I bend quickly to my left to keep my balance as my foot comes off my thigh. I breathe. I ground my right foot again, slowly left up the left, and place it back on my thigh. I breathe. I place the pads of my fingers together and point my thumbs to my breastbone. I breathe. My body shakes, but I manage to keep my balance this time. I close my eyes. I breathe. I eagerly await the teacher’s announcement that this side of tree pose is complete. I am, for once, aware of what each part of my body is doing and grateful that it can do it. I breathe. I take my left foot and place it back on the floor, and breathe. I made it. My body made it.
On a whim, I took the advice of my physical therapist and decided to start doing yoga. He mentioned it would be good for my arthritis as well as a way to build up muscle strength in the areas around which my arthritis formed. I had tried yoga before, in college, and thought it was the dumbest thing I had ever done. Of course, that may have had something to do with the fact that I was at the YMCA, surrounded by skinny/chatty/catty housewives (the only people who take 10 AM yoga classes on a Tuesday) in tiny yoga tops, wearing a face full of make up, delicately perched on their designer yoga mats…and me, no mat, wearing oversized sweats, black hair pulled back in a messy bun, tired (extremely tired) and wanting these women to leave. I sat in the heavily mirrored room and stared with disgust at my reflection. I compared myself to the small women around me, I berated myself when they could do poses I could not, I let ED convince me that I would be better at yoga if I engaged in her behaviors that day, I held back the tears, I hated yoga, I hated ED, I hated my body, and, most of all, I hated me.
Almost three years later, I eagerly open the iPad, sit down on the tan carpet in my living room, and search for the next video in Melissa West’s Namaste yoga series—I do an hour of yoga every night before I go to bed. Still wearing my oversized sweats (the only pair I have ever owned), hair again sloppily pulled on top of my head, still no mat…but my attitude towards yoga has changed…my attitude towards myself has changed. I have learned, through recovery, to become more gentle and forgiving of myself. Both yoga and recovery have taught me that it is completely alright to wobble in a pose (perfection is not even an option), it is absolutely acceptable to stop if I need to (yoga is not a competitive sport and I must, therefore, do what is best for my own body), and it is entirely okay to let my body do what it does best…live and thrive and grow. When doing yoga, I must focus on what each part of my body is doing in order to do the pose in the most beneficial way. This focus reminds me that every part of my body serves a purpose; from the toes that help me push into downward dog to the fingers that I bend into various mudras, and from the thighs that help me in reclining hero pose to my shoulders pressed into the ground supporting me in shoulder stands.
Every part of my body serves a purpose; no part is uninvolved. I am reminded that my body does, in fact, serve a purpose. I often take for granted what my body does for me and how much harm it has withstood from my own causation. Instead of degrading my body and cursing its appearance, I ought to be thanking it for allowing me to continue living. Despite numerous protests from Ed and, from time to time, myself, my body has never failed me. My heart continues its rhythmic pumping throughout my circulatory system, my bones continue to remain stable in their construction, my muscles push and pull to propel my body, my lungs expand and contract with air and so much more. Have you ever stopped to think about the numerous involuntary actions your body performs every day? Each day, without so much as a second thought from you, your eyes blink, you breathe, you scratch an itch, your hair grows, your heart beats and your stomach digests your food. Your body, no matter its outward appearance is amazing and deserves to be treated as such. Today, I encourage you to take a moment to thank your body for what it does for you rather than criticize it for what it is not. Take a moment to be grateful for all the wonderful things you can do because of the body you have, not the things you cannot. And, finally, appreciate your body for where it is, right now, in this very moment, …cherish all that you are. You deserve it.
1 Samuel 16:7
“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart”