My perception on beauty has changed throughout the years. Like every women I know, we go through periodic changes mentally and physically. I use to tell myself that if I was a certain size or if I dressed a certain way, I would feel good about myself. Or at least that was the case when you grow up with Kardashians, werewolves and vampires, and Myspace. (oh yeah, do ya’ll remember when Myspace was this shizz-nizz.)
When I hit puberty and my body began to mold into its own shape, I would cry to my mother over the size of my hips and thighs and scold her for not giving me her thin-figured genes. As I entered my adolescence, I was introduced into two polar worlds: Feminism and High School. The reason why I saw these two distinctively was because I noticed, or at least from my experience, there was no common ground for a fifteen year old feminist in highly predominate Hispanic high school. It was difficult to want to believe that men and women were the same, when you could see the machismo in the young men who walked the hallways of my school. And it was hard to feel pretty and confident, when you didn’t dress a certain way that appealed to the attention of a certain audience. But somewhere between, I didn’t feel healthy physically and my academic success, I figured the hell with beauty and its complicated definitions.
I related to Melanie Klein’s memior, “How yoga makes you pretty: The Beauty Myth, Yoga and Me”, as I read through her own struggles with finding beauty in herself.
” I spent most of my life waging a war on it. I have vivid girlhood memories of my worth being measured by my waist size and numbers on a scale. Time and Time again, I was taught that I must “suffer to be beautiful,” a mantra often offered to me as I winced in pain as my pigtails were pulled too tight.”
Her words brought me back to a time, when I foolishly use to document my weight gains and losses inside my diary. I laughed as she described her long ancestry of women who belonged to this “lineage” of body hatred and how this legacy was the common tale for all women who were held back by eating disorders, continuous exercise, and abusive fat talks. Then she shined a light on the dark reality of the idea of being “pretty” and it’s unrealistic and unhealthy correlation to success and happiness. It was harsh to read, but it was all so true. For I too am one of those women, who although has come a long way from believing that looking like a Holister model is the way to life, I still shame myself after not going to the gym or indulging into some ice cream when hanging out with my girlfriends.
When I arrived into the Corepower, on 1539 E 53rd St, Chicago, IL 60615, I was captivated by the luxurious atmosphere of the studio. Everything was so clean and polished and the men and women that gracefully walked around the studio looked fit and posh. The cynical part of me thought to myself, “Funny how all these people are soaking up their fresh showers and expensive memberships, while Englewood, just one neighborhood way, drowns in its own sh..” But I snapped out of my own bitter gaze, as one of my classmates nudged at my shoulder directing me into our studio room.
The room was beaming with sunlight, as one side of the room was an outside view of the metropolitan street of Hyde Park, as the other side reflected the studio and sunlight shined through it’s mirrors. The room was breathe taking, and very warm. Today we were introduced to Power yoga. Power yoga is a form of Vinyasa yoga, in which movement is synchronized to the breath. But it specifically emphasizes on strength and flexibility of the student. In most cases, this type of yoga is considered more as a work out. In Melanie’s story, she tells us of when she was introduced to power yoga in the late nineties. ” Power yoga left me feeling physically and mentally challenged, exhausted and fabulous. It was 1997, and I had landed in the company of an eclectic group of yogis led by the sometime delightfully inappropriate and absolutely authentic Bryan Kest.” Bryan Kest is one of the two often credited with the near invention of power yoga. She explains how Kest became her teacher, who guided her into her new perception in body imaging. She explains how he would command her into being “with the reality of the moment and detaching from the artificial images in our minds.”
A few minutes past and our instructor arrived. She was a fit and toned young lady, one that you see on the cover of a yoga magazine. In a very modest tone of voice, she welcomed our class and immediately told use to let go of any dismissive feelings. “Today you will invoke into your own journeys and let your body’s natural flow flourish.” She walked towards the iPod connection that stood on the wall, and melodiously the sounds of Stevie Nick’s voice transcended through the speakers. This immediately relaxed me. Anything that had to do with Fleetwood Mac, sent me into a translucent state of mind. We began in a Chaturanga Dandasana= four limbs, staff (refers to the spine, the central “staff” or support of the body) pose. We went from laying in our stomach with our heads facing forward, to a plank, to downward faced dog, to a half way up our bodies pose. This then transitioned to an extended side angle pose, which stretches the entire side of the body; strengthens the back and legs; and relieves stiffness in the hips and backs of the thighs.
Then we’d repeat the Chaturanga Dandasana pose, and next followed the Crescent Lunge, which draws your right hip forward and left hip back to bring your hips into alignment. Then you would stack your left knee over your left ankle. Once you’re balanced, you would lift your arms up alongside the ears, reaching your upper torso up and back slightly while keeping your hips low. Then we would repeat this on the left side.
And although my favorite “relaxation” band played in the background, I was getting my butt kicked in a sequence of body shifting positions. And to add on to the work out, the room temperature increased. You could feel the intertwine sensations of body heat and mental focus as the instructor encouraged us to push our bodies a little more as we stretched from one way to another. It was tough, but I loved every minute of it. As I looked in the mirror and noticed sweat dripping down my face, I fell in love with the flow of my body, as it shifted poses alongside my fellow yogis. Something about the feeling of letting go of my inner inhibitions and my unstained focus, made me feel empowered, and even as I could see my barefaced, dripping with sweat, I felt good. I fell in love with myself in way I never had before. I was amazed by how my body was moving, and I found a new kind of beauty inside me.
In the book Melanie shares a similar experience too as she states,
Gazing up at my legs, glistening with seat in shoulder-stand, i realize that for the first time since early childhood i wasn’t searching for signs of imperfection. I wasn’t scrutinizing every inch of my body in search of flaws… within a year, my yoga practice was able to unravel years of social conditioning and begin to replace it with a message of acceptance and love.
And as the class ended, and I sat in with my legs crossed, the instructor recited a poem, which seemly was the perfect way to end the class. Liberated, I walked out of class with the biggest sense of self confidence and radiance I had felt in years, and I as waited for my bus; no make up, sweaty yoga mat and clothes, I was feeling the pretties I have ever felt. Today I had let go of my fear to be one with myself; bare and self aware. And I wasn’t afraid of anyone seeing me like this. Perhaps its was the sunny weather that afternoon, but I felt radiant, and nothing was going to rain on my parade of self confidence.