About once a year I feel compelled to rhapsodize about my yoga practice and how it’s transformed my life. Today is that day.
But this piece is also about something deeply personal I’ve been working on for a long time that I feel is finally resolving itself, with the help of my yoga practice.
Let me start by saying that I’m pretty settled these days. I’ve lived in the same apartment for close to five years, which is a small miracle and also means that I haven’t had a house-warming party since 2010. This is notable because prior to this apartment, I easily moved 15 times between 1997 and 2010.
I’ve bought homes with two different serious partners and have been married and divorced (officially once, but basically twice). I’ve had a number of other relationships ranging from a few months to a year. I’ve been in relationships with women and men, white and black, (a little) younger and (significantly) older. For a year of my life, I essentially co-parented a young child, whom I still miss years later. I’ve probably broken more than a few hearts (never intentionally and never under false pretenses) and I’ve had my own heart roughed up a couple times as well.
My point in saying all of that is to acknowledge that people who’ve known me a long time would probably say I have a history of…restlessness. This can look to others like: a lack of follow-through, capriciousness, a low tolerance for boredom, being impossible to please, distractibility, selfishness and an inability or unwillingness to commit. I am fully aware that my life decisions have been interpreted as being all of those things and perhaps a hundred others.
None of them are quite accurate, though.
The truth is that all of this uprooting, moving, changing, seeking, searching and trying things on has merely been a long and convoluted quest to settle in. For whatever reason, and despite my sincerest and best efforts, I have never quite managed to put roots down anywhere. I’m easily unmoored by the circumstances of my life and the often-inexplicable inclinations of my heart. I haven’t always done a great job of sharing these inclinations because sometimes there aren’t words for how I feel or what compels me.
The thing is, I’m cursed or blessed (depending on the day) with a spirit that lacks a grounding force of its own. It doesn’t help that I don’t even feel corporeal much of the time, which is another way of saying that I don’t live in my skin easily. That may sound crazy, but it just means that I’ve had a hard time reconciling “who I am” with “what/how my body is.”
I have a pretty painful history of what we could loosely refer to as “body issues.” I spent the first 30 plus years of my life hating my body. This has manifested in a lot of different ways, but the short version is: I’ve never really felt at home or comfortable in my skin until the past few years and it’s cost me a number of simple moments I wish I could get back.
This also relates to why I tattoo my skin. My most honest explanation is that it’s been an ongoing effort to make my skin more mine. It has nothing to do with wanting attention or being rebellious, although at age 17 when I started, it may have had something to do with that. But ever since then, tattooing my body has been in service of my effort to continually strive to make my outside match my inside. To individuate. To solidify. Decorating, for a person who feels out of place in her body, is about taking a nest and attempting to make it a home. I don’t know if that makes sense, but it’s the best I can do.
In general, I’ve felt restless and uncomfortable for much of my life. The road to stabilize this restlessness has been long, and I would say the best and most important step I’ve taken has been into a yoga studio in 2008. The intensity of my commitment to the practice has waxed and waned since then, but overall it’s been the most consistent thing in my life to date. It’s been the one thing I’ve been able to commit fully to and show up for again and again.
My mat is the one place I don’t criticize myself; I don’t engage in negative self-talk during yoga. I don’t feel self-conscious or monitor myself or even think about what I might look like. I love my body in yoga even when it doesn’t do what I want or do what I see other people’s bodies doing. My body is perfect when I’m on my mat.
I practice 4-5 times most weeks at a studio close to where I live. It’s the place where I consistently feel the safest, as well as the most supported, seen, valued and loved. I regularly practice there with some of my best friends, but even when I go to a class where I don’t actually know any of my classmates, I still feel this way. I think it’s partly just the comfort of the practice and partly the specific practice space.
Either way, yoga has grounded me in my body and has anchored my spirit in a profound way. It’s allowed me to trust myself and feel safe and solid in my physical body. It’s allowed me to move past the place where I feel self-conscious or ashamed of my body and into a space where I feel grateful for the freedom of its movement. I feel strong and sturdy and graceful and all the things I never thought I’d feel.
It has allowed me to root down through my feet and hands and in doing so, feel supported by my own body as well as the earth. I’m super grateful for my yoga community and the support of my teachers and classmates. It’s been such an important part of my life and has transformed my whole way of being in the world. My spirit is still restless; I still lack my own grounding force, but through yoga I am able to stay put anyway.
Author: Amy Miller
Editor: Evan Yerburgh
Image: courtesy of the author