September 25, 2012 by whirlyjoy
I took my very first yoga class when Aida was an infant. My sister Eenie brought me. For the eleven weeks that I was on bed rest until Aida emerged the barest of preemies at 37 weeks, Eenie would come to keep me company in the studio apartment where I lay like a beached whale on our foam IKEA sofa bed, while Pepe LePew was out for his smokes or buying outdated French newspapers at the international newsstand in the university district (as we had to do in the quaint pre-Internet days).
My hair was grimy from being held to one shower a week and every muscle in my body had melted away from disuse, so when slim, glamorous, drama-grad, decidedly un-pregnant Eenie stretched tall and swooped forward and up to demonstrate a sun salutation I was all primed to fall helplessly in love. That will be me, I thought as I peered over my belly at her, all stretchy and sexy-flexy and skinnyskinny!
I have always suspected Eenie of a contrarian streak, from the time we shared a room as kids and she had to have the nightlight on and the window closed to sleep. This was a clear younger-sister passive-aggressive response to the dark and well-ventilated norm I’d established in two and a half years of staking out my territory before her arrival. Ever since, she’s used her well-honed feel for her big sister’s slightly control-freaky approach to life to subtly torture me wherever possible – like when we were toddlers and she would watch me meticulously set up the furniture in our Fisher Price Little People house to my satisfaction… and then reach out a tiny finger and just barely graze it against one plastic chair, for the sheer pleasure of seeing me fall apart completely.
Was flaunting her sun salutations while I quivered and watched in prostrate gelatinous envy yet another affirmation of her power? At any rate, it worked. Just a few weeks after giving birth I found myself in a yoga class for the first time, being told to “root your sitz bones” – whatever those were – “into the floor, and allow your spine to rise.”
It was too soon. One key way I know it was too soon is that Aida was still nursing every three hours, which means that when I heard a baby crying at the daycare down the hall from the yoga studio, my breasts swelled up and dribbled useless and humiliating sympathy milk down the front of my shmancy new motivational organic cotton yoga tank top.
Also I was not emotionally ready to be surrounded by those lithe yoga aliens who populate the studios, silently weaving themselves into Escher-esque shapes amidst the candlelight and burning sage.
Don’t misunderstand: I gave up as much body image obsession as possible years ago, when I realized I could eat everything I want to if I’m willing to be fifteen pounds heavier than the arbitrary BMI ideal – which, let’s face it, is an absolute no-brainer trade-off. And I’ve had many years to become accustomed to being the roundest in a group of thin women.
Our family moved to Munich when I was in high school – the latest in a long parade of stints overseas. Germans in general and Bavarians especially are a straightforward and outspoken bunch. For example, on a recent visit with Mimi, the two of us were waiting at a tram stop while I checked my iPhone for an address. An older gentleman walked right up to Mimi and said, “Poor little girl, with your mother neglecting you like that to play with her silly electronic toys!” – which, since she couldn’t understand his words but did catch the scolding tone of voice, was a pretty intimidating experience for her until I explained what he’d said. And I, rather than taking offense, felt a welcome sense of coming home after a long absence.
So it won’t be surprising to hear that when I was fifteen and out at the movies with my sister and mother, a rotund Bavarian lady – all friendly smiles and bouncing demeanor in her dirndl – accosted us in the lobby to remark on how terribly thin Eenie and Nana were, and how only I was a properly shaped female with a good set of child-bearing hips. Our German back then was rudimentary, but her hand motions left nothing to the imagination.
I didn’t take up yoga again until after Mimi was born, but this time it stuck. My goals when I started were pretty much limited to getting a twice-weekly hour away from home – where the girls clamored irresistibly for my attention and Pepe LePew hovered in dark, cloudy moodiness – and locating and using the muscles around my middle again.
In fact, a decade of steady devotion to that time on my mat has done far more than reintroduce me to my now gratifyingly muscular core. It’s turned out to be, at least for me, the perfect set of lessons for raising a child with disabilities:
– Don’t look beyond your own mat at what anyone else’s kids are doing.
– Progress is achieved one slow step at a time.
– There’s strength, and there’s flexibility, and both are needed on the mat.
What are the lessons that keep you kicking?