on yoga and my physical awakening
‘Jo. You’re in. Jess, you’re in. We gotta work on your spikes though.’
I’m 14. Eight of us sit on the first two rows of bleachers in the concrete gym, shivering in navy PE uniforms.
Mr Johnson, all long hairy legs in obscene running shorts, is reading out a list of girls who got into the volleyball team.
‘Rebecca, yes.’ Mr Johnson looks into my eyes. ‘Louise, I’m sorry.’
I nod, hiding a smile at how much Mr Johnson is making tryouts seem like Australian Idol. His sincere gaze is apologising for what I already know: I’m not athletic. Not in the slightest.
I am the clumsy one who can’t run very fast. I play netball, touch football, five-a-side soccer, and even considered canoe polo, but all for a term or less. Later, in Year 11, I embrace the meaning of bookish, at peace with the idea that sport is a thing that other people do.
At 19, I join a gym to lose weight. In front of a huge screen showing writhing, half-naked female bodies on Channel V, I silently compete with adjacent treadmill runners. I lose. My Mum takes over my membership.
Sport, fitness, exercise: all things I try for a little while and give up on. Surrendering to genetics, I decide that my nice round bottom and flimsy arms are more suited to curling up in an armchair and holding a novel.
My relationship with my body has always been disconnected from my sense of self, as if it’s a shell that contains me – a reliable one that stays strong when I work as a housekeeper scrubbing showers and making beds; that sits in university lecture theatres and does its best to stay up late when I work at a restaurant. It’s an appreciated, external representation of me.
But my body was never part of my identity – ‘who I am’ is entirely separate.
Enter a close friend.
‘My new yoga class is amazing! It’s in an older lady’s granny flat, and she always hugs you hello and tucks your feet into your blanket during relaxation time.’
Sliding the door open and stepping into the yoga studio scented with essential oils, I’m introduced to Isabella. She is a tiny woman in her seventies with a kind smile and unyielding stillness. In the company of ladies 20-50 years older than me, I discover parts of my body I didn’t know existed.
Last week I touched my forehead to the floor from crossed legs. The week before that, my outstretched fingers reached my bare toes for the first time. I’ve always been inflexible – and now here I am, pushing taut muscles to new extremes.
After six months of regular classes, my inner and outer selves intertwine. I understand the joy of deliberate movement, of determination triumphing over burning muscles, of a disciplined mind translating to strong poses. I have learnt techniques to quiet the mind in order to calm shaking muscles; I can listen to my body when it says ‘further’ and ‘too far’; I now know how breathing can release weight from my shoulders, can surrender the inordinate burden of being.
Attending Isabella’s classes has taught me to connect to my body intellectually, perhaps even spiritually. No longer do I dismiss stubborn legs and weak arms; no longer do I feel separate to the breathing lump of skin that surrounds my self. Through meditation and consciousness, my body and I have become one. It is no longer a husk I exist within, but it is me.
At 24, yoga has transformed my conception of self. Instead of being the one who can’t run very fast, I can be whatever I want – I don’t have to win over Mr Johnson, shave off a few kilos or beat any treadmill competitors. I just have to master myself.