Any word taken to its edge is perilous.
Years ago, I took a yoga class. At the time, I’d been practicing for 6 years, 5 days a week & I thought I was the BUSINESS. Here I was executing arm balances and spending Saturdays at kirtan. On this particular day, my teacher was prepping us for bound triangle pose or baddha trikonasana. I said to myself, girl, you SO got this. My teacher walked over and tapped me on the shoulder, leaned in, and said not today, love. She knew my body and its limitations (one of my arms is longer than the other because of a car accident I had as a child and a broken collarbone that never set right). She knew my practice. And she also knew about my arrogance, which was foreign to me at the time. I ignored her and tore my hamstring, an injury which took a year to heal. Later, she talked to me about ambition. The word, in and of itself, is noble. We pursue the things we want with fervor. We’re focused and determined. However, push a word to its edge and ambition blinds you. It’s like a blanket smothering the rational part of you that tells you to back out of the pose. Just breathe. You’re not ready yet. All you could see is your want and your hunger for it. Everything else, however logical, is a distraction.
It would take me years to listen, even more, to understand. My ambition, the blind desire for the world and everything in it, had swallowed me whole. Back then, I went at everything so fucking hard.
I look at pictures of me at Brooklyn BodyBurn the year I moved to Los Angeles and I was FIT. My language was violent. I was crushing it. Killing it. In beast mode. I was surgical about my workouts and I calibrated everything I put in my mouth. I wanted to be FIT. But if we’re being honest, I wanted to be thin.
Sometimes the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves are often more powerful and persuasive than the truths.
I look at pictures of me from my 20s, bone thin and unhappy. As nostalgia would have it, you forget the unhappiness and the hours you counted before 120 calorie yogurt and a 330 calorie Lean Cuisine lunch. You forget the seven miles a day you ran on the sand and the physical therapy you needed because you’d worn down the cartilage in your knee. You forget yourself in the dressing room, naked, wondering if it’s possible to be smaller. You shouted out, is there anything smaller than a zero, to which an annoyed salesperson responded, we don’t sell negative integers.
God, I used to be an asshole.
I arrived in Los Angeles three years ago this August trim and obsessive about the foods I could and could not eat. In a span of a few months, I felt the weight of all the unresolved history I’d left in New York and it was killing me. Daylight had become an assault and the idea of leaving my home was unimaginable. All I wanted to do was sleep in the bathtub and wrap the curtain tight around me. I was slipping. I ate until I got hives again. Then I saw a doctor for cortisone shots. Then I ordered razor blades off Amazon and I saw a doctor for that too.
I’ve likely gained 20 lbs since I moved here and I remember walking into a megaformer studio in Los Angeles. Part of me took comfort in the fact that my old habits would get me back to center, to normal (even though I was anything but). Though, it hadn’t occurred to me just how much I’d changed. Depression does that to you. Strips you down to your rawest, most vulnerable self. There exists no fat. Only bone. Midway through the class, I said to myself, this is fucking crazy. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to suffer for a size.
I never went back.
Then there were people in my life who had a disordered relationship with food & their body, which I absorbed. Food was relegated to two camps: virtuous or villain. Carbs were the enemy. If you stop eating X food by Y time, your body will go into fat burning mode. Don’t spin–it increases cortisol, which is an open invitation to the belly fat party. Did you hear that you’re not burning 800 calories in a SoulCyle class? Did you know? And so on. The only “it” I was crushing was what was left of my self.
Those people? Gone, girl. For the past two years, I hated how my body looked. I hated that I no longer wanted to go so hard at everything. That my velocity was no longer something that I admired, it had become the part of me I abhorred. Slowly, my ambition had morphed into some sort of quiet purpose. I’m softer in all aspects of the word. I no longer felt starved; I felt sustained.
Then I came back to the mat. At first, I compared myself to what I knew I could do, what I had done!! But that’s dangerous and unkind. There is no comparison, and your body, whether you like or not, changes shape and form and there’s a degree to which fighting that becomes a game of diminishing returns. I no longer wanted to bang out poses, I wanted to breathe through them.
Always, I’m reminded of what my teacher had told me about ego and ambition. The mark of an advanced practitioner is not someone who drops down their mat and kicks up into handstand–that’s ego. The advanced yogi returns to a basics class and re-learns the poses from the ground up as if she’s encountered them for the first time. Think about a book you’ve re-read at various points in your life. Your view of the characters and stories has shifted over the years. What you thought you knew or believed to be true became something new and other. There were new truths. You advance by returning to the foundation, not stacking brick after brick over an unchanged foundation. Soon the ground will give way and all the bricks will become rubble–all because you were too arrogant to revisit and relearn that which you thought you knew.
That’s the practice.
I’ve always believed that who you are in the mat is who you are in life. Granted, I can’t do all the poses I used to do, but that’s okay. My work is about coming to the mat and being okay with who I am, right now, at this moment in time.
A few days ago, I took a 90-min class and the teacher was exacting and methodical. None of this speed yoga that’s become fashionable at gyms and boutique studios to entertain the perennially I’m so bored set. The class was old school Anusara & Iyengar. Long holds. Complicated sequencing. Crazy discomfort.
I played every pose as it laid because it wasn’t about what I don’t look like or what I can’t do, rather, it’s about what this body can do. Right now. At this moment. How could I be kinder to myself with that knowledge? How do I tell myself it’s okay that I’m no longer a skinny Minnie workout maniac? That it’s okay to eat the damn pasta without feeling the weight of it. That my body is a house that shouldn’t be in demolition.
That there’s nobility in leading a quiet, slower life.