“What do you really want?” she asked as she dug into my back. It was my third Rolfing session and things had suddenly gotten a lot more personal than my tight shoulders.
“I want to be seen. Really seen for who I am.” I answered back.
Her elbows made their way into the tender space behind my heart and I tried not to wince. Whatever she was doing was only making me see red. It took everything I had not to jump off her table, grab my clothes and let loose a string of profanities so severe it would make my Presbyterian Nana cross herself.
“Well, then you have to see yourself—really see yourself first.”
I flinched and instinctively hunched my shoulders. She instinctively drew them back, exposing my heart and causing a pain so deep, it was me who made the Sign of the Cross.
For most of my life I’ve tried not to be seen—really seen.
Because for most of my life I’ve hidden myself under at least one of the heavy cloaks of the malas, if not all three—Anava, Mayiay and Karma.
In Tantric philosophy, the malas are the dust, and mud and muck that show up and scream about how unworthy, not good enough, incapable and fat we are. They are what cause us to forget, to harden, to shrink, to walk around with our shoulders hunched over. They prevent us from seeing our true, divine nature and from being seen—really seen.
Anava Mala wraps us in feelings of unworthiness. It’s what makes me flinch when I can’t kick in to handstand, when I say, or do or type the wrong thing. It tells me I’m fat, and stupid and not good enough. It makes me ashamed of my body. And puts me in a broken pile on the bathroom floor.
Mayiya Mala tells us we are separate, disconnected, other. It’s that judgey voice that points out how ridiculous I look in my Lululemon pants compared to her—beautiful, perfect, other her. It’s what makes me cling to the edge of the room at cocktail parties rolling my eyes and separating the guests into categories—jerk, super jerk, even more of a jerk. It fails to see that we’re all connected and have each had moments of terror involving our cellulite showing through our yoga pants.
Karma Mala makes us feel like we can’t do enough, have enough, be enough. It’s what makes me stay on that bathroom floor when Anava Mala puts me there. It’s what gives me a panic attack when I open my bills and look at my bank account. It causes me to overbook, to say yes, to do instead of sitting down, shutting up and just being.
When you walk around with the heavy cloaks of the malas wrapped around you, the only thing you can see is your flaws. And when that’s all you can see, the last thing you want is to be seen—really seen.
In fact, you want nothing more than to not be seen, to blend in, to shrink yourself down. Because the malas have convinced you that you’re fat, and disgusting, and imperfect and no one would like you.
Except, you can’t really do that—make yourself small. What with your massive thighs and stupid mouth always giving you away. So, you develop a way of walking, of talking, of not looking people directly in the eye, of holding your body so you seem as tiny and perfect as you possibly can. So, no one can see the real you, including yourself.
For me it’s been hunching my shoulders, rounding in, stooping over and protecting my heart. It’s a habit so ingrained I still have it even though I’ve practiced Anusara yoga so many times the phrase, “Melt your heart,” is practically tattooed across my forehead. I still have it even though I’ve dropped 80 pounds, gone to therapy, taught yoga, worked on myself and done every imaginable thing I can to just accept the girl I am—the fat, ugly, stupid, not good enough girl.
It’s a habit so ingrained it’s what brought me to my third Rolfing session, and why I didn’t head for the hills as she pressed into my heart. Because I thought maybe, just maybe if I bore out the pain, the intense bodywork would be the trick that would finally unlock my heart and allow me to be seen.
But, as my very competent Rolfer pulled my shoulders open, I realized what trick I hadn’t tried.
I’ve been so busy cataloging my every flaw, combing my skin and psyche for defects, listing off my imperfections down to my too short pinkie toes, I haven’t done every imaginable thing I can accept the healthy, pretty, smart, good enough just as I am girl.
I’d let the malas become so thick and heavy I’d forget my true nature. I’d forgotten that the chatter about the fat, ugly, stupid, not good enough girl was just that—chatter. It wasn’t me. The real me.
As I stared in amazement at my Rolfer’s handiwork, I began to let the malas’ mantles drop away. I stopped their talk of unworthy, separate and can’t do enough. My shoulders started to relax, my heart melted, and for the first time I got a glimmer of what I’ve been covering up.
Sure, I’m not skinny, but I’m healthy.
Sure, I sometimes suffer from irritating Pitta skin, but I’m not ugly.
Sure, I’ve said dumb things, but I’m not dumb.
Sure, I’m imperfect and have too short pinkie toes, but isn’t that where the light gets in?
In that moment, I knew she was right. In order to be seen—really seen you have to see yourself. And seeing isn’t about making friends with your demons or becoming BFFs with your flaws. It isn’t about tearing yourself a part. It’s about getting cozy with your angels. About dropping the malas’ shrouds, looking yourself in the eye and seeing yourself as you truly are—beautiful, amazing, pretty and smart (too short pinkie toes and all). When you do that, it’s pretty hard for people not to see you—really see you.
Sara McKeown is just like every other yogi, except she hates coconut water. When she’s not perfecting her Downward Facing Dog or teaching other people how to perfect theirs, she can be found eating avocados, doodling in her journal, talking with her hands, microwaving her non-dairy ice cream, daydreaming about having Ira Glass’s babies, debating which book to stick her nose in or helping people live their best lives through her work as a counselor and wellness coach. Send her love notes at firstname.lastname@example.org or come along with her on her journey by checking out her blog, My Great Leap.
Editor: Kate Bartolotta