Against all of my instincts to avoid trying new things, I signed up for Yoga Book Club. I’d wanted to integrate yoga into my lifestyle for quite some time . . . I just didn’t know how to do yoga, exactly, and I also hate looking ridiculous. When my friend Michele created a Yoga Book Club, I knew this was my chance. The “book club” portion of it would keep me coming back, even if the yoga part was a disaster.
I bought my book and faithfully read the chapters, packed up the yoga mat I’ve had since college when I used to pretend to do Pilates, and arrived at the first yoga class I’d ever officially joined.
Yoga teacher Michele had a surprise for us. You see, we were reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s book Learning to Walk in the Dark, so after the discussion we prepared for the yoga practice.
In the dark.
There was hesitation in the room; but not for me. It was perfect, actually, because I didn’t have to worry about anyone else watching me fall over right out of tree-flower-whale pose or whatever thing into which we were supposed to bend, and this was as close as I’d come to fulfilling my dream of being invisible.
It was amazing. Do you know the amount of listening to your body you can do when there’s no one else to look at? Three minutes in I had decided this was the best thing I’d ever done–until we were supposed to lay flat on our backs, legs straight out, and put our heels down on the mat.
My heels touched the floor beyond the mat and I tried to scoot my head up towards the top to make more room, but I found I was already at the top of the mat.
I’m too big for this mat.
I tried to adjust and do a little knee bending to scrunch all my parts onto the mat, but it was impossible. We moved into plank position, and again my feet reached off my mat.
I’m too big for this mat.
The feeling was familiar.
I scolded myself for trying to insert my body into a tiny space yet again.
I’d never had the luxury of being small. Even when I was little, I wasn’t little. I lived a “back row of the picture, back row of the choir” sort of life because being front row would eliminate the others from the world’s view. I was always too big for the space around me.
I remember shoe shopping with my mom in sixth grade. I wore a size 11 in the women’s department and there weren’t a lot of sixth-grade appropriate shoes for such size. I had my pick of black tennis shoes, or white ones. And neither option was cute . . . very therapeutic and practical. I watched my mom rise up in her protective anger, asking why the store couldn’t carry shoes for all sizes in all varieties. Shopping for clothing was the same: in order to find items that fit, I had to order it in extended sizes instead of choosing something from the rack like the rest of the bodies around me.
Ah, I’m inconvenient, I realized.
I remember standing in a group of friends on the playground in elementary school and sticking out above the normal, average heights of my friends as they giggled about the boys across the court. I remember hunching down to try and hear the conversation and willed myself to be small as they all huddled together with secrets.
Too big to gather together–got it, I added to my lessons.
I remember sitting up straight in my desk chair feeling the eyes of the people behind me burning holes in the back of my head. I knew I was blocking them from seeing the board. I trained myself to sit on the edge of my chair and then lean back to appear smaller. Shrink down, I begged myself. Be small. I still find myself sitting at my desk or in a movie theater this same way out of habit, and I am forever hunching over instead of standing shoulders back.
I learned to arrive only at places and in ways where I wouldn’t take up all the space available to everyone else.
I followed many women who spoke strongly about being made to stay small by an oppressive society that pushes back on their growth and noise and space. I read their stories with empathy and felt their pain.
But the selfish, unevolved part of me envied them. What a luxury to be small. What a luxury to be unnoticed and un-obstructive in the world. What a luxury to float through a space without taking it all up. It seemed . . . well, luxurious.
A few yoga book clubs into the six-week session, a wise friend asked me what I was learning through yoga. “I’m learning I’m too big for standard yoga mats,” I joked.
He chuckled, and then put on his thinking face, which told me something good was coming. “What if you’re not too big?”
It was my turn to chuckle. “The world says otherwise,” I laughed.
His straight face. “What if you told the world, ‘This is just how much space I need to be me’?”
Impossible, I insisted. I wasn’t in the business of telling the world anything. I was already taking up a lot of its space, remember, and I didn’t want to make it angrier.
And then I found myself again on the yoga mat. Once again, too big. I struggled to match my breathing to the inhales and exhales of the practice because I was trying with everything in me to be smaller. I stretched my legs to the proper position and felt them reach past my mat. I scolded myself, like always.
And then we stood, spine straight, and extended our arms out in a giant circle until they met over our heads and brought them down to heart center. This is how much space I need to be me, I thought tentatively, as I swept my arms through the air.
The rush of tears behind my blindfold was instant and surprising. Another directive to inhale, and sweep our hands through the space around us. This is how much space I need to be me, I tried again. More tears.
We laid on our mats in Savasana, the resting pose, legs stretched out, arms relaxed to the side, and breathed. I inhaled the space I deserved to take up in the room, and exhaled the belief that I was taking too much. This is how much breath I need to be me.
We sat up, backs straight, and inhaled together. There was enough space and enough breath for me to fill my soul. We exhaled together into the room we shared, and still, there was enough space for me to empty my soul of what I no longer needed.
We took off our blindfolds. I wiped the tears from my cheeks and stood up. I stood taller than the others in the room, but I stayed tall. This was simply the amount of space I needed to be me.
I rolled up my mat, possibly for the last time.
I’m not done with yoga–in fact, I may be hooked for life.
I just know how much space I need to be me, and this particular yoga mat isn’t quite enough.
Kelly Cheney is an eigth-grade English teacher, mom of daughers, and major nail polish enthusiast. She would love to hear from you via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow her on Instagram @kncheney-as long as you’re strictly interested in pictures of aforementioned daughters and/or nail polish.