ghost stories

Posted by on Jan 24, 2014 in Blog | Comments Off on ghost stories

ghost stories

Last week I attended my first kettlebell class at Spirit Loft.  I was nervous beforehand because I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  In my head, it was categorized along with “personal training” and “gym” and “rock hard body”- not necessarily bad things, but to me, complicated things.  I rolled out my mat and moved through the class as best I could, working with appropriate level weights and doing my best to follow the technical body alignment cues.  It was sweaty and strong, but by all means a doable class for me.  What was interesting to me was that despite this, despite the appropriateness of the workout to my ability, I was struggling once it was all over.  I had that anxious feeling in the pit of my belly and drove home in something akin to sadness.  I felt emotions that one would feel after doing something they were ashamed of.  On the surface I could talk about how it was a good class, how the instructor, Andre, is well suited to lead a group through these movements, and how more strength training is a good thing for my body.  But behind the scenes lurked a shadow I hadn’t seen for a long time, and her darkness was full in the hips.

I talk pretty openly about how I wasn’t a sporty kid, how I grew up more interested in music and reading than kicking a ball or running with friends.  I was also a chubby kid.  I don’t remember being teased too much about it in elementary school, but I do remember already believing that the cute boys would like me more if I could only lose a few more pounds.  I do remember trying Weight Watchers with my dad when I was 9, drinking water with lemon juice in it, and taking a power walk around the block after dinner.  I remember wearing those huge t-shirts to cover my body at the beach.  Even in the water.  I remember the “don’t run too fast, you might start a fire” comments about my thighs.  And I do remember the insane complexities of Gr. 9, of trying to fit in and make new friends, of being in gym class with girls of all kinds of abilities, knowing that I had no real knowledge or skill to take part.  I put on a shroud of attitude and walked the cross country path.  I kicked up my sense of humour to tease myself before others stepped up to do so for me.  And it worked for the most part.  I made it through early high school with only a few unkind remarks- and none were in gym class.

By late high school I had thinned out and had somewhat mastered the art of selective eating.  I was more interested in music and guys and no longer felt the need to be sporty to fit in.  I started playing guitar and went to concerts, wrote short stories and poetry, drew, died my hair black and went thrift shopping, and all but completely ignored the fact that I was living in a physical body that needed exercise and attention- and nutrition.  There were cigarettes, too much beer and alcohol.  Drugs.  A lot of parties.  I had a body that looked a bit more like the one I had yearned for in the earlier years, but was still miserable.  I felt fat at 118lbs, combat pants hanging off of my body.  I felt fat in my bathing suit, hip bones jutting out.  But I had never learned a way to be friends with movement, with exercise.  So I maintained what I had achieved in all of the artsy badass ways I had practiced in high school.

In university I found myself needing to ride my bike in the summers to my job at the library. It felt great to move quietly and quickly among the tree-lined streets of the suburbs.  It also felt great to stand strong on my legs.  I remember suddenly noticing definition along the sides of my thighs after a summer of biking, and realizing I had never seen a muscle line on my body before.  In the winter I started Aquafit with a friend at Western, using my time between classes to shake it with the older ladies.  Eventually school and boy dramas got more intense, and I used my extra time instead to study at the library or drink more beer at the university bar.  I fell back into neglect like it was a soft slipper.

It wasn’t until I was knee deep in the anxiety and inferiority complex so characteristic of grad school that I realized I needed to do something.  My perfectionist neuroses were never happy enough to settle on school, and I found them creeping deeper and deeper into disordered eating.  Turning to yoga was similar to a rock bottom attempt to escape my weather-worn patterns of dysfunction.  The exercise aspect was necessary.  The mind-quieting aspect was necessary.  Eventually I sought refuge in the studio, moving with my breath week after week, still deep in battle with my body but a bit more willing to cooperate with my mind.

Over the last few years my yoga practice has become consistently stronger.  I’m enthused when I’m carried to challenging places in class.  I love being surprised as more advanced poses are offered, and I love experiencing breakthroughs in my own practice.  I love repetitive, sweaty vinyasas.  Handstand holds are longer away from the wall, abdominal exercises are done with a greater ease, squats are a happy place.  I lunge and lunge and lunge, and stand strong on my mat.  But I slip on jeans and they feel tighter in the legs and my heart sinks.  Having never known what a strong body feels like in clothing, I’m simply reminded of what a chubby one felt like, and the storm waters come flooding back.

My emotional reaction to the kettlebell class surprised me.  I would have expected it years ago, the anxious girl, the out of place feeling, the fear of ridicule.  But I would have never thought that now, all these years later, with such a consistent athletic yoga practice, I would still have to deal with them.  I have often talked to my classes about the importance of letting go of your narrative.  The story of your past is just that- the past.  We cling on to patterns we understand, patterns that may very well be destructive and regressive.  The story of what happened to you growing up, the abandonment or the betrayal or the ridicule.  It’s like in those traumatic times we busy ourselves by knitting a hairshirt, and then unwittingly decide that we must go through life wearing it even though it scratches and causes us pain.  It needs to come off.  I think that we as humans like to tell stories so that we feel we really have a grasp on ourselves as distinct identities- if we aren’t a collection of our stories or our experiences, then what are we?  I have no idea.  But I do know that insisting on seeing the world in front of you, the life in your future, from the eyes of who you were at some other time makes no sense.  Stepping out of the studio into the freezing cold January night feeling like a (confused) fat outsider was a wakeup call.  I am not my stories.  I am not now the person I remember that I was.  And it’s not because I’m no longer out of shape or chubby.  It’s because the other experiences I’ve had have led me away from her to here.  I’ve got to be done with all of that crap; no one deserves to be repeatedly dragged through old garbage, by themselves, no less.

Yesterday I did the only thing I could think of to make myself feel better about what made me feel so bad.  I went back.  That’s the thing about ghost stories; when you stop sitting around the campfire telling them to yourself, you’re not so afraid to turn out the lights.  We did Turkish Get-ups, by the way.  Kick ass.

All content by Lisa Veronese. Please do not publish or copy my material without my consent.