Just as I have a lot of experience failing at weight loss, I also have a great track record for quitting work-out routines.
I stuck with running for a month. I went to step aerobics on and off for a month here and there. I joined a gym, but felt way too self-conscious around all the perfectly-fit young athletes. I tried doing videos, but got tired of hearing the same chatter every time I worked out.
When we started our new life in Houston, I wanted things to be different. Riding my bicycle to work helped, but with the frequent rainy mornings, it wasn’t always possible. Everyone here goes to the gym, and I found a place nearby, with very reasonable fees.
So I joined, but it was two months before I actually set foot in the place. I knew I had 40 pounds to lose and I was horribly out of shape, clumsy, and more inflexible than anyone I’d ever met. But, finally, I decided to suck it up and try a Zumba class. I hid in the back of the room, but I was delighted to see that I wasn’t the most out-of-shape person there. This was a different crowd than I had seen at the gym up north.
After tackling Zumba, I felt brave enough to give yoga a try. I was still self-conscious, and aware of the fact that I have never had much flexibility or muscle strength. But curiosity still led me to my hiding spot in the back the room.
That first class, there wasn’t a single pose we did that was easy for me. Even the seated pose (criss-cross-applesauce) was difficult for my legs. I was completely unable to do at least half of the exercises, without significantly “modifying” them. I was the only person in the room who could not touch their toes. As I looked around the room filled with 20-somethings doing hand stands, I hoped nobody was looking at me. I saw my body as physical evidence of weakness, and my out-of-shape state was proof that I had allowed fear to gain the upper hand more times that I was willing to admit.
Yoga class was the equivalent, for me, of standing naked in front of the mirror. Facing my tight, tense body meant facing the stress and survival mode that had dominated my experience for too long. It meant facing my fears that it was too late to do something about it. It meant looking into the mirror and learning to love, rather than to judge, what I saw looking back.
So, in spite of my fears and insecurities, I kept going back. I hid in the back, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. I knew I was “behind” everyone else, and I didn’t want to be a problem. Sometimes I questioned whether I really had the right to be there, being so far behind. But I kept going, made slow progress, and tried to accept what I saw in the mirror.
The turning point came about a month into it, when I had indulged in a great deal of self-pity, before class. At the end of my fit, I had decided that I would try to accept where I am, and that I was the only one who thought my progress was too slow. We got to the part of class, where everyone else did handstands. (At that point, I was the only one who could not do handstands!) I was doing some balance pose–I don’t remember what–when the instructor approached me and said, “Let me show you how you can modify the plank pose, so that you can build up your core.”
We never realize how the smallest of gestures, timed perfectly, can make the greatest difference. That simple acknowledgment, in that moment, said to me, “You do have a right to be here.”
And that changed everything.
The next class, I realized that I felt claustrophobic in the back of the room, when there was so much space in the front. I had always stayed away from the front, because I didn’t want anyone watching and following me, and being potentially misled. But, if none of these girls, with their perfect handstands, were willing to go up front, why shouldn’t I? So, I grabbed my mat and water bottle, and made my way front and center, where everyone could watch my perfect modified plank pose, while doing their handstands!
By no longer hiding, I was no longer hiding from myself. I was telling my body, “It’s okay. You did the best you could for so long, under so much stress.” It was time to return the love. It was time to love, accept, and learn to work with the tools that I have, with what I have been given in this life. It was a huge step in emerging from Last Winter, in moving past fear.
So there I am, three times a week, enjoying the space in the front of the room. I can do more and more every time, even if I can’t touch my toes yet. I’ve learned to be okay with my growth, at whatever speed it is. And I’ve learned that nobody is looking, and nobody even notices that I can’t touch my toes.
The other students in the room had their own reasons for not taking that open space, front and center. They were all facing their own insecurities, standing naked in front of their own mirrors, and trying to understand what they were looking at. They were as unaware of my struggles, as I was of theirs.
When we face ourselves, and learn to love what we see, we become aware of our shared humanity and common struggles.