I am at Hot Yoga.
I am looking in the mirror, focusing on just one point, as I am told.
Not at the point between my eyes, as I am told, but at a point lower, where things are black and indistinct, just near my waist. I focus my gaze there, that is a good point to gaze, I think, because it is just a patch of black, and indistinct.
The mirror is vast, and runs the entire length of the front of the room.
It is the cosmic mirror, they say, and there are many of us gazing into it. None of us look at each other, we are just aware. I try ever so hard to be present, to chase thoughts out of my head, but
of course, my gaze flickers around before I can still it. My vision briefly registers the presence of so many bodies. The one next to me, like all the other women, features a pale and slender waist, an uninterrupted stare. Today I note also that I am surrounded by men, which is unusual. We all begin, moving, just as we are told, as one entity, listening to the words, trying to join together mind, body, breathing.
When I first came, I couldn't look at the mirror at all. I hid behind others and stared at their reflection instead of mine, because I am the only person in this room who does not have a slim physique. My body rolls and pouts and sticks out at all angles and the bags beneath my eyes catch the light and make shadows. I began by staring at the reflection of the pretty girl next to me, and pretended I was her. At the end of the first week I was right behind a very gorgeous young lady, all in white, with her boyfriend. I am sure her poise was shaken when, in the middle of triangle pose, she let out a small, but distinct fart. I felt for her, but I laughed silently all the same. That's what farts are for, after all: laughing at.
She was mortified.
When I first came, I covered myself up with long tights and baggy tops but the heat was dreadful, and my whole body went into a kind of distress. All around me was pale, shining skin, sparkling with moisture from the infernal heat. Waves of panic invaded me from time to time as I stolidly enacted the motions, trying my best to balance, trying my best just to stay in the room, the heat was terrible: sweat flowed like rivers from my every limb, my face so red I looked like a scarlet jellyfish. The first time I went there was with my friend, The Little Hen, who was very good at yoga and I watched her from the corner of my eye, realising quickly that talking and looking were not permitted. I watched her stand on one leg and place her head on the knee of her outstretched other. She never wavered, though I could barely manage a few seconds on one leg, and stumbled repeatedly, sweat running into my eyes. I'd hoped this yoga might be a way of fixing my badly assembled skeleton, fixing my crooked little feet, making me straighter, but that first time I thought I would die and could not look in the mirror.
Next day I went back.
And the next. I was immediately hooked.
It would not defeat me, but I didn't look into the mirror for six months. It's been a year and a half now, and I am working my way to looking myself in the face.
Strange how you are so extreme, said Kath. You're either swimming in icy water or poaching yourself in that diabolical room. Can't be good for you.
Eija said: You look great, and I am coming too.
She did. She still does.
I am looking in the mirror, focusing on just one point.
The young man just ahead of me, to my right, wears small blue trunks, his hair in a ponytail and is just on the edge of my vision. A young girl is ahead of me, just to my left. Her ponytail is long and shining, her waist tiny, her tummy neat and flat. Directly ahead is me myself, in small shorts and a singlet, both black, my dimply tummy beneath, hidden, my lumpy physique looking just a touch more petite than usual, because this bit of the cosmic mirror is slightly concave.
I smile to myself: I am right at the front, gazing into the mirror, people all around me. We begin and everybody moves in time: breathing, stretching, bending. Names in sanskrit, instructions, the same every day. The words of the guru over and over, we enact the most strenuous of poses, compressing this, stretching that.
The first time I tried standing bow I fell and almost knocked someone over and had to stand side on to all the others and hold the ballet bar, because it was impossible to balance. I had to show my body what it might feel like if we ever got this right. Today I lean forward towards the cosmic mirror with one arm outstretched, my other arm behind me, holding my foot and drawing my it above my head: I am a bow. I pull my self taut and stand strong, and I hold this and breathe. I pull air into my lungs and hold my foot high above my head, willing my foot not to move. None of us fall.
I look into the mirror.
That's the thing: I look into the mirror.
I am the biggest woman here and I am looking into the mirror and my foot is as high over my head as the
beautiful girl with the ponytail. I stand perfectly still and taut, foot above my head, arm outstretched.
I used to see swimming in the icy sea in the winter dawn as a test, a challenge. I thought if I could do that, I could face anything, and I suppose I was right in many ways. It taught me that pain is brief and that everything is in the mind. The cold only lasts a minute and after that it's like a wonderful buzzing of the skin, a rushing of blood, blowing strings of air into the pale morning water and listening to the sounds.
I am looking in the mirror, thinking of cold water. I see myself, misshapen but cheerful, hopeful, looking back. I can hold my ankles and place my face onto the floor. I can bend backwards and almost see the floor, but most of all, I can look into the mirror. Soon, I will look into my own eyes. One day soon.
when I am finished I race down to the sea and throw myself in like a blob of molten lava.
The sea hisses.
The sea grips my scalp and flings my air about as I stay submerged, looking for a grip on the sea floor so I might hang head-down for hours, but there is only sand so I dive down and down and down until the sea has cooled my flaming cheeks. The sea does not know what to say about this, and keeps silent when I am on my long hauls through the water these days, though I do know that the sea has enough trouble at the moment with all the storms and the whale migration. There is so much to occupy a body of water at this time of year that I hadn't considered my steaming hot dumpling act would attract too much oceanic attention, but I still get a good slap on the head to remind me who's boss.
So, my small triumphs buoy me along. The sea in my hair, my gaze in the mirror. My faultless backstroke, my motionless Standing Bow.
I cannot help marvelling in the miracle of breathing. Of taking breath, and letting it go.
In, and out again, pulling air down into my body, where it travels through tiny branches into my blood, into the sea of me.
Of releasing great soft cushions of air at the bottom of the sea and watch them wobble upward until they break that quivering meniscus,
I am looking into the mirror and I am taking no notice of my fat little legs and the bags beneath my eyes. Instead, I luxuriate in the fact that i can stand here at all, and that I can breathe. I am looking into the cosmic mirror pulling air into myself.
in, out, in.