For the past few weeks, I’ve been getting back into yoga after a long time away. So, I found myself one evening in a room full of people, all of whom seemed to have been given instructions I somehow missed.
One by one, the yogis laid out think woolen blankets, then spread out their yoga mats, then layered towels atop the large pile. They rolled back and forth over giant bolster pillows: warming up, loosening their spines, releasing inhibitions and stressful thoughts. As I watched person after person go through their own personal routine, I felt more and more out of place.
Is this a yoga studio or a homeless shelter?, I thought.
When the instructor started moving us through poses, I looked around frantically, trying to decipher the arcane language she was speaking.
Ah! Finally one I know! I laughed to myself as I lay on my back like an overturned beetle, wrapping my palms around the soles of my feet. In that moment, my son’s grinning face came to me like a beacon of light through the clouds. I smiled and relaxed a little, easing into the poses and not worrying as much about whether or not I was doing them right.
Moving and stretching, I began to think about how detached from my body I became during pregnancy. My strategy for dealing with the various parts of me growing larger was to just ignore them.
Butt? What butt?
Cankles? What cankles?
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as your belly grows, you can no longer see your thighs. It’s the one merciful thing that happens during pregnancy.
As I reached and bent, rolled and contorted, I tried to get reacquainted with my body. Tried to see the good, make peace with the fact that my body isn’t quite what I’d like it to be. And suddenly, I thought of a favorite passage from Gloria Steinem’s Revolution from Within, where she reflects on her own process of letting go, forgiving herself and celebrating herself.
I realized that, while I may not be happy with my body today, there will come a time when I’d give anything to look like this. To be able to bend and twist, to sweat, to experience the feeling of accomplishment that comes after a workout. Instead of criticizing myself, only to one day realize how silly I’ve been, why not celebrate the youth and vitality I have today?
I came home and took Revolution from Within off the shelf, and reread the passage I had been thinking of. It resonated with me as much today as it did the first time I read it. I hope it speaks to you as well.
Sometimes, when I enter a familiar room or street, I think I see a past self walking toward me. She can’t see me in the future, but I can see her very clearly. She runs past me, worried about being late for an appointment she doesn’t want to go to. She sits at a restaurant table in tears of anger arguing with the wrong lover. She strides toward me in the jeans and wine-red suede boots she wore for a decade, and I can remember the exact feel of those boots on my feet. …
I used to feel impatient with her: Why was she wasting time? Why was she with this man? at that appointment? forgetting to say the most important thing? Why wasn’t she wiser, more productive, happier? But lately, I’ve begun to feel a tenderness, a welling of tears in the back of my throat, when I see her. I think: She’s doing the best she can. She’s survived — and she’s trying so hard. Sometimes, I wish I could go back and put my arms around her. …
We are so many selves. It’s not just the long-ago child within us who needs tenderness and inclusion, but the person we were last year, wanted to be yesterday, tried to become in one job or in one winter, in one love affair or in one house where even now, we can close our eyes and smell the rooms.
What brings together these ever-shifting selves of infinite reactions and returnings, is this: There is always one true inner voice.
— Gloria Steinem
Revolution from Within