Friday, August 31, 2007

Our bodies, ourselves

Last year I spent several months, lots of mental energy, and hours and hours in the gym trying to lose a little bit of weight for my high school reunion. Well, that was mostly the catalyst - the reason I gave myself. I'm still not entirely sure why I did it - months of depriving myself of foods that I like, exercising almost religiously, and I lost probably about 10 pounds that I really didn't NEED to lose, all of which came back 2 months after I stopped being so stringent. Looking back on the experience, in some ways I'm glad that I did it because it made me realize that I *can* lose a bit of weight, but it takes a Herculean effort unless I'm in a foreign country and walking for 6 hours a day (the 10 pounds I lost in China in 3 weeks, which all came back within a month or so after we returned from our trip). On the other hand, I was kind of scary. It was all I was thinking about, and one of the first thoughts that ran through my head after I got whiplash from the car accident last summer was "Is this going to keep me from my gym schedule and make me gain weight again?" Which, admittedly, is probably not an entirely healthy attitude to have.

I still go to the gym 4 or 5 days a week and try to get exercise on at least one weekend day. I still carefully monitor what goes in my mouth most of the time. I follow almost the same regimen I did last spring and summer, but those few pounds don't seem to want to go anywhere. In some ways, I'm OK with that - I bought a dress for the wedding and it fits me perfectly and looks great. In other ways, I'm still totally focused on looking better, striving for perfection (well, as "perfect" as I can get with the body type I have) and frustrated that I don't WANT to deprive myself again for months, all for 5 or 10 pounds that will creep back on as soon as I stop. I eat healthily; I make the right choices all the time about what goes into my body and what I do with it, and it's very rare that I choose junk or something unhealthy. But the little bit of "wow, you look great" that I got last spring and summer made being a dress size 6 that much more rewarding, despite all I had to do to get there.

I've been feeling pretty stuck in my exercise routine recently; I've been going to the same gym for years and doing the same exercises on the same machines. Something needed to change. So on Wednesday I left work a little early (didn't take a lunch) and did 30 minutes of hamstering on the elliptical, then went to a Vinyasa yoga class.

My first experience with yoga was nearly 10 years ago in college, when College Boyfriend was into all kinds of eastern philosophy stuff and thought it would be fun to take yoga at the YWCA after our swing dance classes ended. I thought it would be an interesting challenge, and wasn't sure how I would fare what with all the injuries from ballet. But we started the prana hatha yoga class and 12 weeks later were all sorts of bendy. I began to realize how much I looked forward to the class, how it would quiet my mind and I could focus on my body in a way that was holistic, not judmental, not exercising for the sake of burning calories, not thinking about what my body couldn't do, but what it COULD - and how I was my body - it wasn't a separate thing. Then that teacher stopped teaching classes at the Y and we (being college students) couldn't afford to take yoga at any of the fancy studios in town.

It wasn't until Wednesday that I ever took another yoga class. I didn't know anything about the types of yoga (other than hatha yoga, which I had taken, and that bikram yoga was done in a really hot room), and I told the teacher that I hadn't done any yoga in many years. "You'll do fine," he said. It took a few minutes after the beginning stretches and then starting our downward dogs and other poses for my mind to stop racing through thoughts of the wedding this weekend and the report at work that I couldn't do because I didn't have all the information I needed, the outside situations that were causing me internal stress. "Focus on why you came to yoga class today," the instructor told us. "Focus on your body. There it is. It is you." And then, suddenly, my body was me. There I was. There were no outside thoughts to bother me like buzzing flies. It was just me, and the poses, and the music, and the instructor's voice.

My body wasn't capable of doing all of the poses or balances - but I wasn't expecting it to be. It had been nearly 10 years after all; I'd never done this kind of yoga before and I wasn't used to any of the postures or poses. The downward dogs hurt my shoulder (still bothering me a year after the car accident) after a while, so I had to modify the pose some. Some things that looked easy (warrier one) were not. I felt self-concious because the other people taking the class were all svelte and tiny while I'm muscular and curvy. But after a while, those things stopped mattering, too. I began to focus on what I COULD do, and how the poses were making me feel. I ended up pulling off a couple of really intricate and weird balanced poses that I never would have thought I could do. And by the end of the class, my mind was quiet. My body had (mostly) done the things I had asked it to do. There it was. I no longer desired to fight it, to tell it "this is the shape I want you to be, so do these things until you become that shape!" It was me, and this is me. This is what my body looks like. This is what my body can do.

I'm still going to keep exercising, and eating healthy food, because they make me feel good (and because I hold out hope that somehow I'll end up a little more trim before the wedding). But I think I'm going to take more yoga classes, too. I've still got a few little physical reminders of Wednesday's class (stretched some things that haven't been stretched like THAT in a while!) and when I get a twinge I think back to the pose I was doing to stretch that bit, and I think about how it felt, and about how quiet and at peace my mind was when I was all pretzeled up in that way. I have the body that I have, and it is not separate from me or who I am. Here it is. It can climb mountains and dance and run and turn into a pretzel. If it doesn't look perfect, that's OK, because what matters more is that it's healthy and strong. And I need to spend more time focusing on what it does for me, what I'm capable of doing, and not punishing myself for never looking like the airbrushed photos in the magazines. It's still a fight going on inside me, societal pressure to look a certain way versus that focus on what I can do with the body I have, with the body I AM. Maybe more yoga classes and spending more time on accepting myself for what I am will help the healthy self, rather than the disordered self, win that battle.


Average Jane said...

I'm back to yoga 2-3 times per week after a 10-year absence myself. I'm very pleased with how it makes me feel both mentally and physically. One of my favorite things about the yoga studio is that there are no mirrors, which allows me to focus on what I'm doing rather than what I look like.

Yank In Texas said...

Oh I love yoga. I just wish the class at the gym is earlier than 8pm. I just can't do it that late or my sleeping pattern is all screwed up. Pilates is really what works for me now. I still get the stretching in but with way more ab work. But yoga was really the best for that.

Cilicious said...

Mle I have *seriously* always thought that you looked absolutely beautiful just the way you are.
I have not done yoga since the 70's but was thinking about getting back into it.
Unfortunately I am not sure I can do all the stuff I used to do.