I unroll my mat in a spot by the wall: today will be my third class in three days.
I am here for a variety of reasons: it has been ages since I’ve regularly been on the mat; I’d found myself in a cycle where I wasn’t using my body for very much, really—it’s good for everyone to stay limber, but me especially, particularly in winter.
I’m trying to leave behind a gnawing feeling in my belly and an afternoon of writing in fits-and-starts: bits of a piece here, bits of a piece there. It was hard for me to focus and I had this feeling that I was trying to not face something.
I walked here taking deep breaths of cold air and telling myself I would have an hour to just clear my head, concentrate on moving my body, that by the end of the class I would have a clear path towards the words.
Words: we’re in love, but I still have to desperately court them sometimes. I superstitiously believe in things like muses and not pissing off the whatever-it-is that works through you to create whatever it is you’re supposed to create and I believe I spent a lot of time accidentally pissing mine off.
Growing up I was known for being a daydreamer. “There she goes, always with her head in the clouds and her nose in a book,” my teachers would say, and after a while, that label chafed.
I stopped taking my journal around with me everywhere, I hung out and listened to music and kissed boys and smoked cigarettes and drove around with my friends in cars. I played pool and had a blind date with an identical twin and drank two-litre bottles filled with a throat-burning combination of rye and Coke.
I told myself that if I was to write what I knew, then I would need to live a little.
I thought writing would always be there. I thought that I would be able to pick it up off the hook like a sweater and snuggle into it whenever I wanted—I didn’t realize the words would eventually give up waiting for me and dry up into little husks that rattled around my insides.
When I went back to write again and I just couldn’t, I freaked out.
For years, as I tried to write more than a paragraph, I despaired of finding a way out. I worked my way through “The Artist’s Way,” privately emailed friends asking for tips and sat in front of the blank screen for hours swearing I wouldn’t move until I wrote anything down. I ended up crying a lot, wondering if I was crazy to be still trying, that maybe I wasn’t a writer anymore.
My relationship with writing has echoed the way I have treated my body.
When I was younger I spent a lot of time in hospitals, seeing specialists. I became aware very early that I was different than other children: that not many other kids had to do exercises every night to strengthen their legs, arms and balance. I dreamed of a time when I could just be like everyone else and not have to think about things like braces, or physiotherapy, or special insoles for my shoes.
As I grew older and could refuse, I did. I stopped going to the doctor, I stopped doing my exercises. I stopped moving, really, beyond what I needed to do in order to get from point A to point B. I stopped taking care of myself.
Then, in 2006 while I was away from home traveling, a freak fall onto some rocks damaged my hip; while I laughed it off at the time, the following winter I was seized with pain, pain that wrung me out like a dishrag.
No matter how many different types of painkillers I tried, or how I tried to ignore it, by the end of the day, I would find myself curled up on the bathroom floor, crying, rocking back and forth, chanting like a mantra, “Just make it go away, just make it go away, just make it go away.”
As I lay, once again, under knowing fingers, getting massaged and moved and tweaked back into place, I realized how important it was to move: to use the container I have been given, no matter what shape it was in, to dance and stay supple, to eat well and stay healthy: to be strong from the outside in.
Our teacher asks us to think about an intention to set for the class; she tells us that she has begun to set intentions for the year rather than making resolutions. I have been practicing the same thing for the past few years and so I think of my word, which is “fearless.”
I move and think about how this word will give shape to my year, or how it won’t: how I hope it will help guide me to make decisions that are fully heart-based.
“This is a class where we are going to be doing a lot of heart-opening postures,” the teacher says, and I smile as my body hovers in plank, then moves into upward-facing dog. Life’s little coincidences still make me catch my breath: well, isn’t that funny, all the little things that brought me to this day, to this class.
I came looking for words, but the words—and the path back to them—came to me.
I want to be fearless this year, and that is why, among many other things, I am committing to my body.
My body that is weak in so many ways and needs so much care, that I have neglected or not thought of or punished—it is begging to move.
I have been scared of so many things for so long, my body being one of them; I’ve been scared of hearing what it has to say when I truly listen to it.
The teacher reminds us to think of our words, to hold the intention that we set for ourselves at the beginning of the class.
I smile thinking of the grey, snowing day outside and my walk here. I move from downward-facing dog to standing, I fold and my body cries with relief and gratitude. I sweat and grit my teeth and stay there, on my mat, in this imperfect body, in this perfect moment.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Shay Mei/Pixoto