Submitted by Erin Maas
The first time I stepped into the 104 degree yoga studio, I wore sweat pants and a baggy t-shirt. As I sweat profusely, I could barely bring myself to look into the mirror. The few times I did look up, an ugly voice inside shouted back to me that my stomach was hanging out and my thighs were too big. My eyes darted around the room as my brain tried to make quick comparisons to all the other bodies in proximity.
As my instructor passed my mat, she commented, “Look up. Focus on locking your knee. Stare straight at your knee.” I tried hard to stare at my knee instead of my stomach. As soon as she passed, I looked down again. I was unable to face the image reflected in the mirror. The words, “Welcome to Bikram’s torture chamber where you will attempt to kill yourself for the next 90 minutes” still run through my head occasionally as I attempt to go through my weekly yoga class. My first days in the yoga studio seemed like torture. Yet it was not the torture of being in 104 degree heat that got me, it was torture from the negative thoughts my head produced.
It took many months before I started to stare down my knee in the mirror and before my focus became strong enough that I did not spend the majority of my mat time comparing my body to others in the room. Slowly my focus shifted away from just seeing the flaws within my body to seeing my body as a whole entity. There were parts of me, like my shoulders and calves, that I absolutely loved. I distinctly remember one class where I focused on my forehead as I tipped my body into a graceful bow position. As I held my bow, nothing else in the room mattered. I found myself filled with happiness and a desire to keep my body healthy so that I could do that particular pose with grace and fluidity for the rest of my life. My instructor once again passed my mat, but this time commented that I was getting it. I was finally able to stare myself down in the mirror and begin to see the beauty with which my body could move.
As the years passed, my eyes no longer drifted down to my mat in shame. Instead I found myself occasionally smiling at the image reflecting back at me. I loved the curves and seeing my muscles work together to hold me in challenging positions. I could feel my strength improving and my focus beginning to turn inward. I even went through two pregnancies staring at myself in the mirror, looking in amazement as my body changed from week to week.
For years, the studio owner repeatedly asked me whether she could take my picture in some of the poses that I did best. She wanted to create a yoga calendar to inspire others. Each time she asked, I bashfully declined thinking that my body did not deserve to be seen on a calendar. Today a quiet, gentle voice speaks to me when I look in the mirror. The voice lets me know that I have value and that my body was meant to help me do great things for this world. The voice says you should have your picture taken in your favorite poses. Your body is truly amazing and it deserves some positive recognition for all its abilities. Today I am proud to share with you a photo of myself in my favorite pose, Standing Bow.
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