I Can't Imagine My Life Without Yoga, cont'd.

I had achieved a level of perfection in this endeavor and had no real intention of giving it up. Thankfully, I have this way of inner knowing which told me I needed to do something physical, almost in spite of myself. So, In both very real and metaphoric ways, I dubbed 2001 "The Year of Movement." I joined a gym and got a personal trainer who was pleasant enough, but I began to hurt, and not in a good way. My repetitive motion injuries flared up. I hated sweating. I got a diagnosis of osteoarthritis in my knees, and could no longer use the pool at the gym since I would undo all the benefits of swimming or water aerobics when I climbed/hauled myself out of the pool using the ladder that was set into the wall. I went shopping for a bike, unsuccessfully, and spent most of the year explaining to my therapist why this moving thing was a bad idea, and how it hurt. I saw advertisements for a yoga for large women, but the classes took place in Berkeley and I live in San Francisco and I would lose time and therefore money (as a self-employed freelance contractor) and oh, by the way, I was traveling often for work and couldn't commit, so there. No yoga for me. Still, I knew on an inner level that anything I was resisting to vociferously was most likely in my best interest. As the year 2002 rolled around, it became known as the "Year of Movement II."

I decided to go to a yoga class, just to prove I wouldn't like it. I just knew the teacher would have a yoga standard none of us with fat bodies could meet, demonstrating the poses perfectly while commenting that, since we couldn't do them THE RIGHT WAY, there were modifications that we could do, and while we wouldn't be in the actual poses, at least it would be something. I walked into Sally's class with my blanket and my neckties and was wildly suspicious of everything. I had my arms and legs mentally crossed, and not in a spinal twist kind of way. We sat in a circle in chairs and began warming up. Surprising myself, I found I could follow the warm-up. Women were doing it in individualized ways, and alternatives were being offered by her without any sense of judgement. I liked the stretching, the peacefulness and the way she kept saying, "This is a fine place to stay. If you want a further challenge you can ...." Meaning, I WAS OK WHERE I WAS. What I was doing was recognized as already challenging. (And, trust me, for the first few classes, it was challenging for me just to stay in the room physically, much less inside of my skin mentally.) We were not doing some dumbed-down asana adjusted for fat bellies, big hips or ample breasts, or intolerance for standing for long periods of time or the inability to balance on one foot. The class was challenging, calming and comforting, all at the same time. I fell in love with it.

Sally is forthright and respectful at the same time. She encourages me when she senses I can go deeper, but she is never pushy. She is responsive to the students as individuals. Bottom line, I trust her. There is humor in the class. We laugh about rearranging our fat in some poses, and wonder where we should put our bellies when we bend forward in Head to Knee Pose. We sometimes joke about the language of yoga ("Now take the left leg and place it (gently) on the right shoulder blade...") and chuckle about the "willow in the wind" qualities of our tree poses. We share strategies in a "What if you tried it like this?" way. When other large women model the poses, I am inspired by them. I found myself eyeing and then purchasing a cushy sticky mat and a strap, since it seemed like I was sticking to yoga. I added two foam yoga blocks, and a second class per week. I bought Yoga Journal and started asking about trying certain poses in class and trying them on my own. Now, a year and 10 months later, I can't imagine my life without yoga.

My practice has changed me in profoundly deep ways I find hard to articulate but know are true. I miss yoga while traveling and try to do some pranayama and asanas when I am not able to come to class. I also do yoga on my own in a swimming pool weekly, which is a wonderful experience and informs my land practice. I have added a third weekly class that is a "mainstream" class with men and women of all sizes. Now I know that being able to bend forward at one's hips is not something that thin people inherently know and are able to do by virtue of their thinness. I have had the experience of wanting to do a specific pose for a long time, and incrementally moving toward it, without exasperation, without negative self-talk, believing that I could, until one day I was able to do it! I use the breathing techniques to soothe myself in stressful situations, and I think my mobility is improved. I am regularly inhabiting my own skin now--and finding it 'a fine place to stay.
- Ari-Asha Castalia

"If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, "thank you," that would suffice." ~ Meister Eckhart
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