I will never have a “yoga body.” I will never be “good” at yoga. I’m curvy, not lean, and my arms and legs are short. I’m the opposite of flexible. When I do triangle pose and my yoga instructor suggests that I reach for my ankle, I get to about a quarter inch past my knee — and I am really stretching to get even to there.
I no longer take group yoga classes. Forget about people saying that yoga is a non-competitive practice and not a competitive sport. At least here in New York City, it has become competitive, with participants checking out one another’s bodies and poses, and what one is wearing. Seeing all the other women in their skin-tight tank tops and hugging yoga pants, while I still stick with my baggy T-shirt and pants from years ago, it doesn’t feel at all like a spiritual practice in which one does not judge the person next to you whose Downward Dog more resembles Upward Cat (and that would be me).
During one of the last group yoga classes I took, the teacher was hitting on some of the women in the class. Was I imagining this? No, definitely not, as I later spoke to two of the women who complained about him and called him a jerk. One of them admitted she’d slept with him once and regretted it. His vibe was definitely not “spiritual.”
Years ago, I never dreamed I would do yoga at all. It seemed too “woo woo” to me, and when I looked at photos of yoginis, it was clear to me that my body would resist. But I had developed some injuries — wrist injuries from typing too much and knee injuries from who knows what — so a number of people, including doctors, suggested I practice yoga to hasten my healing. Despite my misgivings, I decided to try it because I was determined to heal my body, although I didn’t want to work with a really New Agey teacher. Luckily, I found one who knew how to work with injured bodies and wasn’t New Agey at all. In fact, she was a fierce feminist and a former karate instructor who also acted in guerilla theater.
Although I worked privately with her for years, meeting with her in my apartment once a week, I remained at a beginner’s level. There were so many things my body wouldn’t/couldn’t do. But it didn’t matter to me because she gently supported me in every way, never judging me, never demanding more than I was capable of, no matter how much I haltingly stretched or wobbled as I attempted to balance. And because my body really did heal, responding to the benefits of yoga.
When I became a middle-aged mom and suddenly every penny I had went into child-raising, I no longer could afford private yoga lessons with her: not the money, not the time. I was on call with my infant, then my toddler, and then my daughter 24/7. I was too weary to take care of myself, despite the fact that every article on parenting I read advised new mothers to do so.
Gradually, my daughter grew more independent — she’s now a tween — and I remembered myself for the first time in years. I became determined once again to cater to some of my needs. Through my former yoga teacher, whom I could no longer afford, I found another teacher, a middle-aged male who isn’t “woo woo” at all, whom I meet with once a month. He doesn’t judge my inflexible body. In fact, he thanks me after our sessions, for letting him share my practice, which makes me the generous and magnanimous one!
Nowadays, I mostly do yoga alone. I don’t know if it’s a true practice or not. I integrate other sorts of exercises into it. I sometimes forget to watch my breath. I hold poses only as long as I want to. I’m no yogini and will clearly remain a beginner forever, and I’m fine with that. If asked, I would say that yoga is one of the most important parts of my life, teaching me, among other things, a genuine humility and a respect for my own limitations, and by extension, the limitations of others.