The blonde woman at the front desk pointed toward the hallway. “It’s the room at the back,” she directed. “You can drop your stuff off in the other side room.”
It was 6:15 in the morning and I had signed up my reticent self for thirty days of hot yoga. Outside the air was cool and dark, and the ubiquitous trees we have in Raleigh had turned a cozy red color—an invitation to plaid attire and red Starbucks cups. A few trees still resisted fall but the air was generally crisp and cool.
Inside was also chill and dark until I opened the door at the end of the hallway. The temperature immediately changed. I stepped into a cement room with white walls and gray floors. A huge industrial white tube on the ceiling whooshed out hot air. The sound of the hot air whispered “hush, hush, hush.” I retrieved my pink towel and rolled out my black mat within a few taped-on corners where I was supposed to place it. It was all so new.
I realized very quickly, lying in the dark, that there is a kind of loneliness involved in being with your body in a dark room. You are forced to face yourself there. It is a loneliness I’m not apt to experience, because for many years I didn’t like my body at all, and I certainly didn’t try to put myself in a room alone with it.
You know how you try to avoid people who make you uncomfortable, or don’t have a similar sense of humor? That’s how I’ve felt about my body in the past. It made me uncomfortable. It was always asking for something—a glass of water, a backrub, a nap. It was an annoying, needy friend who took more than it gave.
But I was here to make friends with my body.
That’s why I signed up for this yoga class. My body and I had been acquaintances for too long, side-eying one another in the mirror. Sometimes it was useful to me—when I ran to the car when it was raining, in intimate spaces with my husband, when I held my kids to my belly. But here, in this space, I had come waving a white flag of surrender. My body was not just a tool. Somehow—I needed to believe this—being in my body could also be a spiritual practice for me.
And this is what happened: I met her—my body, I mean.
In this warm, dark, cocoon-like space, the yoga instructor told me to inhale and exhale, and I did. The yoga instructor told me to move into warrior pose, and I felt my body move into a powerful, beautiful stance, and I was proud.
I inhaled. I exhaled. I moved in a soft, muscular rhythm, and I felt my body come to life even more. She tensed and relaxed, the machinery on the inside creaking and complying. My body hummed.
I felt the areas where my muscles were smart and strong, and I felt the loose, soft area of my stomach as it pushed into a sitting pose. Every move we performed in hot yoga was slow, rhythmic, and steady. I was a beginner, and I needed beginner moves. I had plenty of time to react and listen, and breathe. I had plenty of time to say, “How are you doing?” and hear the answer.
“Sometimes I’m great,” my body said, and then a little later, she said, “Sometimes it’s hard to be here.” Then a little later, “Thank you.”
My body said all of this about living in the world. And that’s when I began to cry, my elbow lying down flat on the side, and my head and eyes pointing toward one side of the room in the dark in yoga pose. The instructor said inhale and the instructor said exhale and I listened as my body spoke to me about the beauty of my inner world and my muscles and my joints, and I felt my body relay to me the harshness of the pain that I have spent years experiencing. And I cried some more.
And this is what I want to tell you: I needed this, and maybe you do too. Sometimes we are so caught up in religious practice that we forget that our God is incarnational. He says his Word is “breath” and he compares what he gives us to water—the most fundamental of physical needs. Maybe we can learn a thing or two about spirituality through our physicality. Through our breath. Through our need for water during hot yoga.
I’d like to suggest that we all need to spend some time with our own bodies to know God better.
Maybe you don’t need to do this. Maybe you already feel so connected to yourself that you can move fluidly with your body, instead of trailing it behind on a leash, like I do. My sister is like this and it amazes me. Maybe you are like her.
But if you’re like me, I want you to know that it’s okay to take your body to dinner and ask her when she feels full, and stop feeding her. It’s okay to listen to that small voice of compassion when your body is saying, “I’m tired.” And maybe, like me, you need to set aside some time to talk. For a little chat. To get to know each other.
Maybe your body will tell you what mine did: that it really does mean a lot when you decide to spend some time alone. Maybe, like me, you will feel the presence of God, in this dark room, through the way he knit you together, in the way he wrought your form and in the way you stand in your warrior pose, tall and strong.