By: Liz Jones
How do I start? How do I take the leap? How do I believe that I have a right to love my body? These are the questions I asked myself when I started practicing yoga 3 years ago. I had been looking through photos on Instagram of impossibly flexible women with tight stomachs and the ability to hop up into a handstand with little to no effort. Curious about this practice that people said could change lives and bring peace and acceptance, I began to very tentatively dip my toe into the yoga world.
A little backstory: I was not an athletic kid. I failed horrendously at every sport I was put into. The hardest part was that I knew I was bad. I also knew my teammates would have preferred if I wasn’t on the team. These were fit, fast kids that loved competition. They loved being on the field or on the court. I never saw the draw of competition. I didn’t understand why I was so different. It left me feeling disconnected from my body and fearful of any athletic endeavor. If I did do something active it was as a punishment for not eating “right” or in pursuit of the always elusive perfect body.
Now I’m an adult, but the moment something physical comes up I am that same 8 year old that just doesn’t fit. So, trying something like yoga that seemed so closed off to someone like me felt impossible. I’m not flexible or graceful or strong. Even if I got myself into the class I could just picture the looks I would get. The side-eye glances. The teacher pointing out how wrong I was. The idea of moving my body in this new way in front of strangers was enough to send me into an anxiety attack, tumbling down the rabbit hole of self hatred and insecurity. But, my curiosity was stronger than my anxiety.
I decided to begin in a way that felt safe to me. I went to the library and checked out what yoga DVD’s they had. I started alone, in my living room, with the blinds tightly shut. I had a hand-me-down mat, some old leggings, a t-shirt, and a DVD from the library. That was my yoga. And now that I look back I see how truly beautiful it was. I was working a temp job at a call center after being unemployed for several months that ended early in the afternoon. I would get home and just want to sleep. I didn’t want to think about how my life had gone so far off track both personally and professionally. I didn’t want to look at what a mess I thought I was. I made a promise to myself that I needed to practice everyday after work. If I did that then I could sleep as long as I wanted.
But I had to move my body first. So, some days it was with enthusiasm and others it was with tears running down my cheeks. I was very careful about who I followed on social media. If there was someone that seemed nice but their photos hit up against something inside me that was still sad and tender I let them go. Then I practiced, for 30 minutes.
I had a really good run. Then I fell off the yoga wagon. I started to prioritize socializing for fear I was missing out on a 20-something life experience I could never get back. I lost days to hangovers that left me feeling sad and untethered. Nights spent having conversations I couldn’t remember. Money I had worked so hard for was disappearing out of my bank account. So, I had to start again. I had to have compassion for myself and tell myself that I am allowed to stumble and fall. That what I am actually doing is training for a life of creativity and taking big leaps. Because there will never be a time when I stop stumbling.
What matters is that I remember why I started this. I started because yoga was soft and forgiving. It waits for me to come back to it when I get wrapped up in the fuzz life can throw our way.The more I learned the more I realized this is about so much more than being flexible.
Being flexible actually has absolutely nothing to do with it. This is about dealing with the hard stuff without getting dragged down by it. This is about not allowing another person’s anger or cruelty to knock me off course. This is about controlling the only thing I can: my reactions to the world around me and what I put back into it.
Now it’s several years later. It still hurts my hamstrings when I forward fold, my heels still don’t touch the ground in down dog, My stomach is still soft, my thighs still touch and I no longer have a goal to change either of those things. I am so much closer to my soul because of this practice. That is what matters. I have more control over my emotions than I ever had in the past. I still have to be careful about social media because visual images are very powerful and I’m still letting go of past wounds, and that’s ok.
It’s ok that I’m still working on it. I hope to always be working on it. I hope to always be growing and blooming. I am realizing how much power I actually have and how capable I am. I can do big things. I can do beautiful, hard things.
So to you I say this: Begin. Begin quietly and softly and with kindness towards yourself. Laugh when you fall, because you will most definitely fall.
Find Liz Jones Here: www.instagram.com/theloveandlightproject