originally appeared on One Minnesota Writer, March 24, 2021
Every week, my yoga teacher Virginia offers a Tuesday morning class via Zoom. Pre-pandemic, I attended her Wednesday evening class in the solarium at Fairview Community Center in Roseville. I have come to like Zoom classes, appreciate the way I can roll out my mat on my own clean floor, wear perfume if I feel like it, keep the relaxation going after shavasana, the final pose, instead of tensing right back up on the drive home after class.
I’ve been a yoga student for several years and still feel like a beginner. There is so much to learn about breath and movement, about releasing tension and staying strong, about accommodating what my body is and isn’t capable of. About pushing myself to go deeper. About letting go of obstacles I create in my mind.
The Tuesday morning class is tiny. There are four or five of us who show up regularly. Other classes Virginia offers – Saturday mornings, early weekday evenings – have far more students. Tuesday morning classes allow a kind of intimacy that isn’t often equated with a Zoom class. We chat a little as everyone signs on and then, at 9:30 a.m., Virginia mutes us and begins.
When I first started yoga classes, I was trying to save my back. It would sometimes seize up after I lifted my new granddaughter into her car seat or worked in the garden or moved something heavy – especially if I twisted during any of those movements. Virginia’s classes have always been well-attended; I was self-conscious for a long time about my own inflexibility during the center stretch, the way my belly rolled toward my breasts during a simple inverted pose, how I couldn’t get my foot to stay on the inside of my thigh without losing my balance during tree pose. I kept looking at other students, marveling at how they could stretch, twist, bend, or smoothly step one foot forward at the end of a sun salutation. I was even self-conscious about the form-fitting yoga pants that allowed easier movement than other types of clothing. It took a couple of years to get over my self-consciousness and stop comparing myself to other students even with Virginia’s gentle guidance and reminders for accommodations as needed. I kept going because I could feel a change in how my body moved. My back felt stronger. I slowly learned to twist and release. My mind, too, learned to release, stopped churning over every little thing. If I missed a week, I could feel the difference.
This morning, I remembered how I used to hold in my stomach all the time when I was younger, how any hint of a tummy pooch was a horrible thing. I’ve had to reverse that habit, let my stomach soften as I’ve learned to breathe differently. It’s a hard habit to break, this tensing of muscle to appear streamlined. But my body isn’t streamlined. It’s curvy and soft, its history of motherhood evident. It’s strong when it needs to be, balanced more than when I was younger. My middle puddles during seated forward bends, my thighs pillow during child’s pose. I was a little startled to realize I’m not sure when the amount of time I let my stomach be soft became greater than the amount of time I held it in. All I know is I’ve crossed into a different way of inhabiting this body that has served me so well. I’ve come to love it in a way that doesn’t rely on current standards of beauty or someone else’s desire. And yoga pants are the most comfortable pieces of clothing I own. The ones I’m wearing as I write this have big pink, purple, and golden flowers that look sort of Monet-esque floating over a black background.
For now, even with my camera on so Virginia can correct me if I do a pose in a way that could cause harm, I enjoy the freedom of practicing without others in the room. This morning’s tree pose felt good – foot against upper thigh, arms straight up over my head. I’m no longer focused just on keeping my back healthy. I’m focused on strength and balance, mental acuity, deeper breathing. I’m focused on being comfortable in and grateful for this body. When in-person classes can safely be held once again, I’ll be ready for those, too, continuing this practice as a beginner again and again.