It was during my first yoga class that my active mind slipped away and I was suddenly and wonderfully aware that there were two of me in here. I knew that I was not, in fact, my mind.
Inside this body were two unique halves. Never before had I felt them quite so intimately. One was caught up in all the trivialities of the day, worrying about how it looked and whether or not it was doing this--this class, this day, this life--correctly. The other me was the deeper one, the true spirit, blissfully unaware of it's surroundings and circumstances. It was smiling with every part.
But I've gotten ahead of myself.
The night before I'd been up late, padding around the house, when I was unexpectedly brought face-to-button with my belly. I was svelte once, in college, (put that on a t-shirt) but I haven't seen that body since I got pregnant at twenty-two. The body my husband fell in love with was pale and freckled and wore a size 8. Even then I took that body for granted, feeding it pizza and wishing it would be a 6. This body, eight years later, isn't one I choose to see often. I dress quickly. I don't even own a mirror that reflects my lower half. That night, in the bathroom, it jumped out at me like a monster from behind a corner.
I beheld my belly and told it I hated it.
The awareness of the two of me came during a particularly challenging pose. My body was quivering all over with the effort to hold itself in the form I had asked of it. My muscles were burning and my mind was self-conscious, but as I continued to hold, and to quiver, all that mind clutter slipped away and a deeper voice proclaimed clearly: I love this.
It was my spirit. That quiet, knowing part. It was, I believe, the spark where the divine rests in all of us. And that part of me was having the time of its life. Underneath all my cares is the deeper self that is gazing at this life in wondrous adoration and isn't worried at all.
We ended the class by laying on our backs in what I believe is called the Shavasana Asana, and it was then that my belly began to speak to me. Throughout class, as I had asked my body to bend and twist and withstand, my spirit had been whispering to this soft, freckled space how much it loved it.
And my body had spoken back. In warrior pose, it told me I was powerful. Doing cat-and-cow, and a particularly bendy combination of poses that requires one to both torque and expand, my body felt sensuous and strong.
Now as I lay there, I could hear that my stomach was bruised. The night before, I had looked in the mirror and hated it for not being flat and taut, for the stretch marks that will grace it like pumpkin flesh, always and forever. In my mind, I made war on my body, telling it things that were ugly and cruel.
But this body has done so much for me. This belly, that has stretched beyond its capacity, beyond endurance, to shelter the spirits and flesh of two children. This entire body, that did what I asked of it, that withstood until I shook all over, until I felt I was about to collapse from exhaustion, and then withstood some more.
I lay there in Shavasana Asana and I apologized to my belly. I told this soft part of me, this part that refuses to conform to all Western standards of beauty, that I have punished with words and loathing and Spanx--that I loved it. I was so proud of it. I thanked it for doing so much for me.
A few days later I would find myself again in front of that same mirror, in a degree of undress. This time I beheld my beautiful body, this thriving, healthy gift. I was, I realized, everything I had experienced myself as in yoga. Sun-burnt and moon-pale. Rolling and lush. Wildly curvacious and sensuous and strong.
My spirit said something like: va-va-voom.
And later, as is the way of things, my husband did too.
**Painting: La Belle Rafaela, Tamara de Lempicka. 1927.