My left leg hovered in the air. My right leg nearly buckled under the shifting of my weight. Carefully, ungracefully, I brought my airborne leg around and down to my right side, allowing my right wrist to take a bulk of the pressure on my way down. Well-versed yogis call this camatkarasana -- the Wild Thing, or flipping your (three-legged) dog over. I call it looking as ridiculous as possible in front of everyone.
A beginner’s yoga class is filled with 2 types of people. The first type is those that definitely fit the beginner’s yoga bill (like myself). We’re rickety on our feet. We tremble, shake, and wince with our poses. Some of us have bodily advantages over others that make us better with some poses. For instance, I can get forward bend poses like Pigeon or Big Toe because my legs are short and touching the floor is easy for me. But don’t ask me to hold Tree or Warrior 3 poses because my balancing is shit. Maybe my feet are too small and my top half is too big, but holding a one-footed pose is damn near impossible. I belong in these beginner yoga classes where, when the instructor goes, Ok, try Bird of Paradise, I immediately topple over onto the next person.
My very helpful, very fit yoga instructor walked up to my sweating, straining body, put one finger to his cheek and said, “Your body is wrong.”
My body is wrong.
I think my irritation flickered across my face, because he clarified, “I mean, your pose is wrong,” he declares. “You’re putting too much weight on the wrong foot. Try shifting a bit.”
No, dude. That’s not what you said. Maybe this is a break in the language barrier, but you definitely just told me my perspiring, wavering body was wrong.
The second type of people who go to beginner’s yoga classes are vastly overqualified. They nail every single pose, from Child’s to Handstand. They never struggle or huff and puff. Each breath is calm and calculated, each pose is strong and sturdy. I’m not sure if they’re there as plants or as show-offs, but they do a great job of making the beginner crowd look terrible. One gentleman who has become permanently affixed to a spot in the front of the room rose from Crow to Headstand without so much as a grunt. I eye him with envy as I wiggle out of Side Plank, my shoulder aching with the effort.
My breath caught in my throat. “I think I’ll just go back to Three-Legged,” I muttered. This pose wasn’t as painful inasmuch as it was uncomfortable. And awkward. My instructor had a view of my wide open legs. An unflattering sliver of my pasty, squished stomach, slides out from my yoga tank. I nervously suck in what I can and turn over with as much initial grace and poise as I did flipping it over. I feel like I’m parallel parking a semi for the first time.
The yogi is about 5’10” and weighs maybe 130lbs. He’s all sinew and zero percent body fat. He’s gorgeous because in order to be a yoga instructor you have to be conventionally attractive. He’s blonde and Russian. I gape at him before and after class as he goes through some of the harder advanced poses. Binds, backbends, balancing acts -- his every move is effortless and flawless. His face isn’t beet red and flushed when he rises from Peacock. He’s a hands-on yoga instructor who will go around the room and move your foot if it’s not straight or flat. He’s only done this to me once: he lifted my foot straight and wrapped my right hand around my left wrist on my Head-to-Knee Forward Bend. It’s a bit unpleasant for everyone: for me, because I absolutely hate physical contact with strangers (even conventionally attractive ones) and for the yogi because they’re touching and smelling gross sweaty (wrong) bodies that don’t necessarily want to be touched or smelled.
I struggle with my body the same as everyone else. I alternate between hating and resenting it for it’s lack of flexibility and strength to feeling like it should come secondary to my brain and tertiary to my heart. My lower back hurts from my years as a desk jockey. My wrists hurt from what is assuredly carpal tunnel. Over the summer, I took up top rope climbing for fun, and saw a shift in softness to muscular definition in my stomach, arms, and thighs. I’m still an amateur and will probably never make it outside of that status, but I don’t need to be: my body feels and looks good, and at least my wrist pain dulled into an ache.
To help my back, I decided to take advantage of the free 3-nights-a-week yoga classes my gym offers. Mondays are the easiest. The instructor is a soft-spoken woman who would rather her class breathed right then twist into pretzels. She’s heavy set but athletic, proving that yoga bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Tuesdays are a bit tougher. Our instructor covers the basics but stresses inversions to more difficult poses. The first time I met her, however, she mentioned she had just had a baby. “Oh, congrats! When?” I asked, noting her flat stomach and slim physique. “Two weeks ago!” she chirruped, and I paled. Wow, I thought later on. My body really is wrong.
And Wednesdays, the good-looking, Instagram-friendly Russian yogi teaches.
A couple takes this class with me. The man is popping with muscles and insists on stripping off his shirt for class perhaps to show off how right his body looks. The woman is 6-months pregnant with their baby, but recently revealed that she is a former gymnast. Her body will likely go back to right less than a month after giving birth, just like Tuesday’s instructor.
Class went on for a few more minutes until the instructor stopped us again. “I want you all to turn so you can look in this mirror,” he said, pointing to the front of the room, “because you are all doing chaturanga wrong.”
Everybody, every body, is wrong.
He made us all watch ourselves as we lowered ourselves into a half-pushup chaturanga. We were going down too low, he chided. He wanted us to go only halfway, and keep our arms pinned against our sides. “Look,” he said, flopping down into the pose. “Like this.” Aghast and impressed, my eyes darted from the yogi’s lithe form to my own reflection stumbling in the mirror. Wow, I thought. That is wrong -- no one should be able to bend like that. And yet, his can. His does.
After class, the ringer in the front of the class approached the instructor to ask for a spot. He wanted to try a Side Crow and needed the instructor to help. I roll my eyes and roll up my mat to head home.
I’m much more comfortable with my practice in my own house, in the bedroom, away from any mirrors or instructors that tell me my body is wrong. With a yoga block, I can try Crow. It’s wobbly, but I can hold it for about five seconds. I also get up the nerve to try a supported Headstand using the bed to support me. It’s terrible. I do tiny little jumps to get up, get one leg straight, then fall back against the mattress. But I don’t mind. There’s no one there to make me feel embarrassed, shy, or wrong. I can fall over, let my tank top ride up, and spread my legs as unfathomably wide as I can without fearing critique.
I don’t feel wrong.