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anne falkowski

Guest Posts, Yoga, Yoga Classes

The Arena

May 27, 2016
yoga

By Anne Falkowski

My car flies at breakneck speed to make a yoga class. The sun spanks my eyes.

Its anonymity I seek. To be a body in a flock of bodies where none have crossed my path before. To be a cut-out swatch, side by side, without being pinned to any other. To complete a pattern. To be random. To fall. To float. To fly. To flutter. To feel.

To fight.

No, I have not come to the yoga mat to fight but I just realized I placed my mat next to someone I used to know. Someone I had a fight with. A public fight. I was left beaten, covered in my own invisible feathers. Maybe time has a way of making us more than we were.

It’s too late to move.

It’s subtle how we recognize the past. I knew it was her because of a curve of her skin and an angle of her cheek. The space she took up and the space she didn’t. The negative space of her. Nothing definite. Each of us carry our imprint of the other.

***

It’s been a few years. Does she know it’s me? Does she see my new tattoo spread across half my back? A blue goddess, covered in teeth and snakes. She holds a dagger.

I look down at my legs, one thigh folded over the other, my feet bare, aware that I haven’t showered in two days. My period is on its way. I smell it like moss, sticks, and bits of feather.

Her eyes are closed. Pretend rapture, I’m sure.

I want my blue goddess to aim her dagger between those eyes.

S. is attractive. Dark hair and eyes, tall and thin. Has six-pack abs. When she used to teach yoga at the studio I own, students would comment on how they wanted a stomach like hers. My hands go down and squeeze the flesh of mine which has been through too many rounds of weight gains and losses. My hands amass silvery webbed flesh with a slit for a belly button. Some would say a trophy.

Shit, I thought I was better than THIS. I had let all THIS go. Maybe old demons need to air their foul breath out of pursed lips to remind us what we have not completely digested. Maybe they need to tongue rattle.

I close my eyes. I draw my breath up to my collarbones where it lingers. I purposely hold it there. I watch the pause and wait for it to right me. It kind of does. On the exhale, the breath floods my belly. A wind sound fills the back of my skull. My jaw bones soften. I am finding my way back to what needs my attention. Back to now. Now is breath and sensation.

A yoga teacher once told me: Feed your demons. A strategy for not having them eat you.

Do you need to know the story between S. and me? Does it matter? Did it ever? Maybe I need to tell it.  Maybe the need is why it matters.

The climax of the fight takes place at my studio, three years ago, in the hallway, among carefully placed pairs of shoes. Mostly flip-flops and sandals. The bodies that go in the shoes are inside the yoga room, on their backs, their knees roll to one side and then the other, in a guided knee-down twist.

S. is my studio’s most popular teacher. She has stepped out of the room she is teaching in, and has grabbed my arm. For a brief moment, I think she is in pain. But no, it’s something else, hot and insistent. Her mouth moves open and shut, open and shut. Words come out and spill on the cork floor. Something about quitting, opening her own yoga studio less than a mile away, and taking with her as many students as possible.

I ask her why. She tells me, “You need to look inside. Do some searching. Ask yourself why no one respects you.”

NO ONE RESPECTS YOU…NO ONE RESPECTS…NO ONE…YOU….YOU…YOU….

Her bobbed black hair swings this way and that and her lips get redder as she speaks. Now the students are on their backs with knees bent, feet on floor. They push into their feet and lift hips and torsos up to the ceiling. Their necks are extensions of their spines. Little spines in neat rows. Up and down they go. An assembly line of ribs expand and contract like the small bodies of birds breathing.

YOU NEED TO LOOK INSIDE….

How fucking dare she?

Seeing red is a real thing.

Red is the color of heat,

the tongue.

I have never been able to speak up to her or anyone at my studio.

She tells whomever will listen I am jealous of the amount of students she draws in.

She says she is the reason my studio is a success.

She tells others not to take yoga from me, that I’m not a real yogi.

I secretly wonder if she’s right.

Red is the color of shame.

Deal with red.

I’ve done yoga with weapons. At a workshop. We were meditating on death, while we flowed through standing poses. A live drum pulsed in the room. The space between hitting the drum and the sound it makes is called Spanda. In Sanskrit, Spanda means pulse of the universe. The beat of your heart is called Anahata. It means unstruck sound.

The teacher put various weapons in our hands. In Warrior One, he gave me a staff. I felt nothing. In Goddess Pose, he changed out the staff for a sword, still nothing. Then a loaded pistol, black and heavy. He curled his slim fingers around my hand. Our wrists touched one another. Still no response. Then the dagger. In my hands in Warrior Two. Front knee bent and my bare feet pushing into the ground. There. There it was. The right weight. Its size surprisingly small. My throat opens and the drum beat burrows deep into my hip sockets. My body electrifies. A familiarity. A knowing.

I’ve killed with a dagger. More than once.

Knife-wield, wing-flap, tongue-dance, bone-beat, heart-beat, drum-beat, red rhythm, ancient ones I have known.

Always known.

We don’t make eye contact, S. and me, as the teacher calls out poses in the heated room, and sweat pours from my hair-line. S. was never one to break a sweat but not because she doesn’t work hard. For a few poses, I forget about S.  It’s only me and the rise and fall of my breath in the forest of others, my body folded in half. A silvery belly I am. A long spine I am, making it expand and contract to lightly cage me, to hold me lover-like.

At the end of class, before final resting period, the teacher brings us onto our backs and talks us up into wheel pose. A pose where you bend your knees, feet on the floor, bring your hands behind your shoulders and press up making a big upside down U shape with your spine. It moves stuck energy.

Out of the corner of my eye, I watch S. She pushes up into wheel with me. For a few breaths we are holding together in sync. We are both strong. But then she pushes herself up off her hands to standing. A move requiring huge amounts of leg and back strength.

I know, right there, she is competing with me. Wanting to show me what she can do, just like I wanted her to see my tattoo. For a moment, I feel nothing but awe.

She does five of these. They are called wheel drop backs. A pose I cannot do, but oddly I do not feel less than. I witness each one while I hold my own, more moderate wheel, the one the teacher is guiding. My legs shake in their own right. My boneless tongue curls and presses up against my soft palate.

The yogis believe emotions are manifestation of energy. They purposely raised animal energy: anger, jealousy, lust, shame, and fear. And then they sat in it. Don’t move, don’t flinch. The more you bring up animal energy, the ones that throw you the most, the more you breathe into them and feel them and face them, the more you will learn to ride bareback.

After wheel, we go into final relaxation.

Ten minutes later, the teacher tells us to slowly awaken our bodies. My ritual is to hold every part of me still except to slowly move my tongue side to side. My red tongue, the color of the earthworm, a creature who can regrow segments of themselves when they need to. In this liminal space after yoga, the parts of me which have been cut off, banished, damaged, or lost, have regenerated. Only now, they are different, not exactly the same. They’ve reinvented.

I sit up and wait for S.

I’m not sure what will happen.

Nothing does.

S. remains on her back, covered in a blanket, a small silky pillow stretched across her eyes. I sit there, with my legs tucked under me, until everyone else is almost gone. It becomes obvious she’s not going to get up. She will stay like this forever, covered and motionless, if she has to.

I don’t want her to have to.

I roll up my mat and walk away.

A dagger inked on my back.

My body feels light and full at the same time.

I could take flight off the ground.

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Anne Falkowski is a yoga teacher/workshop leader and a wannabe writer. She has published numerous articles on yoga and body image.  She can be reached at director@samadhiyogastudio.com

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Eating Disorders/Healing, Eating/Food, Guest Posts, healing

Tales of a Food Restrictor

December 10, 2015

By Anne Falkowski

At 45, I made the decision to face my disordered eating. It was a dark creepy crawly which followed me around for more than half my life. (It’s not unusual for women in their 40s or older to have untreated eating disorders for twenty, thirty or even forty years.

I decided it was time to let go.

I could do this. But I needed help.

I called the experts and landed in an office the color of fog and ocean. The colors of healing. This was a place for anorexics, bulimics and eating disorders not otherwise specified (like myself).

There was a large rubber plate of fake food next to the tissue box. On this fake plate was a mound of beans, a thick slice of bread, a pile of broccoli and an unidentified piece of meat. I liked to run my fingers over the beans and feel their lumpiness.

It was in this ocean room, while I fingered the beans, when Mark, the therapist, told me I was a food restrictor.

“Are you sure? Wouldn’t I be thin if I did that?”

As always, I was hyperaware of my body which refused to be the size I wanted it.

“Well, not necessarily.”

His hand reached up to touch his tie. Mark always wore a shirt and tie. He was twenty years younger than me. At first his youth threw me. How could a clean cut baby-faced twenty something counsel me, a middle aged woman, who had been dealing or not dealing with disordered eating probably as long as he had been alive?

He told me that we cannot pick the bodies we want.

I wanted to be slim, slender, thin, and bony.

“It doesn’t work that way. We don’t get to choose our bodies.” He held my gaze. Continue Reading…

Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts, Yoga

A Fat Girl Does Warrior Two

August 24, 2015

By Anne Falkowski

Anyone can do Warrior Two pose. Anyone who can stand on their legs. Even fat girls.

The first time I held Warrior Two, and I mean really held it, till sweat beaded on my bare back and shoulders like jewelry and heat rose up from my toes and lapped my insides with fire, I felt so beautiful for one slice of brief moment. I imagined I glistened like a night star soaked with moonlight. I was not fat.

But I thought I was.

My whole life, I thought I was fat. Sometimes I was, squeezing my sausage flesh into size 18’s and sometimes I wasn’t, with size 8 Gap jeans falling down on my hips.

But to a girl, who has a long time been a woman, with body hatred that stained her before age 12, true size is irrelevant. Those of us who obsess on the appearance of our body are a secret club of sisters (and brothers) who have become kin to Alice. We have been down in the hole for so long, we no longer know what is real. More importantly we don’t know ourselves, where we begin or end, and how to climb out. We only know how to measure our own sense of worth, black and white, good and bad, with broken rulers.

We are piles of flesh, food and shame.

Some will read this and say I am being overly dramatic. Focus on something more important like starving children. They are much more worthy of our attention. I agree.

But you cant focus on things more worthy when you are stuck in the pit of your own unworthiness at the most primal level.

There is nothing more primal then our own body. Our bodies get sick, heal, taste, smell, see, hear, fight, love and feel. They feel anger, joy, lust and fear. When we don’t pay attention to our bodies, we disconnect from what is happening in the present moment and live in the limits of our mind.

A yoga teacher once said the only thing we know for certain in each moment is the rise and fall of our breath and the sensation we feel in our bodies.

This is the only truth and everything else is a story. Everything else. My fat girl doesn’t live in the truth of her body. She lives in the drama of her story. But to climb out of story she has to relearn how to live in her body in a truthful and compassionate way.

Warrior Two is a foundational pose.

Foundational because you are standing on your own two legs. Anyone can do it. Its not just for the uber-flexible or the advanced yogi. No matter who you are and how much yoga you have done, this pose will become challenging when held for longer than a few breaths.

Warrior Two is a grounding pose.

Yoga poses are done in bare feet for a reason. To feel the ground which is always underneath us and to remind us that we are a part of it. Plus bare feet make it easier to stay in place and not slip or fall. Although falling would not be the end of the world. Everyone has to fall sometime.

Hold Warrior Two and eventually you will feel heat in your inner legs and thighs. Maybe just a little at first, but wait, more will come. The warmth will seem to come up from the ground and swell throughout your whole body and will eventually lead to sweat.

Heat and sweat are desirable in yoga. Don’t bail. Stay on the mat. By staying, you are mixing your discipline with inner brilliance. Pressure and heat. This is how diamonds are made.

Warrior Two is not a pose for the weak.

It requires grounding, stamina and hugging muscle to the bone. It demands strong quads and arms and a connection to our bellies. It requires the breath. The breath with a capital B, not a meager small one. Without full deep breaths, Warrior Two deadens. It is no longer a fighter. Its weary.

But the thing about Warrior Two is it cannot be all strength and stabilization, or it becomes rigid and inflexible. It will drain you. It requires an openness. A willingness to let in ease and comfort.

The poet Jane Kenyon wrote, “God will not leave you comfortless.”

Maybe it is only ourselves who leave us comfortless.

Patanjali, the father of yoga, said the poses should be both steady and comfortable. That is the only thing he wrote about the physicality of the poses out of hundreds of verses on how to do yoga. So it must be crucial. Steady meaning rock the pose. Hold it firmly. No one can push you over. You look out over your third finger and you are fierce. A don’t mess with me attitude. Don’t fuck with me. I can handle what ever life brings my way. I have to. But if I want to be a yogi, I can’t just push my way through the hard stuff.

What about the comfort? It is true, we are directly responsible for our own comfort. To find it, the yogi has to listen. She has to have the courage to let go of being in charge of everything that is happening in her life at each moment and trust. She has to let go of being perfect and blaming herself or others when things don’t go her way. She has to stop hiding behind whatever tale of woe she has spent her life cultivating and trust that she will be found.

The interior battle is to have faith that if she lets go of the edge of what is known, she will not come crashing down. She must believe that no matter what is happening, it is okay to be both strong and soft. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love, Yoga

On Being Fat, Yoga Teacher Training, and the Right To Be Happy

May 22, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Anna Falkowski

In the back of Yoga Journal, lodged between ads for Himalayan salts and yoga retreats, was a photo of Ana Forrest, a yoga teacher famous in the yoga community. She was in handstand, naked from the waist up. The photo was a back view. Her muscled arms and opened hands pressed into rock ledge. Her bare legs stretched wide in a straddle and spread toes reached to an endless sky. A single black braid fell forward and touched the ground.

When I saw the photo, I felt a pang of longing. I too wanted a body that could do this. A body strong with each muscle defined. Even more, I wanted to be fearless and trusting.

In my head, I say, I have the right to be fat. I have the right to be fat.

I am a full-bodied yoga teacher. I take comfort in the fact there are others out there, luscious like me. In the yoga world, the majority of teachers are lean. On bad days, I look out at the students in the yoga class I am about to teach, and ask myself, Dont they see how fat I am? Why are they taking yoga from me?

Yoga is practiced primarily by women, yet it has strong patriarchal roots and leanings, which means holding up thinness as a measurement of yogic aptitude and success. It’s the order of things.
Sometimes I wonder if being a fat yoga teacher is silently scoffed at. A suspicion that he or she is not doing the work. We must be lazy or sneaking processed foods. Most likely both. Yoga tops can not contain us. We fill out our lycra pants with hips and asses, yet we teach respectable and popular classes despite the fact we’re not skinny.
There are days I love my curves. Each one a chunk of wondrous love and an expression of my sexiness, aliveness and my ability to get down and dirty with a cheeseburger and glass of wine.
As far as skinny goes, I have been down there, in the palace, once or twice in my life, but only because of diet pills, smoking, over-exercising or sticking my finger down my throat. I cut out my risky behavior once I became a mom. But my thin moments are full- color photographs in my memory catalogued between power and acceptance. The truth is I was only ever skinny for a few hours at a time, and then my weight would creep back up again.

Catching a glimpse of Ana Forrest in the back of the glossy trade magazine sent sparks through my nervous system, so I signed up to take her thirty day course, even though I already held advanced yoga teaching certifications. I craved change.

I sat with my therapist a few weeks before the training was to begin and told her I hoped to let go of my body image problems once and for all. Maybe this training would do it. And then I regressed. “If I just didn’t have this belly, I could be happy.” My mid-section had become a bundle of permanent stretch marks, scar tissue and loose skin due to all the times I gained and lost large amounts of fat.

“It’s so unfair.” I hated the way I sounded. Whiny and superficial. Even to me. Especially to me.
I would have preferred to be swallowed by the therapist’s soft couch. Instead I clutched a trendy printed pillow on my lap.

My therapist, a PhD, who never wore the same outfit twice, nodded her head in agreement. “Maybe this would be a good time to get the tummy tuck you keep mentioning. Just get it done and over with. Right after the training. Then you can move on.”

That’s how I ended up in the upscale office of a plastic surgeon, with a brand new visa card with a zero-balance and a $10,000 limit hidden in my wallet. My insides were whirling. The wall-to-ceiling mirrors reflected back a woman with a rounded belly in jeans and a red flowered top. My flip-flops were noisy as I made my way across the marble floor.

In my head, I say, I have the right to be skinny. I have the right to be skinny.

The plastic surgeon was a tall man with big teeth and a spring-time tan. He held a red permanent magic marker in his strong yet manicured hands and waved the marker around as he spoke. As he drew a dotted line along my belly, hips, and even across the top of my ass, to show me where he would remove the fat from, he told me the incision would be tiny.

“In a couple of months, once you heal, you will be able to wear a bikini. Of course how good you will look depends on whether you are a cadillac or a chevy. It all depends on what model you are underneath. I can only do so much.”

I looked down at my recently painted and pedicured toes the color of cruises and cotton candy. When I had gotten them done the day before, I hoped he would notice I appreciated details and pretty things. Now I felt my own foolishness slap my face.
“You are going to love the results,” he said as he put the cap back on the marker. He was giddy with himself. “All my clients do.”

Later that evening, sitting with my husband, I told him I thought the plastic surgeon was an ass. “But he does really good work, so I think I’m gonna go for it. After the training.” I looked at Matt for approval.

Then he said the thing my husband always says. “If you need to do this, I support you all the way. But Annie, I could care less what your belly looks like. Just make sure that whatever you do, you continue to have sex with me.”
He leaned over and kissed me while his hands groped under my shirt for my belly. “God, you’re hot.” he said.

Acutely aware of the red lines that would not wash off and delineated my muffin top, it took everything not to pull away from the man who loved me.

In my head, I say, Stay. Stay.

The first day of Ana Forrest’s yoga teacher training was as I suspected. I was the largest women in the room. It’s not that I’m obese, but I carry rolls and padding in a crowd that had nothing extra to spare. It was a significant difference. This did not stop me from walking past every single size-two yogi and plunking my yoga mat down right in front of the teacher. Ana Forrest looked directly at me. I made eye contact back. For the next 30 days I would put my mat down in the same exact spot and every day we would greet each other with our eyes. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, healing, Self Image, Self Love, Yoga

Teaching Yoga To Teen Girls With Sexual Trauma and The Connection To Us All

March 26, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Anne Falkowski.

 

I had my own sexual trauma at thirteen. It took only a few minutes. I can’t remember it all, but can still feel the pebbles and grit embedded in my opened-up palms, see my ripped jeans, and taste the blood inside my mouth from where my face was shoved into the ground. I can still smell their boozed-up breath on my neck and feel their thick hands and fingers. It was a one time event, but my perpetrators went to school with me. I had to face all three of them for the next five years in classrooms and even at parties. I had no one to talk to, no therapy, no coping strategy.

I begged my parents and the male police officer, who spoke with me about it immediately afterwards, to drop it. I gave no details. Details would have made me cry.

I’ll be fine.” I said.

What I wanted to say was, “Shut up. Shut up.

And like a miracle, they did. My parents and the cop, they shut up. In a span of less than fifteen minutes, they were gone.

I was left alone with the sound of my body hitting the pavement hard and the boys laughing and squealing in my head. It was like taking a deep inhale, closing off your ears, eyes, nose and mouth, and never exhaling again. I failed to mention “the event” again until I was 30 and in therapy for self-hatred so thick, I could stir it. Thanks God for the panic attacks that led me to the office of a persistent and wise therapist. I had no idea my low self-esteem and carefully hidden self-destructive behaviors were linked to what happened at thirteen.  All I knew was I had spiraled to a black bottom and couldn’t find my way back up. Continue Reading…

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