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Lions Roar : July 2013
43 SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2013 we are suicidal. We shake our head. He doesn’t believe us. Why should he? Look at us. Look at the fat hanging over the chair. Look at our cheeks, our chins. He signs a prescription pad and then puts a hand on our shoulder. “Try this,” he says. “Cut out a picture of a body you admire—a celebrity, perhaps, an ath- lete—and paste your face to it. Hang it up so you look at it each day. Believe in the power of the mind.” We nod. We say this is a great idea. We thank him for his services. Outside the sun beats on us, and it is then we remember a yoga pose: sun salutation, a series of twelve moves, consisting of lunging and bending and arching. We never got it right, but it didn’t matter. The point was we made Body move. We made him realize he could be a flexible vessel, even when our sweat dripped onto the mat, even when our legs trembled, even when our stomach got in the way. I’m not saying this was the moment we decided we would try again. I’m not saying we went home and did not eat a moun- tain of rice. We ate. I’m not saying we decided not to watch TV and opted for a walk instead. We watched. But something curi- ous happened that day. We took the doctor’s advice but modi- fied it. We took the body we envied—actor Brad Pitt’s—and cut out Brad’s head and put it on our body. And now Brad Sukrungruang was doing the sun salutation. And now he was downward dogging. And now he was doing a headstand and realized what gravity does with fat. We laughed. Outside the doc- tor’s office, in the summer heat, that laughter sounded foreign from our mouth, but familiar, like the word love spoken in a dif- ferent language. ODY SAYS, “ENOUGH. I’ve got things to say, too.” Body says, “First, never again eat Nacho Cheese Pretzel Combos.” He reminds me of that day when we were in first grade and our mother bought them for the first time—such an ingenious con- cept, she thought, a tubular pretzel with cheese in the center— and we kept shoving our hands in the bag and popping them into our mouth. Body says, “Would it hurt to eat something green?” Body knows that when I look in the mirror, I cringe. When Body looks in the mirror, Body sees a boy who still doesn’t understand limits, who insists on treating Body as if he were expendable. Body knows that I am looking to point a finger. This whole essay seems to be an invective against him. He understands it’s easy to place blame, to put words in Body’s mouth. Body wants to wrap his arm around me, push me into his flesh, two softnesses merging, melding. Body wants to whisper apologies. Instead, Body says, “I am not to blame. I am only a body.” Body says, “It’s time we stop talking.” Body says, “We need to make this work.” Body says, “It’s time.” DON’T KNOW what prompted it. I woke one day in the fall, and instead of finding my spot on the couch, I got into the car, drove three miles east, and found myself in front of a gym. I didn’t hesitate like I had been doing for months, years, talking myself out it, spinning and spinning my wheels. Perhaps it was the doctor and the diabetes and my wife and family. Perhaps it was vanity—pure vanity— because I would give anything to be skinny just once, to be lithe and bendable like Howard the yoga instructor. Perhaps—and this might be the ironic part—perhaps it was my body that prompted change. Whatever it was, I was in a gym. I was taking aerobic classes. I was losing. Parts of me. Chunks of me. In a year, I lost over a hundred pounds. I found myself in the yoga studio again. There was a noticeable change in my body. Not just the weight and heft of it, not just the space I occupied. This was a change that affected the air I took in. Before she leads us into our first pose, Maria, my new yoga instructor, tells the class to breathe deeply. She says we should prepare our bodies. My mat is in the front of the room. I sit, legs crossed, in baggy basketball shorts and a baseball cap. I take in air through my nostrils. My eyes are closed. I feel the air fill the inner cavity of my nose, feel it spread to every region of my body, down to the tips of my toes. I feel it enter my belly, a cool swirl like a tender wind. I take five breaths and open my eyes. The world appears brighter. Visually stunning, as if a gray film has been lifted from my eyes. I hold on to this moment for as long as I can. I keep breathing—oh the joy of breathing!—and open my eyes to a feast of color. The world has moved, and I understand, only for this moment, that I am connected to it. I understand that you can’t separate mind and body and spirit, that they act in conjunction with one another. Then I realize I am becoming New Agey, and the thought makes me self-con- scious, and I am back to hating myself. But I’m allowing for this. I’m allowing for vulnerability. I’m allowing for sadness. You can’t stop it, but you can understand it. Maria stands. I stand. She lifts her right foot. I lift mine. She places it against the other leg. So do I. And then we raise our arms straight into the air, lengthening our spine, opening our chests, our hearts, letting our fingers grow like branches. “Hold that pose,” she says. “Feel how rooted you are to the Earth.” I do. I am a tree, for this moment, standing against a hard wind, knowing I will shake and tremble but not fall. ♦ I B