Doing Bikram Yoga While Fat

If I try to stand with my toes and heels touching, then I can't lock my knees. I suspect it is because my bone structure has been altered by a lifetime of obesity.
Publish date:
September 28, 2012
fat, exercise, yoga, body issues

Toes and heels touching. Lock your knees. Interlace your fingers. Find your eyes in the mirror and fall in love with whatever you see in the mirror, today. Take a small inhale, then exhale. Now, let's begin pranayama deep breathing.

Wait a second. If I try to stand with my toes and heels touching, then I can't lock my knees. I suspect it is because my bone structure has been altered by a lifetime of obesity. For a hot minute, I slipped out of obesity-land and into the much coveted and simpler overweight-land, but then I foolishly quit smoking and tipped the scale back into doctor's chart approved fattydom. Well, I live here now, so I better listen to my yoga teacher du jour and attempt to stare at myself for 90 minutes in tight clothing while sweating my ass off in a hot room full of people with normal BMIs. But I still can't get my toes and heels to touch without bending my knees, so I will settle on being the only person in the room who can't touch their toes and heels together.

Welcome to what I call my Bikram yoga nooner. I have successfully banked up enough time at my job to slip across the hallway and spend 90 minutes while wearing what essentially looks like a unitard while I bend, stretch and sweat myself into a positive state of mind. How the hell is that possible when I am surrounded by beautiful women with bodies that don't have fat rolls or cellulite? As well as someone on a pulpit yapping nonstop at me and telling me what to do with my fucking body. The nerve.

I have to work really hard at being OK with my fatness. It's a daily mantra for me, like it is for so many of us. I would say that it is pathetic that I have to consciously tell myself that I have worth, that I have a Master's degree (and that means something), that I am good at my job (I work at a rehab, you should hear my Xanax voice), that my husband enjoys having sex with me (even though I was 40 pounds lighter when he married me), and that I am a worthy human being. Fat shaming has really fucked me up.

I am actually embarrassed to see friends and family who have not seen me since I gained back the 40 pounds that now wake me up at night and tell me I am gross. Sadly, 50 pounds that have decidedly fucked off are silent, probably off eating the pizza I am coveting RIGHT NOW. It's clear, I struggle to find value in myself that is not weight related. But I make conscious attempts to love myself in spite of my nagging, shithead brain that tells me I suck 24-7.

But when I am doing Bikram yoga, that stupid voice shuts the hell up. While I am wearing tight clothes. While dreambods are barking yoga directions at me. While I am sweating my ass off and I want to die and I swear my PTSD is going to flare up and I will end up slapping people with my yoga mat until the class is done. When I leave that class, my brain is adjusted. I feel light and happy and free. I even strip and shower with all of my fat hanging out in front of other women in an affluent California city and frankly- do-not-give-a-damn-Scarlet what they think of my fat rolls. Fuck all if I am the daily anthropology exhibit. At least I showed up and did my best.

I started doing Bikram yoga in 2006 when I moved to Florida from New York. I started practicing normal yoga (a.k.a yoga in which you don't have to turn the room into a hot room of helldeath of 105 degrees) in 2002. That combined with other gym activities and an attempt to eat better helped me drop 90 pounds. Ninety pounds! Oh, I had found freedom. I was 5'2" and wearing a size 12, which was a longtime dream of mine. Men paid attention to me! I was complete! And by complete, I mean I did not hate myself ALL the time. Just most of the time. But I loved having a waist. Problem was I still smoked cigarettes, which helped me attain a waist that I could live with but might cause me to die of cancer.

So in 2008, I quit smoking. Now I am back to being a 200-pounder with raging self-esteem issues.

Point is that all this time, I kept doing yoga. My flexibility is awesome. My ability to manage my severely compromised mental health is incredible. I can cope with my own brain simply because I go into that oven and spend 90 minutes pushing myself, in spite of heat and humidity, to reach new goals. I forget my problems. I rise above panic attacks. I actually stop thinking and start doing.

After class, I chat with my yoga teacher, who is slender. I tell her that recently, I learned that I have been deceiving myself. I told myself that I couldn't do certain postures because my fat is in the way. And then I tell her that I have been lying to myself -- there is no fat in the way. It's just my mind and my self-hate getting in the way. I am perfect in my practice. It is yoga practice and not yoga perfect, right?

She rejoices with me. I am never too fat to be a gorgeous yogini, falling in love with what I see before me, even if it takes heat and hell to do it. At least I know how.

I feel like in those moments I can be grateful to have a body that is even capable of attempting yoga postures. I have a good body, a beautiful body, a body that I sometimes even love, that my husband loves, that keeps me healthy. And because of this yoga, I can stop fat-shaming myself, if only for a hot minute.