5.25.2013

Fat Girl, Hot Yoga

Before

"I can't do that because I'm fat."

I can't skydive, I can't zip line, I can't run, I can't do a cartwheel, I can't sit with my legs neatly crossed, I can't swim a mile (oh wait... never mind, I CAN do that, check that one off the list).

But those are major things, and I don't feel troubled by much of that, anymore than I don't feel particularly troubled by my inability to carry a tune or memorize Pi beyond four digits. But then my size started getting in the way of the little everyday things. My left knee hurts when I climb stairs or get out of the car. My lower back is a nest of electrified rusty nails, and my hips start screaming at me when I go for long walks. Climbing stairs is a laborious process that sometimes requires me to take each step one at a time like a toddler, depending on how my knee is behaving. Oh, and getting up off the floor from a sitting position? Good luck with that. That I have to hesitate to find out what the "weather" is like in my joints before bounding around is something that particularly irks me. For the first time in my life, I can feel my weight IN my bones. Believe it or not, even as a fat person, I've been able to glide quite reasonably through the day to day. I do my best to take large and confident steps, I hold my head up high and look people in the face and smile when I talk to them. I don't waddle. I sit up straight. But all those things have gotten so much HARDER over the last couple years. For the first time in my life, my body is telling me that I'm not a kid anymore.

But then there was always yoga staring me in the face. I've heard so many wonderful testimonials on what it does for the body, but I am also a Buddhist, so I am familiar with the concepts of what it can do for the mind too. But I kept putting it off, and gradually I stopped meditating too, and my spirit has suffered tremendously because of it. In recent weeks I've begun to feel that need again to tune back into myself, and I think the aches and pains I've been feeling in my body are signs that I need to do just that.

So I bought a Groupon. One month of unlimited hot yoga classes at a place less than a mile from my house. I considered it a Mother's Day present to myself. For the week following, I agonized over setting that appointment for that first class. I was making a fool out of myself, I thought. I was going to be a rhino in a room full of flamingos. Never mind that I also have psoriasis on my arms and hands, so yet ANOTHER way to stand out. I was a red-speckled rhino. Why not do yoga at home?

Riiiight. I'd long stopped being ashamed of my psoriasis. It's either put it out there into the world or hide, and I refuse to hide from anyone.

I even doubled down spent $90 on a new yoga wardrobe. And then I did what I do before I enter ANY situation in which I'm pretty sure I'm going to be the odd one out. I pull down the veil and power forth anyway and DEFY anyone to say any different. "Fake it until you make it" has been the one mantra that has guided me through most of my life, and it has fooled a lot of people into thinking I'm more confident than I actually am, but that's the point. And this morning, that mantra guided me right through the doors of Hot Yoga Dayton just before 8 a.m, towel and water and rolled-up mat in hand.

During


After signing the little waiver that stated I'm pretty much responsible for my own health, I put my purse and jacket and shoes in a cubby and proceeded into the yoga studio. It was dimly lit, thank goodness. And hot, yes. Definitely hot. Around 95 degrees and humid. But it wasn't all that bad, actually. I was prepared to be hot and I'd hydrated really well beforehand. I took time to briefly glance at all the people around me who were either sitting or lying on their mats. None of them were as big as me, but there were a few who were generous through the hips and whatnot. There were also a number of older people (the woman next to me was silver haired and likely approaching her eighties) and some younger people too. Everyone was quiet and nice and keeping to themselves. I felt comfortable. Or as comfortable as one can feel in such a warm space with absolutely no idea what's in store.

If you're not familiar with bikram yoga poses, you can visit this link to get an idea of what we did. And also keep in mind that anything I did was the absolute remotest approximation. But I'll get to that in a bit.

We started with a series of breathing exercises and warm-up poses. By the end of that little bit, I realized that was the hardest I'd worked my body in a very long time. But then we pressed forward, and I started to get a true sense of what my body was capable of and what it wasn't. I couldn't cross my legs and arms fully for the Eagle pose, let alone stay balanced for even 30 seconds in what derivative of it I could accomplish. There was no getting up on the balls of my feet for the Awkward pose. I think I was able to get my leg out to 45 degrees (or less) for the Standing Head to Knee, but staying balanced for that was also difficult. I wobbled. A LOT. I rocked the Triangle pose, but the Tree pose was utterly comical. Locust and Full Locust were more like Paralyzed Newborn (if there is such a thing) and instead of the Bow pose, I did the Bridge, which was a lot easier.

I took breaks for water whenever I needed to. There were a few times when I just had to sit there and let my heart rate slow down. My face was so red it looked almost bruised. My hair had come out of its little ponytail. My whole body was so slicked with sweat that I could wipe my hand down my arm and watch the beads fly off. I felt like I was inside a womb.

Then came a moment when I was starting to feel a little nauseated. Even though I was willing myself to remain in the room for the full 90 minutes, I noticed a few people who had to step out for a moment, so I felt like this gave me permission to do the same if I needed. I realize I didn't NEED this permission, but for my first class, I felt like I did need to get a sense of the proper etiquette. Anyway, it was just as we were entering the second rep of the Half Tortoise that I needed to break free. Stepping out into the hall was... I think salvation was the only correct word for it. I think I even uttered a half orgasmic moan and was thankful no one else was out there. I took a moment to look at myself in the mirror. So much sweat... There were even bits of crud coming out of my tear ducts. It was kind of gross.


At the same time, I was berating myself. I couldn't believe I stepped out. In my mind, I thought I hadn't even made it halfway through the class before bailing. So I checked my phone... It was 9:15. I had made it one hour and fifteen minutes out of the ninety.

*you're...
My heart SOARED. I couldn't believe I lasted that long! Time seemed to melt away in that room right along with everything else. I went back in and they were doing the Camel pose. I felt better. Much better. Thanks to the heat, I was even able to rest on my knees for a little period of time. The rest of the poses were easier, and we spent a good bit of time in Savasana (Dead Body) between, which at that point felt like the longest, most wonderful vacation of all time. At some point, I felt like I wasn't even really there in my body anymore. I'd entered some other plane of existence where there were no other thoughts other than me hanging out in my body without judgment. Sure, it took nearly the full class to get there, but I was THERE, dammit!

We ended the class with some breathing exercises and then we laid back again into Savasana. That's when the instructor came by and laid cold, wet, lavender-scented rags on our foreheads. At that moment, it was like a light flashed in my head and rolled slowly through my whole body down to my toes. I just laid there for a moment, feeling this calm settle into my joints.

And when I got up from the floor... my muscles didn't protest in the slightest. I just... STOOD UP! I felt taller, lighter by about ten pounds. My muscles were quivering, but in a good way. When I stepped back out into that cool hallway, I wanted to cry. In fact, the tears were sitting there right on the verge of spilling down, and when the instructor came up to me and said I did wonderfully and that she hoped I was coming in for tomorrow morning's class, I said yes... I would be there. And I will.

After

I glided out to my car, a sweaty mess, my hair everywhere. I drove home with the windows down--it was only about fifty degrees out, but it felt like a blessing. I felt like I'd just been born. I still wanted to cry, though I couldn't quite articulate WHY I wanted to do so. I came into the house, made myself something to eat. Calmly and slowly chewed and swallowed, tasting everything. Every movement I made felt as careful and deliberate as it did in class. I was reminded of how I felt after very long bouts of meditation at a couple of the Buddhist retreats I'd gone to years ago. And when I climbed the stairs to take a shower, I didn't even touch the handrail or the wall. No pain in my knee. My muscles were there for me, for the first time in a very long time, and I could feel them thanking me.

I can still feel it. And I did have that cry. I still kind of want to cry again. It's all part of the catharsis, I think. Of realizing yet again that I've sold myself short and that I'm capable of far more than I allow myself to be. No, my poses weren't beautiful or perfect. My body is like something that was sculpted out of marshmallows and apprehension. But I now know what I can do, and I look forward to seeing myself progress. Rhino today, flamingo... eventually. No rush. Every day is practice.