Ways of seeing

I saw an old friend in London this weekend (in between a yoga class and the final day of the Paul Nash exhibition at the Tate — what a great day!). We had lots of wonderful conversation. One thing that struck me was her comments about her ageing body. She’s just about to turn 40 and is in a particular headspace about the passage of time and the changes she experiences. She laughed as she told me she has a peculiar form of body dysmorphia — she always imagines her body is how it was 20 years ago, she still picks size 8 clothes off the rail and is bewildered when they don’t fit. Time and time again. Rather than perceiving herself as much fatter and less attractive than she is, the way women so often do, her misperception is the other way round!! I kind of liked that! She didn’t mean to be arrogant, it’s just the way she habitually thinks of herself. She hasn’t caught up with what’s changed.

Misperceptions about one’s physicality, functioning as much as appearance, is something I’m trying to figure out for myself, in the context of my yoga practice. How to feel the truth of the shapes in my body, to know when alignment is good and right for me, but most of all to trust my physicality.

The other night I ended up practising out of my usual spot at home. Competing demands of shared space — my yoga practice doesn’t always win out! So instead I was in the bedroom and that inevitably means my mat has to be in front of a large mirror. And here I couldn’t avoid seeing my form reflected. I am so far away from narcissistic insta-yoga. But you know what? My reflection looked surprisingly good! Oh! Since when could I actually achieve a quite plausible Chaturaṇga Daṇḍāsana shape? And taking it forward and upward into Urdhva Mukha Śvānāsana looked fluid and strong, with a pretty neat roll over the toes back in Adho Mukha Śvānāsana. In class I don’t usually try this. I’m a humble knees-chest-chinner 90% of the time. I see so much sloppy practice around me, I don’t want to be like that. It looks floppy and unevenly-paced and an injury in the making. As my teacher gently encourages everyone to find their own rhythm and style through these vinyasas modifying where necessary, I’m slowly, slowly starting to hear his cautionary words differently: they’re not directed uniquely at me, telling me I’m not good enough to keep up! They are directed at everyone, in fact more perhaps at those who believe they’re stronger than they are. Oh!

Hubby caught my note of surprise and came in to watch briefly, full of encouragement. He knows none of this is narcissistic. It was simply a lesson in self-perception, about convincing myself that I too have a strong body now that can do what it needs to and meet my demands provided I work patiently. I need to let go of old narratives and allow myself to be the way I currently am. Somehow this is a difficult change for me to allow. Desperately wanting it doesn’t make it easier. Is seeing it more convincing than feeling it?

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