I hate these mornings.
The mid-August sun heating up, evaporating the dew that glistens across the field like diamonds. I’ve spent the last hour kicking, diving, saving, jumping and of course running. Running, running, running.
Now, soccer practice has come to the moment that I hate. With a passion. And it has nothing to do with soccer. It’s about the team scrimmage. Not the game, but the “shirts or skins.”
I feel anxiety rumble like a freight train in my belly. I’m petrified. Mortified. And right now, I’d rather be anywhere else than have to show my body to my teammates.
I’m 5’11”, 185 pounds with thick hips and athlete’s legs that go for days and have been known to stop men in their tracks. I have muscular broad shoulders and wavy, medium-length, amber hair. My Scottish skin is ageless, softly sprinkled with freckles. The windows to my soul, hazel and captivating. My arms, perfectly toned—strong but not bulky. And my feet, gigantic. In a good way—put together so I can jump the highest, dive the farthest and boot the ball down the field.
I’m athletic. I’m curvaceous. Feminine. Strong. And almost perfect.
Then there’s the one part of my body that takes me out of the flawless Victoria’s Secret model category.
It’s flabby and way too jiggly. There’s no six-pack, heck not even a two pack. It’s my nemesis. The one area that just won’t tone. No matter how many miles I run, weights I lift, crunches I do or how little I eat. Nothing.
Of course, as fate would have it, my team is skins.
They’ll think I spend my nights eating ice cream while watching Sex and The City, I think.
Just take the damn shirt off and play. They won’t be looking.
I saw her stare. She thinks I’m fat. I think I’m fat. God this is hopeless. I’m hopeless.
Why did I eat that pasta last night?
At some point I had created an idea of what I should look like. My self worth was connected to that image. Come on. I am ranked number one in the nation for goals-against-average. Why would my teammates have judgments about what my stomach looks like?
Fast-forward seven years.
I place my mat in the back of the 105°F room. It’s not that bad.
And then I see the mirrors. Floor to ceiling mirrors cover the entire front of the room. I maneuver so I’m hidden by a beam in the center of the space. My chest tightens. I make a dash to the bathroom to delay the inevitable. I stare into the mirror, thinking:
Yoga is for skinny girls. You’re not.
Can you even touch your toes?
That heat. You’re gonna pass out. Why are you here?
They’re gonna know.
Run very far away.
With an athlete’s determination, I head back to my mat. It’s crazy hot. Sweat drips as I lay there nervously. I squeeze my eyes shut trying to transport myself somewhere else. Anywhere else.
I hear the door close and the click of the lock.
The instructor speaks, but he sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher. I don’t understand a word. I only know to move because of the girl in front of me. She’s up and at the front of her mat. I follow. His voice is still muddled.
At one point I meet my own eyes in the mirror. I scan my body. And there it is, again: my stomach. My top is stuck to my round gut, glued on from the ridiculous amount of humidity.
“Focus on your own eyes,” he says.
I don’t want to see my belly. It’s making me crazy and staying in these topsy-turvy postures more impossible. I do my best to shift my attention.
I breath. I stretch. I move. I am not sure when or how it happens but I connect with something inside of me. Something deeper than I’ve ever experienced.
I come back the next day. And the next day. And the next.
It’s been three years since that transformational day. So much has changed. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually.
It didn’t happen overnight. I fought. I battled. I got stubborn, showing up day after day determined to master a posture. Some days all I could do was muster up enough strength to lie on my mat. Not because my muscles were tired but because my spirit was drained from the internal war.
Yoga isn’t just stretching, standing on your head or wrapping your body into a pretzel. At first, I really didn’t get it. I got frustrated when I couldn’t touch my toes after only a few months.
Then one day, in the middle of a Warrior II, my eyes softly gazed into the front mirror:
Shoulder blades melt.
Send energy through fingertips.
Pull my belly in.
It was then I realized my thoughts had moved away from the fear. Away from being concerned with how I look, with how people see me or how I think they see me.
Breathing. Surrendering. The constant focus on feelings rather than results had shifted my attention from outer appearance to an inner vitality.
The belly that haunted me, it has become an illusion. I don’t see that physical body with its fat, rolls and muscles. I see a being. A light force. Energy. Soul.
And that is beauty.
And if this yogi was part of my inner existence back when I was on the soccer field here’s what she would have thought:
Girl, take that shirt off. Show ‘em what you got. They ain’t seen nothing like you before. Good god you are beautiful, strong, purposeful. Stand tall. Be steady, still and vibrant. Gaze out towards the horizon. Meet the challenge head on. Just glide right through it. You are ready.
Author: Kelly Stewart
Apprentice Editor: Toby Israel/ Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo: courtesy of Author