marveled at her transformation, as did the media who hounded her to share her secrets.
She eventually revealed that she had done all of her strengthening and body sculpting through yoga. It was the first time I had ever heard the word “yoga” and the word itself sounded absurd to me, making me giggle. Being raised in a very sheltered, highly structured, strictly Christian-based and intensely “Western medicine” thinking home, I had no idea what yoga was or how you did it. Then, because Madonna had done it with such resounding success, it began to catch on in mainstream media and celebrities far and wide made yoga “cool.”
It wasn’t until decades later, when I entered massage school, that I would begin, for myself, to learn the importance of yoga, that it had been around for thousands of years and that, for many, it was their spiritual practice. It was also in massage school that I fell in love with and found an innate connection with the Sanskrit language. However, by then, I had allowed my body to fall to the wayside, no longer caring for it as I had when I was in high school, no longer exercising and not eating correctly. Due to this, I had developed a horrible self-image and self-loathing that was spiraling out of control and while I could see the benefits of yoga, I told myself that my fat body could not possibly ever do yoga.
Around 2002, I found a community of people who were developing conscious thinking patterns. In this space and with those people, I began to heal my lifelong self-abuse patterns, erroneous thinking and beliefs. I began to fall in love with myself and understand the power of my body – even though I had neglected it for so long. During this time, I created close friendships with many of the people within this community – people who were artisans of many walks of life, musicians, dancers and performers of all kinds. One such person has become a dear friend who has spent her entire life as a wandering minstrel, never taking a “real job” to earn her money but, rather, supporting her life through her music.
Her music touched my heart in profound ways and I’ve watched her evolve from the singer/songwriter she was when we first met to a renowned Kirtan artist, leading thousands in worshipful call and response chanting. Part of her process of evolution has been to become a certified Yogi about ten years ago. She combines the fluid grace of yoga with her flowing music and it is a natural fit.
Through her gentle nature, I found the courage to pour my body into the poses of yoga, feeling every single ponderous inch of me with profound clarity and awareness as the poses deepened and progressed. The day she introduced me to Virabhadrasana I (aka Warrior I Pose), I found myself sinking into the pose with a profoundly majestic sensation that called to deep inside me and pulled hidden emotions out of the dark within. Tears rolled down my face as I felt the Warrior Queen within me come fully into light and take place in the space where a bedraggled, sad, lonely, weak woman had once stood.
She had me hold the pose for a very long time as the emotions crashed through me and the Warrior Queen fought to remain. As the sadness of whom I had allowed myself to become melted in the face of the Warrior Queen’s strength, I felt the age-old battles with which my former selves had been very familiar. I knew in that moment the great things I had once accomplished in other lives, that I had long ago forgotten and the great things that I was meant for here in this time.
When she moved me into Virabhadrasana II and I sank low, looking over my stretched fingertips into the war-torn horizons, I could feel my taught bowstring, the feathers of the arrow brushing my wrist, the quiver slung across my back, the tension of the anticipation of launching that arrow. I was fully embodied by the memories of wars fought long ago and wars to come. I had this knowing of who I really am and that the woman I had become was only a fractured shell of who I was meant to be.
Every time I assume this pose, I feel those emotions and the knowing rushing through me. Every time I deepen my stance, pushing myself to the threshold of my maximum edge, I see myself standing on those battlefields with confidence and love. I understand myself on a primal level, feeling the pride I had/have for my people, the honor of being their Queen and the skills that seem to have been inbred within my cells.
Each time a yoga instructor mentions “Warrior Pose” and we start out in Tadasana, preparing to lunge into the strength of Virabhadrasana, I feel a calm assuredness wash through me and I am home. Each time I sink into the pose, I find awareness of myself, I learn further of who I am and for those few breaths where I allow myself to simply be with the pose, I am home, I am complete, I am the Warrior Queen.
That day, there in that sacred yoga studio, I felt as far as possible away from my Warrior Queen self. I felt little and wrong. I felt shamed and guilty. I felt horribly defective. All this came up in this moment because I’m getting ready to attend a yoga class. The memory of the shaming experience came to me and I asked myself if I wanted to continue to carry the shame or release it. If I wanted to have a different, more loving experience with myself. If it was time to forgive myself for abandoning myself and move on. It is time to release that experience and the feeling of shame. I am willing.
The power of another’s insecurities to sway my experience of myself is something that I am turning around in this process. I am calling back into me the wholeness of me that I have scattered to the Four Winds as I’ve attempted to be all that “they” wanted me to be and for the propensity I had to apologize for who I really am at the core.
The Warrior Queen makes no apologies.
And so it is.