“You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”
~ C.S. Lewis
I’m pretty confident in saying that I struggled a bit as a child. I know we all have our difficulties, and probably mine weren’t any greater than the next kids’, but they felt huge to me at the time, and I guess, as per one of my last posts, I’m comfortable admitting that perception counts for a lot. Anyway, the source of a lot of my suffering was my body. First, I was tall. Really tall. By the time I was 10 years old I was 5’7″ (170 cm). Once, when out buying school supplies with my mom, the cashier asked, “So, will you be going into 6th or 7th grade this year?” I was going into 2nd. Tall wouldn’t have been all that bad, I guess, because there was, for the first few years of school, one boy who was taller than me (he left after 3rd grade. I have never forgiven him for that. Mr. David F., wherever you are…). But I was also fat. And fat can be cute sometimes, others not. Without a doubt I fell into the latter category. Compounding the issue, of course, was the fact that I had a terrible overbite accompanied by a horrendous lisp (thanks for sorting that out, Mom), and have always, always been quick to tears. Children can be mean, and I’m sure at times I was one of the mean kids, too, but most often I sat alone at lunchtime, or walked laps around the soccer field at recess. I was last picked for every game, and openly mocked in class by both teachers and students. I was decidedly unhappy.
And I wanted so desperately to be thin…I created a fantasy world in which I was suddenly thin, and visited as often as I could. I had a terrible relationship to food, but I tried to get fit by playing sports. At ten I was scooped up to play basketball by a wonderful man who I can only now remember as “Coach.” It wasn’t so much that he “believed in me,” but more that he was realistic about the fact that he was coaching a team comprised of Vietnamese, Mexican, and Filipino girls, and I brought something…special to the court. Anyone who knows me will know that my basketball career was seven painfully tragic years of trying to be good at something I absolutely sucked at, beginning with my first-ever points scored on the other team’s basket to countless Most Improved Player awards that served only to slightly ease the pain of the many splinters in my arse.
But going back a bit…there was this day – I remember the moment so clearly – we were in the gym, and it may have been for basketball practice, but I know it was after school. And I think I must have been 10 or 11 years old. And I was particularly down, feeling particularly sorry for myself. And of course, the lemon for my paper cut was that nobody really cared about how sad I was. I crept off to one corner of the gym, which I remember as being ginormous, but in retrospect that was through the eyes of a child, so it probably wasn’t really all that big. And I sat on something – a makeshift stage? I can’t remember now. And I crossed my legs “Indian style,” and leaned over them so that my torso was against my lap and my head fell nearly to the floor. And I felt the strain in the backs of my thighs and the small of my back. I could feel my breath against my ankles – how strange! – and the warmth that my body produced pressed up against itself. And I felt invisible – I was invisible – but in the best way, because I had disappeared into myself for a moment, and it was quite magical indeed. And in that moment, I did not hate my body – in point of fact, I quite loved my body for enabling me to for once curl up and disappear.
I do not love yoga because it helps me to disappear, but something close. When we do yoga, we are not in competition with anyone – or we shouldn’t be – including ourselves. Our bodies become extraordinary tools empowering us to find asanas we never thought we could manage – or never really thought about to begin with. We discover places in our bodies that produce feelings we didn’t know were there, we listen to and direct our breath to the bits of the body that need it most. We become, while our bodies become something else – a tool, a gift, a shelter to get the real us through this sometimes difficult – and as I would eventually learn, often very beautiful – life.