By Shalini Wickramatilake
Last winter I decided to join the hordes of other twenty-somethings who attend yoga classes religiously. I was riddled with anxiety before my first class, worried about what the class would entail. Would everyone in there be thin? Would I be the only novice? Was I wearing the right attire? What if I forget to breathe properly?
By the end of that first class, I was hooked. I don’t remember what others looked like. I was the only first-timer, but was still able to keep up with the rest of the class. I might have had a Janet Jackson Superbowl moment during one of my downward dogs, but I’m the only one who noticed (I hope). I’m still working on not forcing my ujjayi breathing, but that’s okay. I’ve learned so much about my body over the past several months because of yoga:
1) Size doesn’t matter: Yoga is not exclusively for taut bodies, contrary to popular belief. I’m not thin, and I was worried that my body shape just wasn’t meant for yoga. I thought that my belly would get in the way, or that I wouldn’t be flexible enough to touch my toes. I’ve learned that my body can do amazing things. If anything hinders me during yoga, it’s my height, but certainly not my weight. The beautiful thing about yoga is how accommodating it is to all bodies, no matter the size or shape.
2) It’s not about the image: Sometimes people show up to class donning super expensive athletic wear, or wearing a skimpy sports bra and hot pants, showing off their six pack abs. I don’t portray that image, but am just as dedicated and capable (if not more so) than them. Yoga isn’t about a particular image; it’s about traveling to a peaceful place within yourself, and challenging your body. I choose to go to class in worn out high school tee shirts and sale bin leggings, because my goal is not to look the hottest, but be comfortable. Yoga has become a rather superficial activity for some people, but plenty of us recognize how shallowness can hinder our journey towards peace.
3) My body can improve: I’m not talking about weight or shape here; I mean that my body’s abilities can develop remarkably. I’ve never been flexible. Even as a kid, being forced to do the V-sit & reach in P.E. class was a source of embarrassment, barely going past my calves. I can now fold my body over, hands well past my feet. It’s been amazing to see how my flexibility has improved every week, doing things that I never believed I could before.
4) I should appreciate my body: Loving my body can be difficult at times, but yoga has helped me learn to listen to my body and be compassionate towards myself. In yoga class, I’ve been taught to not push my body beyond its comfort zone, and to not hurt myself. These very basic reminders are ones that I went many years ignoring on a day-to-day basis, skipping meals and over-exercising. I have taken those lessons and applied them to the world outside of yoga, being aware of the need to always nurture myself, and noting that if something hurts too much, I’m not meant to do it right now.
5) Strangers don’t judge my body: This is a culmination of the previous four points, but an important one in and of itself. People do yoga for themselves. It is an extremely personal experience that allows you the mentally and physically tune into yourself. My biggest barrier to starting a yoga class was fear of judgment. I now know that other people could care less about whether I got a pedicure before class or if I can hold a pose for as long as our instructor. I look in the mirror or at the teacher during class, as do others. Yoga isn’t about competition or comparison; it’s about self-improvement. You might happen to be in a room surrounded by others, but they are all on their own personal journeys, trying to find peace within themselves, and attempting to make peace with their own bodies.