everyone has a swimsuit body
happiness is the highest form of health. ~Dalai Lama
A week or so ago after one of my classes, a student stopped me and said she felt like she was stronger now than she had been in all of her 60+ years. Given that she’s been coming to this studio for a couple of months now, and is a regular in one of my more intense classes there, I wasn't surprised to hear it. I told her that not only did she look stronger in her poses, but her confidence, and the way she carried herself was stronger, too. Her face lit up, but I could tell there was something behind the joy in her eyes, so I smiled, giving her the silent invitation to say what was on her mind. Now, I was prepared for her to launch into some diatribe about how she had battled an illness or injury, both of which are common reasons people find yoga, or anything that will give them strength, really. I thought maybe she would reveal that she had lost a loved one… someone who had been her rock and now she needed to build her own foundation on which to stand tall. Perhaps she’d been convinced by someone, once trusted, that she was weak. Weak mentally, weak emotionally, weak physically. In the three seconds we stood there smiling at each other silently, my mind went wild with all the possibilities, and I was convinced that one of them would be her story. Nope. No story... just a startling, yet all too common statement, “I’m glad that you can see I’m getting stronger. I just wish I could get rid of this and have that swimsuit body back.” As she said the word ‘this,’ she grabs her waistline, a waistline that is wonderfully proportioned to the rest of her strong, fit body that holds her in plank for 90 seconds at a time before lowering into a beautifully aligned chaturanga. And even if it wasn’t wonderfully proportioned to the rest of her strong, fit body, who the hell cares?! That body holds her in plank for 90 seconds at a time before lowering into a beautifully aligned chaturanga, and that’s only one of the many things it does for her. I gently reminded her of this. Actually, maybe it wasn’t quite a gentle reminder, but it did seem to spark a sense of contentment with her, and that’s what I was going for.
This six minute exchange between us stuck with me for days after. I wondered how many other people are maddeningly trying to get their bodies “swimsuit ready” as summer starts to wash over us. I thought about this even more, today, as I walked into the studio to give my Wednesday lunch group a little reprieve from their busy workdays. This class has a different vibe from many of my others, in that they will laugh loudly at my silly cues and lame jokes, are unreserved with their collective groans about the seemingly impossible moves I throw at them (they’re not impossible, by the way), and bounce to the music when something peppy comes on. They are genuine with each other. They are genuine with me. They are the perfect group to which I tell the story of my anonymous student with the strong ab muscles that are just a little too hard to see. We ended on our backs, and I say that we are focusing on santosha this week. This Sanskrit word for contentment can be applied in so many areas of our lives, but none, these days, that will resonate as much as it will with our own bodies. It’s a simple lesson, really, and after describing the conversation that she and I had, I brought it down to this: “Your bodies are so damn strong, and it doesn’t matter what they look like because they carry you through your day with both grit and grace. You don’t have to 'go after' that swimsuit body. You put a swimsuit on your body, you have a swimsuit body.”
Before I sign off of here, let me just say that I get it. I understand what it’s like to suddenly not feel comfortable in your clothes or have your body be completely uncooperative. I empathize with those who wish their body were shaped just a little differently or had a little more muscle tone in certain places and felt a little less jiggly in others. We’re humans. We’re not robots. We want certain things, and that is okay. Where it becomes not okay is that point at which it starts to consume your thoughts and take charge of your actions. That point at which pleasure is overruled by ‘shoulds’ and you mistake dedication to bettering yourself for self-flagellation. That point at which you no longer have that sense of contentment. It’s an easy hole to fall into, but you should know that you can crawl out of it. When you find yourself in that space, use those strong warrior legs to walk over to a mirror, take a look at yourself, jiggles and all, and say “who the hell cares what I look like?! Because I can hold a plank for ninety seconds or eight grocery bags while walking up five flights of stairs or a twenty-five pound kid on my back or whatever else you ask your body to do each day….” This is where you turn those thoughts upside down and start to wash them away with santosha.