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body liberation exercise Living While Fat My Story

Yoga and (Dis)Ability

Recently I took up yoga again. I have always enjoyed yoga, when I have been able to find welcoming, supportive contexts in which to practice. I have never gotten a regular practice going because, first, honestly it hasn’t been a major priority and, second, it is hard to find a studio and an instructor that work with all of my limitations.

My beloved nutritionist, to whom I have referred on this blog many times, is also a yoga teacher, trained by Anna Guest-Jelley of Curvy Yoga Studio. I have been lifting weights very consistently for the past few months and was feeling fit/brave enough to try yoga again, so I signed up for her weekly class. This class is a body liberation, trauma-sensitive yoga class currently taught via Zoom.

It has been an interesting experience. I really can’t do that many poses. My legs aren’t bendy and I have trouble staying on my feet for long, particularly in balance poses. I have to modify just about everything, using straps, blocks, chairs, bolsters, you name it. Last week I had to do several of the hands-and-knee poses upside-down like a capsized turtle. Sometimes I feel like a complete cripple trying it, especially when I end up sitting and looking at the screen for a whole sequence.

The instructor really tries to provide as many modifications as possible and will specifically stop to help me figure out a way to do a similar stretch when I can’t do a pose. She really cares about my experience and no judgment whatsoever comes from either her or my classmates. All the judgment comes from me. After a long, tiring day, flummoxed by a warrior pose, I feel like a gimp. In fact, maybe I am a gimp. I have trouble walking and get out of breath easily. I’m not flexible, can’t put my weight on my knees…

I asked my psychologist about whether I should consider myself handicapped and stop fooling myself. I asked her if I should just start advocating for accommodations and give up pretending. She said I was asking the wrong question. She said I should be asking why it matters to me whether I bear the label “handicapped.” She said I was creating a false dichotomy, that I should advocate for what I need AND keep fighting to be active in my body. She is right of course, but it still hurts.

On a normal day, I live in a comfortable cocoon (especially these days) that is mostly constructed to de-emphasize my limitations and help me function. I even exercise in ways that don’t stress me too much–weightlifting and swimming. Yoga pushes these boundaries. It makes me face the reality of my (dis)abilities.

I suspect this is healthy. In any case, I plan to keep trying. First, I think I can get better. Second, I don’t think I can afford to give up. Even if I continue to steadily lose ground, I’ll lose more if I don’t fight. But third and most important, after most yoga sessions, no matter how awful I feel during the class, I feel better. Yoga stretches me out, calms me, and helps me to reside fully in my body. Some days, that body is not a happy place to be, but it is my home and I owe it the dignity and respect of fully experiencing it.