Photo by Lauren Manning via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by Lauren Manning via Flickr Creative Commons

I’ve recently gotten back into yoga.

And it’s strange.

Because I know intellectually that I’m not in as good of physical shape as I might like to be.¬†I know that I’m objectively “fat.”

But even when I’m doing a modification for a pose or several, even when I have to go into child’s pose instead of whatever the rest of the class is doing, yoga makes me feel strong.

I can feel my muscles in a way I never do otherwise.

When I finish a yoga class, I feel energized in a way that I never do after traditional “exercise.” For me, yoga is as hard or harder than other forms of physical exertion, but it never leaves me sore. I can feel that my muscles have been working, and I will feel physically tired, but also calm and focused. It’s like a cup of coffee and a trip to the gym and a self care session rolled into one.

I’ve been doing yoga off and on for the better part of a decade. I’ve never been able to do¬†chaturanga correctly. Or triangle pose. Some other poses I have to modify because of my stomach fat.

But once I’ve been doing yoga for several weeks in a row, all of that falls away. I can recognize my limitations but they just fall away. They don’t matter as much anymore. Because I can tap into this inner strength, this power in my body. And I don’t know that it’s possible to feel powerful and self-conscious at the same time.

I can accept my stomach fat and my tight hamstrings and the pain in my knees in a way that doesn’t detract from the work I feel my muscles doing and the sweat dripping from my forehead.

In yoga, I’m working with my body, loving my body. So much of traditional exercise has always felt to me that I was working in opposition to my body. Yoga comes from a place of love, not self-hatred.

It’s why I can go on a walk or ride my bike for fun but I don’t go to the gym or train for marathons.

Yoga isn’t worried about repetitions. It isn’t concerned with miles. Whether I do tree pose with my foot on my knee or my thigh, it’s all the same. Whether my knee is bent or straight in triangle, the pose itself is the same. Yoga is about digging deeper into myself, instead of focusing on outward metrics of success.

I think it’s also why I’m okay with swimming laps. I can focus on my form in a similar way. I can track my laps, but it’s really about the motion of my arms and legs. Swimming is meditative in a way, too. So is dance. Modern dance classes can be rejuvenating in a similar way to yoga, where the steps themselves lose the rigidity of form they would hold in ballet. It’s all about feeling it.

I don’t think I will ever be the kind of person who exercises. But I can move my body with joy and connect to the inner core of strength inside of me. Yoga makes me love myself, while exercise has only ever made me hate my body more.

And I choose love.

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