Not long ago I was enjoying a lovely al fresco lunch with one of my dearest friends. We were having a great time people watching [it’s a sport here in NYC] when she suddenly remarked, “Look at that girl – she has the quintessential yoga body.” I followed her gaze and found myself staring at a lithe, long-legged beauty. And while it was true that this lovely creature did have a yoga mat stylishly slung over one shoulder, if her figure was the yoga-body barometer where did that leave the thousands of women who are more…let’s say…shapely, and not quite so lithe? In other words—where did it leave me?
My heart sank a little as I watched this graceful beauty casually stroll away. It’s not like I hadn’t had a similar thought from time to time. For me there have been many wistful moments in yoga class—when longer arms would have made a twisting lunge less of a struggle, and a little less flesh might have enabled a more graceful arm balance. And even as I try to find balance in every area my life, maintaining a healthy attitude about my body is always a high priority. Because although I may be ultimately striving for higher consciousness, I am, after all, an American woman, living in a youth-obsessed culture, in the middle of the fashion capital [read: model central] of the world.
Of course studying yoga and practicing asana does help put things in perspective and while I do have glimpses of self-acceptance I still feel the pressure—I freak-out if I go up a size in jeans, I’m on a perennial diet, and always feel just a little disappointed when I see myself in the mirror.
But when I feel myself spiraling into this world of pitiful self-despair I try to remember what a yoga teacher once told me when I complained about my too-short arms. He said, “in a way you’re really lucky that binds and twists don‘t come so easily – it means that you have to really think about your whole body getting involved in the pose, and you need to figure out how you can use all of your tools – your breath, your awareness—to find a way in…and that’s the yoga. Those people that have a natural ability because of long limbs or a thinner physique may spend years doing asana before they discover the truth of their practice.”
I think of his words in almost every class just as I though of them during that lunch. And as I found myself reconnecting to the ground and climbing out of self-pityland, I heard my friend saying, “but you know Rita, you have one of the best chattaranga’s I’ve ever seen --- I wish I had your upper-body strength.” “Oh yeah,” I thought, “that’s one of my good points.”