Discovering My Innate Beauty
For most of my life, I believed what I had been taught about beauty and "being pretty." I believed that being pretty meant that my hair was styled just right. I should never be seen without makeup. I should wear stylish clothes that accentuate my curves in just the right way and wear the correct colors for my hair and skin tones. I should spend whatever time and money were necessary to keep up with the latest styles, and feel free to get rid of perfectly good clothing when it was "out of style." Most of all, I should have the correct body proportions...a narrow waist, round butt, small thighs, etc. WORST of all, I believed the conflicting message that women are given throughout our lives...that I should want to be pretty, work hard to be pretty, value my looks, but never...EVER...THINK that I am pretty. Men should think I am pretty, and it would be great if they told me so, but I should vehemently deny it, blush, etc. To believe in my own beauty would be conceited and rude, and make me instantly unattractive.
What a load of crap.
I remember clearly when I started practicing hot yoga. I was in my mid thirties, and I was dealing with heavy grief and anger, after receiving a devastating medical diagnosis for one of our children. The peaceful, flowing, graceful, quiet, serene and pretty yoga practice I had enjoyed for years was no longer possible for me. Every time I came to the mat, got still, and started to breath, the flood gates would open. Rage, tears, snot, convulsing, and gasping were now my yoga practice. It didn't feel good, and there was just no way to make it "pretty." I felt out of control, a feeling I generally avoided at all costs.
So, I stopped practicing.
I was simply trying get my feet back on solid ground, and I was working hard at keeping "control" of myself, but it wasn't working. I was sick. I was the primary caretaker for someone very dear to me with a life-threatening illness, and containing the stress and grief and the toxic by-products of them was literally making me sick. Sinus infections, strep-throat, pneumonia...the ever elusive dis-ease traveled from one place in my body to another. Several rounds of various antibiotics couldn't seem to snuff it out. I was also angry. I was stuck in the anger of grief, and it was eating me alive. This anger was like a scared, vulnerable, wounded animal, backed into a corner. It lashed out, when anyone came near.
That was when a dear friend recommended hot yoga to me. I had never tried it, and to be honest, had generally scoffed at the thought of it, thinking that people who did advanced yoga in a 100+ degree room were eccentric, at best, but most likely just plain nuts.
However, I was desperate. I knew I needed something to resuscitate and sustain me and put life back into my yoga practice. After some time, I relented and decided to give it a try.
Like most people, my first time in hot yoga was an experience I will probably never forget.
The room was hot and humid. This cannot be overstated. The room was like a very large sauna, filled with nearly naked bodies, lying down perfectly still and silent. I found a place for my mat and followed their lead, lying down on my back in the same fashion. I had way too much clothing on and, unfortunately, I was wearing make up, too...plenty of it. There was no instructor in the room, but everyone seemed to be content to just lie there, perfectly still and silent. I was not content. I was hot, and already beginning to wonder if I could really handle what was about to happen. The truth is, I had no idea what was really about to happen, which ended up being far more intense, difficult, and magical than I could have ever imagined.
When the instructor entered the room, she abruptly turned on the overhead fluorescent lights and, quite matter of factly, began her instructions. The class immediately stood up and faced the mirror in a pose called Tadasana, or Mountain Pose, looking as if they were the yoga army standing at attention. The instructor began what seemed like a flurry of instructions, barking them out like an auctioneer selling yoga to the highest bidder. The lights were bright, there was no music to take me to another place in my mind, the room was hot and humid, the instructions were fast, loud, militant, precise, and never ending. My mind couldn't process what she was saying at the rate she was saying it, and I was immediately overwhelmed and irritated. I remember thinking, "What is happening? Why is she talking so much? My God...shut up...please! Shut up...Shut up...SHUT....UP!"
The ninety minutes that followed comprised the most awkward, confusing, difficult and humbling yoga practice I have ever experienced. At one point, I actually looked around the room for what I imagined to be the designated "puke bucket." I knew I could not be the first person to feel like I was barely keeping it down. My make-up literally melted and slid down my face, like a melted, warped mask, making its way south. I used the bottom of my baggy T-shirt to wipe my face repeatedly, annoyed with the make-up and ridiculous amount of sweat. I had never experienced sweating like this. There was no way to manage it. It just kept coming. Although I had practiced yoga, on and off, for years, and I had taken dance classes as a teenager and been athletic and active all of my life, I fumbled through the postures and breathing techniques as if I had no relationship with my body, whatsoever. I was lost and confused, struggling to keep up, and feeling very confronted. I did not like watching myself in the mirror, as we were repeatedly instructed to do. I had never done yoga with mirrors, even when my practice was pretty. Now, there was no way to be pretty, and I was forced to watch this shit-show that was I was experiencing. My make-up had been washed away, aside from the two black streaks under my eyes that used to be my mascara. My face was deep red and swollen. I was drenched in sweat, my hair flat and wet. There were smells coming from my body that I cannot describe, and hope to never smell again, and I was open mouth panting, unapologetically. I was desperately thirsty, but had no water with me. When we were finally instructed to lie down on our backs and rest, I was incredibly relieved and grateful...until we were instructed to keep our eyes open. I wanted to check out and forget what was happening, but the instructor was adamant, and kept saying, "Eyes open. Eyes open. Open your eyes and stay in the room." Again, I was irritated, but I complied. We finished the second half of the class on the floor, in seated and reclined postures, but it wasn't any easier. Somehow, I made it through.
What I didn't know or even begin to grasp, in that moment, was that there was something magical happening. I couldn't imagine, at that point, that I would ever really enjoy doing hot yoga. It was what came after that practice that brought me back to do it again...and again...and over and over. Immediately after that first hot yoga practice, I was peaceful. I felt clean and radiant. I had wrung and sweat the toxins of grief and stress out of my body. I could breathe. Most of all...I was not angry. The anger had dissolved for the time being. The relief I felt from that alone brought me to tears, and I wept openly, in my car, all the way home. This was not the same kind of out of control grieving I had felt before. There was a sense of peaceful surrender in it. It just was...and it needed to flow out of me in a gentle river. This was not the scared, aggressive, wounded animal of grief. It was the sweet surrender of release. It was freedom. I went back to hot yoga, over and over, to turn loose the wild animal of grief and find that peace within.
But something else was happening...
I was getting stronger. I was becoming focused and present and I was able to follow the instructions and stay present in my body. I watched, with curiosity, in the mirror, as I became a strong, focused, peaceful, graceful, lithe, powerful and BEAUTIFUL woman. My muscles were toned when in use, and supple when relaxed. My body was lean and clean. My expression, even in the intensity of the practice, was focused and calm. I had control of my breathing and my mind, not just my body. I was finally learning real control of myself, autonomy, agency, intention, direction, and calm strength. I was coming home to my own body and finally getting comfortable in my own skin. The physical strength I saw in my reflection in the mirror was an expression of the strength that was growing deep within me. I was discovering that I could sustain an extreme situation with calm regard, determination, discipline and courage. I regarded myself in the mirror, completely raw, little clothing and body exposed, no make-up, sweaty and red faced, and incredibly beautiful. I had never seen myself this way. I was developing confidence for the first time in my life. I saw my innate potential and true, raw beauty, as a human. It was tremendous.
That was over 10 years ago. Not long afterward, I went to Yoga Teacher Training and became a yoga teacher. It was during that time that I also became a true and lifelong student of yoga and began to understand yoga as not just a practice of postures in the classroom, but as a complex and multidimensional study of life and a way of living.
I still practice (and also teach!) hot yoga, along with several other forms of yoga and meditation, finding balance and benefit in body, mind and spirit. One of the most profound and wonderful benefits of now being a yoga teacher and leading others is that I get to watch the transformation in others and share and acknowledge their experience, often similar, but always individual. It reminds me, everyday, of the beauty and potential that lies within every one of us.
And, occasionally, I still like to dress up and get "pretty." Every now and then, I wear pretty dresses, make-up and jewelry, and I style my hair and adorn my body. I am also perfectly comfortable without make-up, hair thrown up in a bunch on the top of my head, wearing blue jeans and a sweatshirt or yoga clothes. This is how most people know me, now, and they are surprised when they see me dressed up and "pretty." I am me, comfortable, confident, joyful and beautiful, either way.
May you have peace in your body, peace in your mind, and peace in your heart. May you find the path that allows you to discover and uncover your own inner light and realize your radiance, your strength, your potential, and your innate human beauty.
From my heart to yours...
Peace, my friends.