Tag Archives: meditation

A Gift Just in Time

It was in yoga just a few weeks ago when I stopped hating my body. There was no great ah-ha-a-la-Oprah-esque moment, no mid-forties screech and halt, no drum roll or tears of joy. There was only silence and the thrum of heat in my ears as I poured myself into a downward dog, grumbling at my sore elbows, wrists and ankles as I asked them to release. Then I suddenly thought, Hey this body is doing its best, lay off it already!

And just like that, I became its friend.

For decades I’ve acted like my body was my enemy, something to be vigilant about, hard on, like I was its personal drill sergeant marching it to a cacophony of jeers from an imaginary audience, whose voices hovered above me like comic captions: ‘c’mon, you can do better than that, just look at those thighs, my god, what is happening with your hair? To a point where my body was in fear of my mind, always trying valiantly to contort to the must’s and the should’s and the early morning prods. Like some kind of vaguely Russian Olympic gymnast coach from the seventies, my mind asked my body to be things it could never be and wondered why it failed me year after year? When in fact it was I that was failing my dear, imperfect hard-working, slightly pale and in parts doughy but sincerely loving body.

My body eventually caved in with all that unkindness surrounding it. This year was the year my body gave up and said fuck it. Or more to the point: Fuck you. It rose up in all its pale five foot glory and said, you know, I’m not serving you anymore. I’m tired.

I got very sick and stayed sick for a long time. I still have an immune system that is misfiring, like a spaceship that has righted itself but can’t communicate with NASA anymore. This is what happens when your body goes off the rails with a lonely, bereft wail of its unlovable nature.

Recently, while reading Anne Lamott’s brilliant book on writing, Bird by Bird,  I was struck by her recounting of what a friend told her about ’emotional acreage’. Her friend said that “every one of us is given an emotional acre all our own.” Lamott explained that we own it and can do with it as we wish; it has a fence and a gate. As a child, I didn’t live in a home that recognized I had a defined acre of emotional land. Mine was more like a closet with gaping holes in the door and hinges that wouldn’t allow it to close properly. My acre was never my acre.

Later, because I didn’t know I had a whole acre, people camped out in it, leaving refuse and anger and leftover half-hearted love that I was never sure what to do with. Recycle? Bury? Burn? Publish? Who knows. And in my body I felt it was wrong–knew it was wrong– but couldn’t say it out loud. They were squatting on my life but I didn’t really own it so it was okay. I apologized and stayed indoors.

When your body doesn’t belong to you, you don’t notice when it is hurt. Sometimes I would tell someone something that happened to me and they would look shocked and I’d wonder why? Because I hadn’t felt the pain; it had only happened to my body. But I knew, by looking at their faces, that something wasn’t right and there was more to this picture than I was seeing. Or feeling.

It finally came together in, of all places, an upside down pose in a hot yoga studio just before Christmas. What I came to–among many other things that slipped into place like a Rubik’s Cube–was this: the moment you befriend your own body is the moment you defend it. You put your arm around it and say, you’re actually trying very hard and you are actually doing quite a good job. In fact, you are so beautiful it hurts my heart a little. Your hardworking toes, your delicate clavicle, haunting veins, and persevering breath. All elegantly formed and intentionally unique.

Your mind stops ordering your body under the stairs. You say instead: sit with me, breathe deeply, don’t rush, I’m here with you for the whole day and night–take your time.

You get the acreage thing. You see your boundaries. You feel your whole space and the abundance of beauty within it. Fragile beauty, broken beauty, learned beauty, another day beauty. Wisdom.

And when someone rushes onto your acreage, demanding this or that–or confessing, loitering, bartering, intimidating, or worse, telling you what is really happening–you can pause and consider it and say yes or no. You can say Get on out of here if the spirits are dark and hold no love for you. You can hold up your imaginary rifle and fire a warning shot. You own your body and its acreage is sacred.

When you finally, at long last, love your body with all its peccadilloes and late night habits, its public crying at movies, its soreness in the morning, its drying eyes and swelled knees, elbow or neck, you begin to really see the edges of that acre, the beautiful waving grass that has grown wild over the years, the small shrubs with hints of new white blossoms, and the tall Oak trees in dignified repose, as though they had been patiently waiting all along for your awakening.

When you sit on your deck (I imagine now my body like a graceful, simply designed modernist house in the middle of a field) and look out over your land you will realize what a gift it is to have it. And when someone comes along and just tosses open the gate and starts camping out or dumping garbage and saying your acreage is kind of messy and disorganized and doesn’t have any proper landscaping, you can say, Well, that’s just fine, here’s the exit.

But if someone raps gently on your gate and says, I have some homemade soup to share, interested? You say, Yes, I’ll get the bowls, come on in. Pretty sure I have some crusty bread we can break together. You sit together, with your old or young bodies or brown or white skin, your green or gray or brown eyes alight with life, with friendship and sharing that comes from a deep place of security, safety and love.

Because you love your body. And you are grateful for it.


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Filed under Non-fiction

Hot Self

I have a fear of hot yoga also known as ‘Bikram’ yoga. If I really think about why, I believe it is linked to my low tolerance for closed spaces and the heat from a lot of people jammed into that closed space. Add intense heat and there you have a scenario that I wouldn’t willingly put myself in.

I like to be able to, at all times, exit things quickly without a lot of ta-do and there’s something terrifying to me about not being able to.

However, I have decided it is a year for facing any and all of my fears. Last year was the year of saying ‘yes’ and this year it’s about seeking out new lands, new horizons, new people–the year of exploration!

My friend Don, who is also my fab hairdresser (Hive), goes to Moksha yoga and was telling me how great he feels and I thought, c’mon Doyle, here’s an experience nudging you to take it on so when he suggested I come along as a ‘free’ pass because I was new, I took him up on it.

Standing in the foyer of the studio, I began to feel a panic, starting somewhere in the bottom of my tailbone then traveling up and into my jaw which clenched lightly in fear. I had the sensation to bolt back out onto Fort St. but realized I would, forever-more, look insane to my friend Don so I stayed rooted. We waited outside of class and I nervously made chit-chat, hoping to quell my nerves enough to try to enjoy this wonderful ‘experience’.

When I walked into the room the heat encased me in a kind of mummification that I can only describe as a hyper-claustrophobic tunnel of sheer panic. I looked out the window, imagining the cool evening breeze, the open street, running down the hard pavement, escaping. Instead, I was pushing myself forward, rolling out my mat, ignoring my fear, as big as a grizzly bear on my back now, placing my towel down and water beside my mat.

Everyone lay down and the most surreal, gorgeous music was playing. I looked up at the top of the window, not ready to close my eyes, and saw the brick of the building, the blue sky, and suddenly I released into it. The grizzly turned smaller and I sank into the mat. The year seemed to float past me, and the future, all in the same moment.

The instructor began and it was a type of class where they played music throughout and not yogi-type music but cool music the instructor chose and I instantly loved where my mind went through the poses which I thought I wouldn’t be able to do but managed quite well. The heat was intense and when I felt panic start to rise up, I just breathed deeper and deeper.

I also don’t like to sweat profusely in public and yet, here I was, streaming in it: sweat trickling into my mouth, rolling down my neck, pooling in my underwear, dripping off my hands and soaking the towel below me. And it felt good. Really good.

There was a girl in a bikini a few rows over and I was in awe of her body–maybe this hot yoga was how she got there, her long, lean limbs, not muscled and bulky but elegant and strong.

We lay down at the end, soaked and shaking and some more gorgeous, meditative music played and the instructor encouraged us to think about ‘our practice’. I felt immense. I recognized I’d not been here before. I met my self in a way my regular, digitally overloaded world never allowed and I felt silent, centered, hot and happy.

Fear conquered.


Filed under Memoir