I had one photographer tell me I had a crazy eyebrow. I had another say it was a shame I had such troubled skin. Still another pointed out that my nose was off-center and that I should be aware of this when on a shoot. I once had a director have me take off my shoes in an audition. He declared I was too tall in the average character shoe worn by every musical theatre professional across the world. I stood there barefoot singing my heart out to, “Without You,” from MY FAIR LADY feeling completely vulnerable and exposed in my dance tights.
When I made the change from blonde to brunette, I had a casting director tell me after twenty agonizing minutes in which he flipped through my rep book to have me sing whatever hit his fancy in that moment that he never thought I could pull that hair color off, but he liked it. This was towards the end of my eleven year stretch in the entertainment industry. I simply replied to him a smiling, glittering eyed, “Thank you,” while my mind raced with the thought, “Good God, like I care whether you like my hair. I’m a lot more than the color of my stupid hair,” and tried like mad not to roll my eyes at the backhanded compliment.
See at that moment something had definitely changed. Before this, I took all of these people with me throughout the day. I would stare at my crazy eyebrowed, troubled skinned, off-center nosed, too tall reflection day after day and sigh at the imperfections that were keeping me from living the life of my dreams. “If only I was different,” I would think.
But at this moment I felt empowered. I loved myself more than I loved my career. I loved myself more than that man’s opinion of the color of my hair. Life held much more than this.
I stormed out the of the Actor’s Equity Building in downtown Chicago with a fierce click of my heels and a knowing smirk of defiance on my lips. I could really care less whether that casting director ever dialed my number. And maybe that’s when I knew I was moving on. To what? I don’t think I knew, but definitely on.
I had made the transition from thinking about everything that was quote on quote “wrong” with me to concentrating on everything that was right. I now knew that my eyebrow that arches too high, and the slant of my nose to the left, the somewhat blotchy skin and the long legs were in essence what came together to uniquely make me. And I no longer wanted to try and be somebody else. In other the words, the yoga was kicking in.
As I stared at myself day after day in the mirrors at the yoga studio, my thought process had altered. I started cultivating gratitude for the life and the body I had been given. I started to realize it didn’t really matter what others thought of me, but what ultimately mattered was what I thought of myself.
This year at the Bikram Yoga Women’s Retreat I was fortunate enough to attend Emmy Cleaves’ Posture Clinic. For those of you who may not know, Emmy is Bikram Yoga’s most senior teacher. Her experience with the yoga and the years she’s dedicated herself to the practice give her a wealth of knowledge that is nothing short of inspiring. This posture clinic was an opportunity for anyone in attendance to get in front of Emmy and ask her what she thought of a specific posture. One by one women of all ages and sizes stood before Emmy and got into different postures waiting for the adjustment that would change their practice or their lives. As each woman greeted her they would quietly mumble whatever was wrong with them at the moment. “My hips are a mess, just so you know.” “I have a slipped disk on L5.” “I had knee surgery on my left knee last year. I just wanted you to know.” “I tore my rotator cuff a couple of years ago and it never really healed correctly. I hope you don’t mind.” We went through hours of this stuff.
And then Emmy, at 86 years of age, stopped the whole show. “I don’t want to hear what’s wrong with you anymore. Let the posture tell me. You need to cultivate an attitude of gratitude for where your body is today. Your body is listening to you. Don’t keep telling it what’s wrong with it. You are just reinforcing the injury.”
I’m not sure this moment affected everyone the way that it affected me. My eyes instantly smarted and I got a little choked up, for this is exactly what I wish for every person on this planet, including myself. But it also hit me like a ton of bricks. I still had such a long way to go on this journey.
I might be able to look in the mirror and no longer criticize my face or my body, but I do walk around thinking about my out-of-whack left hip. I can have an amazing class, but as I walk past the teacher to the changing room comment on how my hip was clicking through the whole 90-minute session or gosh it just throbs today. I was still carrying my old dance injury around with me and almost every day reinforcing it’s place in my body with each and every negative thought towards it.
And in this moment I realized I was in control. What if I changed this thought pattern? Why not concentrate on the classes in which my hip felt great? Or even just think about everything that is working so obviously right in my body?
Over the past couple of weeks since the retreat I’ve done just that and though my hip is still a little whack-a-doodle at times I don’t put my energy there and therefore, I’m in a place of healing instead of injury. This does not mean that you don’t take care of yourself or decide to not let your yoga teacher know what’s going on with you. We want to know what your issues are, so we can further assist you. What it does mean is that as soon as you hit the studio doors you open yourself up to the possibility that you are here to heal yourself and that it can happen.
Just last week I had students tell me they no longer feel back pain after just a couple of months of practice, that their weak ankles are stronger, that they lost thirty pounds since March, that they haven’t had any allergy problems this year, that they were able to go running again after years of dealing with bad knees. And this was just what I heard in one week. The yoga can heal, but you need to change the conversation in your head and accept the body you have today, so that the body you have in the future is one that can carry you into the life you’ve been dreaming about
Healing thoughts, positive affirmations, and patience will see you through. It’s time to move forward. It’s time to move on. To where? Who knows? But definitely on.