So as I was getting dressed for Peggy Kelly's Advanced Iyengar yoga class tonight and couldn't settle on an outfit that felt right. For some reason, I reached into the closet and pulled out a pair of trusty yoga bloomers to wear to class. I glanced at myself in the mirror to see to see if they still fit and took stock of the situation. It was obvious right away that my legs, which are generally muscular to begin with, were particularly beefed-up from some of the bike riding I have been doing lately and also I have a tan line from biking which leave the thickest part of my thighs the whitest, which is not so flattering. I had my hair in braids, no make up on and now I was going to class in a pair of bloomers and I was several steps away from looking "put together" , "fashionable" or even very "attractive" so I made a post making fun of myself on Facebook.
Now, here is the thing. Mostly the thread was funny and I meant it as a joke. But my joke also got me thinking about how much yoga has changed over the years and how outfits and "feeling attractive" is now part of going to yoga class when it didn't used to be a concern of mine at all. And the fact that feeling attractive was not a concern when I got involved in yoga is part of why the practice and the yoga culture at the time was so transformational for me.
So maybe I own The Bloomer an apology.
I wrote a lot about wearing bloomers in 1999 when I was writing Yoga From the Inside Out and while I do believe they are somewhat unflattering for most people (unlike many of the $100 yoga pants that seem to make everyone's ass look good) I do have to say that ON THE RECORD the bloomer for me is, and always has been, an exercise in shame reduction.
You know shame, don't you? Shame is that feeling-- not that you have done something wrong but that you are something wrong. Guilt is usually regret or remorse about something we have actually done, about some act or some behavior that we have committed. But shame attacks deeper because it tells us that who we are at the level of Being is bad and/or wrong. And those of us with eating disorders and body-image issues usually have strong feelings of shame arise when how we look does not match up to society's standards. (And wow, does that open a can of worms in today's yoga culture. )
So, someone with eating disorder issues gains five pounds on a vacation and it is not as simple as "Wow, I ate and drank more than usual- by God, I actually relaxed and had a good time-- and so no wonder I am a little heavy". When someone who struggles with body-image issues and eating disorders gains weight, the inner dialogue is more like "I am unlovable, invaluable and without worth because I gained weight and no one will love or respect respect me until I get back to where I was before the trip" or something like that. The shame makes the neutral, physical fact of 5 pounds into a moral issue of self-worth where one's intrinsic value is at stake.
And I am a smart person and so are all my friends who suffer these impulses and so we all know, at the level of intellect that this kind of thinking and self-talk that I am describing is insane. The hook of shame is not an intellectual hook. The hook of shame is deeper than "knowing better", deeper than "talking yourself into a different point of view" and deeper than any other such self-improvement strategy. Put all the memes up on Facebook that you want about the numbers on the scale can't measure your worth and so on and still, this is an insidious set of patterns in many people out there that causes great suffering. And for me, yoga was a big part of helping me have an inner dialogue and embodied experience that could stand up to such an onslaught of shame. And so were the bloomers.
Lots could be said about the changes in the yoga industry and I am finding that too much talk about the changes isn't so great as it tends to isolate and divide people from each other rather than include and create ways to be together in what we have today, but when I found yoga, yoga was decidely not centered around fashion, photographs, social media, and the pose-for-pretty-pictures that it has become today. (I pose for pretty pictures a lot and so I am part of this evolution for sure.) Anyway, when I found yoga, I was emerging from a significant bout with an eating disorder relapse and had turned to yoga more seriously to see me through what was a very tough personal time. And it was precisely because bloomers did not look so good that I wore them exclusively for almost 5 years. I wanted to see myself as I was and know that I was okay. I wanted other people to see me as I was and to accept or reject me and I had come to the point of needing to know that acceptance was deeper than appearance. I reasoned that if I had cellulite and stretch marks underneath the black tights, etc, I might as well come to terms with it rather than hide it. The bloomers and this context behind wearing them was a serious part of my sadhana for many years. (Bloomers have a whole chapter in Yoga From the Inside Out, in fact.)
At some point I moved on and the bloomer experiment had served its purpose and so on a day like today as I looked in the mirror, I can make jokes. And anyone who knows me knows that I make fun of myself A LOT and sometimes people laugh with me and sometimes they get offended and many times my humor is misunderstood. But my comment and our banter on Facebook did get me thinking that, even though I made a quip about looking unattractive while doing yoga the point of the yoga is to direct my attention inward to where the wellspring of beauty resides and that has nothing to do with the size of my thighs or the clothes I wear when I practice. And had I found a yoga that centered itself on outer beauty I might very well be dead today. I found a yoga with no fancy pants, with no photographs, no mirrors and no need to be flashy and showy. I found a yoga of mindful attention, of careful placement of bhava and breath and it saved my life. And the people in those rooms saved my life. And the people who allowed me to teach them saved my life.
Peggy's class was one of those classes tonight--solid, straight-forward, intelligent, caring Iyengar Yoga, with standing poses, inversions and forward bends that led to a deep savasana I felt like I could have stayed in for hours.
No fancy pants required.
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