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happy

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…

healing, Mindwebs

Are You Depressed?

October 4, 2012

I feel like I am about to write copy for an anti-depressant commercial. Are you depressed? Trouble sleeping? Find you can’t focus? Find you feel like shit when you have no viable reason to, and in fact, anyone would think you insane for admitting it?

Depression confession from 10,000 feet: I have been struggling lately.

It’s like I am carrying a bunch of plastic (yes, plastic) shopping bags and they are digging  into my arm and cutting off the circulation and then they all start to get twisted up. Has that ever happened to you? (I know, most of you don’t use plastic, but you can imagine right?) There’s a lot of heavy things in the plastic bags and finding a way to carry them all with the skinny handles is nearly impossible and a more than a little frustrating. Its like at once I am carrying the plastic bags and I am the plastic bag hanging on to an arm for dear life.

So put them down for a moment. There in the parking lot. Since I am the plastic bag and also carrying it (stay with me on this metaphor for a moment) I am at once free and yet utterly alone, there in a parking lot.

And its a little overwhelming.

That’s what I have done. Or what I want to do. Trying to put down some of my load. In a parking lot. In a blog post. Anywhere really.

I suffer from depression. Or I have suffered. Which is it? Past tense? Present?

Let me be frank: I am slipping a little lately. So is it present tense? Maybe. Do I acknowledge it and then shift my thoughts, creating new mantras such as I am happy! I am free of depression! Or do I sit quietly on this airplane and contemplate it?

What does that even mean, depressed? Is it something I have been told (yes!) or something I know deep in the labyrinth of my body, in my DNA (also yes!)?

lab·y·rinth/ˈlab(ə)ˌrinTH/

Noun: A complicated irregular network of passages or paths in which it is difficult to find one’s way; a maze.

An intricate and confusing arrangement.

(Sounds like the human mind, no?)

From the time I can remember I have felt a certain sadness that I could never explain to anyone, a dead part inside of me that made pretend I was sick and stay home from school (even in kindergarten) so I could eat cream cheese and olive sandwiches and watch tv with my mom. During college, I would leave NYU during the weekends to go back to Cherry Hill, NJ, a one and a half hour ride on the Peter Pan Bus, so I could be at home, safe from the slick world of New York City and all the food choices. And from feeling anything except hunger. Perhaps that is how I fell in love with anorexia, it allowed me to stop feeling such a nothingness. I replaced nothingness with anxiety and hunger but I no longer felt depressed, per se.

The point is, here I am on a plane flying to Miami. My life is great. I have nothing to complain about. I am happily married. I am successful. I am healthy. So, what is it?

What is this demon? 

This is what happens. I sit down and I can’t get up. I am superglued to my chair and I cannot go anywhere, I cannot do anything until the minutes turn into days and the days into years. Since I can remember dreaming I have had various forms of the very cliche tidal wave dream. So I sit in my chair, superglued there like that and the tidal wave swallows me. 13 years of my life passed in this salt water until I was spit back onto the shore and discovered my calling to which I responded as if it was literally calling me on my iPhone. Yes, I hear you, my dharma! I’m here. I’ve emerged from the depths of Hell and I am here to inspire and write and teach yoga and travel and be happy.

Except the thing is sometimes I feel like a liar.

Sometimes it’s like the anatomy of the impossible and I find myself on a chair, superglued there, glassy eyes, a deep nothingness setting in like it’s missed me and had to be close to my heart again.

What it feels like is that my insides are collapsing upon themselves boneless as wool. The outside of me is pushing its way in. The outside of everything is pushing its way in. The noise, the cars, the people, the fears, the future, the past.

What do you have to be blue about? a friend asked me on the phone a couple weeks ago.

Nothing. Not a damn thing. My life is amazing.

So what is wrong with my mind? Is it broken? Is there a hole somewhere? Can I fix it with yoga or prayer or rewiring my thoughts or wine or laughter or sleep or sex?

I try all. Trust me. I sleep like a dog in summer. I drink wine. I do yoga. I teach yoga! I am mindful of my thoughts (most days.)

It’s not enough. I must dig deeper.

What is triggering me? What situations am I putting myself in? Who am I surrounding myself with? What am I allowing myself to think and say after the words I am?

I must get a hammer and chisel away at the bone until I find the piece I am looking for. It is that part of me that sometimes goes missing. The stray piece that feels like smiling isn’t a chore, the piece that wants to answer the phone and talk, the piece that gets up off the chair and does things out in the world, things with other people even.

I am not saying it will ever go away 100% or that I even want it to. Claire Danes character on Homeland (my obsession) got her brain zapped. She literally got electric shock so she could deal with being bipolar. (No, I would never do that and no I am not bi-polar.)

This rogue part of me is where art is born and where I write. But enough is enough. I am driving the boat. Me! Not my so-called depression. Not my sadness. Not my mood. Not my apathy. Not my ego.

Aphrodite and the other Greek gods were not the only ones who had split personalities. We all do! (Or at least I do.)

Here is the truth: There are two of me. (Possibly three or four.) As it was with others before us.

The battle in me looms like an uncertain diagnosis, luckily I am armored with my bow and quiver. Some days I sway, these passions of the heart- so fickle, so tenuous. These feelings of sadness, of emptiness will be taken down by me and my bow and arrow.

Until then, I will leave you with this.

Today I feel good. Right now I feel good. My life is amazing and I am happy.

Right now, in this moment, there is no missing part of me.

There is nothing missing.

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