Breathe, or Awakenings during Beyonce Hot Yoga

The ethereal hum of my friend, Kristen,’s voice floated through the dense air.  Her words, a cocktail of yoga rhetoric and Beyonce lyrics, sailed through the field of bodies already veiled in sweat.   I’ve done hot yoga before– a handful of times.  It was always at a different studio.   I work out almost daily, but even in the presence of a mirror, something is always obstructing my view.  Other bodies, equipment– there is always an intentional barrier distancing me from my full self.   I own a full-length mirror.   I’m not blind to my appearance, but in public, in motion, I’ve taught myself to avert my gaze.

But here I was, at Beyonce Yoga.  And there I was– staring back at me.  The heat paneled my skin matte and luster.  My heels dug into my mat, each a tree trunk beneath me. Each of my legs a thick, infinite vine, my arms equally endless.  My breath was the metronome steadying the normal staccato of my heart.  As I rose in transition between poses, I looked at myself in the mirror.  I didn’t hate what stared back at me.

I don’t remember a reflection of myself I didn’t scrutinize.  If you’ve read my writing before, you’re familiar with how much I contemplate this.  I don’t remember a time when weight and clothing size and the amount of space my body consumes didn’t consume me.   The looping obsession of thinness has occupied so much precious territory in my brain.  As I grew into adulthood, I dared to loosen my grip on thinness, to explore what would happen if my purpose in life wasn’t how little of me could exist in the world.  I found body positivity.  Largely, Body Positivity has been liberating for me.  At the same time, themes of being “at home in your body”, “your body is beautiful”, Dove Beauty campaigns with curvy and white and able-bodied women with big grins don’t always resonate with me.   My body isn’t beautiful all the time.

My body is not a metaphor.  My body is my body.  Nothing about this is a series of words intended to underscore its significance.  The significance of my body is that it houses my indomitable spirit.  I dislike flowery language in relation to bodies because the more words between the subject and the verb, the further away the subject becomes.  And the truth of our bodies is that they are always the closest things to us.

Bodies can be lonely places.  So often, they become graveyards where we hide things in plain sight.  Our pain nestled in the shallow graves of tense shoulders and expanding waistlines.  My body has been a wasteland, a crime scene, a rustbelt city I was desperate to leave, someone else’s instrument who was just lucky enough to get played.  My body has been everything other than a body.

I never considered my body outside of how much space it consumed.  I never knew bodies like mine were allowed to exist without the pursuit of weight loss.  I never knew how to exist in a space with other bodies without comparing mine to theirs.  But here I was, doing exactly that.  Doused in sweat, soft midriff on full display– there I was, right in front of me.

The purpose of this essay is not to hail my body.  It isn’t to gild what is flesh.  The intention of this essay is to say that I saw my body for the first time through a lens other than hate, and I saw that it didn’t have to be pretty or adorned or anything other than exactly what it is.   And suddenly, with all that weight and pressure evaporated in the heat, I inhaled.  My lungs grew wide.


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