Namaste, Bitches: Becoming a Yogi

by: Shelby Mongan

The first time I ever took a hot yoga class, I became acutely aware that I was going to die. Not in some sort of metaphysical, philosophical, enlightened way. The Buddha had not spoken to me mid-Tree Pose.  No, I became aware of my mortality because I was pretty sure it was in my immediate future. There was enough sweat pouring from every inch of my skin to drown a fish. Almost every muscle in my arms, abs, and legs were screaming at me. I literally could not remember a time when I was not on my mat, wishing for a merciful death from the instructor.

I was miserable.

I was also back in class a few days later.

Against all odds, I kept coming back to my mat. Despite my tendency for heat migraines, my raging inflexibility, and glaring lack of strength, I stayed in class. I loved those early days. It was a yoga honeymoon for me. I wanted to try any class I could get my hands on and I read whatever I could find to learn more. Before long I was doing a yoga for trade program since I couldn’t afford a membership. It was blissful.

Slowly, though, my mindset started to change. Coming to my mat became a chore. The realities of being a college student with two jobs and extracurriculars started to rear their heads. I let myself skip classes on top of those I couldn’t make in the first place. Time became my catch-all excuse for my lack of enthusiasm, but I knew there was more to it.

I have spent the vast majority of my life being overweight. Years of stretch marks making room for adipose upon adipose built up years of insecurities. I became used to being the smart one and the funny one, not the athletic one. I’d politely excuse myself from sports games for fear of embarrassing myself. I learned to assume people were judging me for my size and the shape I was in and it became second nature to me.

Boys didn’t want to sleep with me because I wasn’t skinny, and they definitely wouldn’t want to date me. I was a less interesting friend and less worth people’s time because I wore a size 12. For years, I felt like my body was always holding me back. Standing in a yoga studio in skintight clothing, sweating up a storm and struggling to keep up with the poses, I could barely stand it. I could barely stand my body. Add to that budding depression (thanks to my genes) and a stressful schedule, and it was inevitable that I was going to crumble.

Yoga is not a competition. You cannot win at yoga. It is not meant to build guilt and self-consciousness.  It is a meditative practice that brings awareness to the self. Hating myself was the exact opposite of yoga, yet I spent too many classes cultivating self-loathing. Every time I fell out of a balance-based pose or couldn’t hold a challenging pose, my first instinct was to beat myself up. My mind would wander and after bringing it back, I’d spend twice as much time chiding myself for a lack of mindfulness. I would internally yell at myself, “You aren’t good enough, just give up already.” I couldn’t help but look at the yuppies and housewives around me and want to end it.

Luckily, something in me refused to give in. Something deep inside of me knew there was something more, something better inside myself. Slowly but surely, I learned to cultivate that something. I praised myself for coming to my mat. I thanked my legs for holding myself up, even if it wasn’t for the full duration of the pose. I learned to be grateful to have an hour completely to myself in class. I may have not been a yoga expert, but I was learning with an open heart and an open mind, and that was worth praise. Where I used to see flaws and failure, I saw strength and beauty. It introduced to me a completely different way of thinking.  I no longer needed to hate myself. I could be proud. I could be strong. I could love myself.

After a year of yoga on and off, I am still not perfect. My poses still have moments of being sloppy, my concentration still isn’t perfect, and I still get heat headaches. Goodness knows I probably sweat more than is healthy, and my flexibility is still rubbish. I am nowhere near a perfect yogi. Still, I love yoga. Each time I come to my mat, I am joyful for a new day to practice. I am thankful that it gave me direction in my searching, gave me solid ground in times of depression, and gave me new perspective on my body. Sure, it still isn’t perfect. It isn’t in the best shape it could be; it can’t lift much and it can’t run too long. It isn’t perfect, but it carries me every single day. It helps me give hugs and helps me smile and helps me do yoga.

I could spend my time criticizing it, but yoga has taught me, stubborn as I may have been, that thankfulness and love is the better stance to take. I am still learning, but I am learning, and I have yoga to thank.

Namaste.

Shelby Mongan is an undergrad student of Catholic Studies and Philosophy at DePaul University, a freelance writer and photographer, and an adopted Chicagoian. She is a staff writer and photographer at Sock Monkey Sound, a music and culture blog based out of Rockford, IL, and has also been featured on HEAVEmedia. She has a tendency towards obsession (which she chalks up to being passionate), speaks nerd fluently, and loves sloths more than she loves most humans. Her day to day life can be found at feelingphiloslothical.tumblr.com.

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4 responses to “Namaste, Bitches: Becoming a Yogi

  1. Pingback: Friday Five | .the rebel grrl kitchen.·

  2. I absolutely love this! As someone who is also a “yogi” and is a size 12, too, I know how shitty one can feel going into some of those classes. I’ve found that, through yoga, I’ve also begun to love my curves and love what my body can do for me. It’s such an empowering feeling! Thanks for sharing this!

  3. Wow – this was like reading something my subconscious penned while I wasn’t paying attention. You are not alone. And apparently, neither am I!My yoga practice teaches me so much about expressing kindness, patience and compassion toward myself. It is guiding me in a positive transformation that is slowly chipping away at 30+ years of self-loathing, self-defeating and overall negative ways of being tied to a lifetime of weight struggles and body image issues. I am learning day by day that if I can bring some compassion and acceptance to myself on the mat, then I can be open to the possibility that I will bring those same qualities to myself (and others) in the world.

  4. Wow – this was like reading something my subconscious penned while I wasn’t paying attention. You are not alone. And apparently, neither am I!My yoga practice teaches me so much about expressing kindness, patience and compassion toward myself. It is guiding me in a positive transformation that is slowly chipping away at 30+ years of self-loathing, self-defeating and overall negative ways of being tied to a lifetime of weight struggles and body image issues. I am learning day by day that if I can bring some compassion and acceptance to myself on the mat, then I can be open to the possibility that I will bring those same qualities to myself (and others) in the world.

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