by Ali Valdez
For the majority of my life, I was an athlete, avid runner and at one point a gymnast. Four years a central forward soccer player, and the list goes on and on. But then I decided to get pregnant and although most of the pregnancy went well, it was one whose success relied heavily on the need to take growth hormones. 4:00am timed injections for months so that possibly one day I may be able to fashion myself into the role of mother. And as a result of those injections and other ailments that occurred in my pregnancy, I found that my body was somehow no longer my own. It represented a safe house for another growing, living being crafted by karmic design. Post pregnancy I was faced with a new reality: primarily that the taut body I once knew didn’t look the way it always had and now to be faced with the hard facts that nothing would ever be or look the same again. No more size 0 or size 2 days of my early twenties in Manhattan. I loved holding my baby more than anything in the world but passing the mirror made my heart shrink a bit.
And although if you had asked me I was never really one for vanity; nor was I one to need complements about my appearance. I was rolling into age forty and realized that I was actually quite vain because I had taken so many things like my health and form of my body for granted. It has been a rough few years being hyper critical relaying back to cruel messages reinforced by my father about some artificial and unrealistic sense of beauty and body ideal that accommodated a miniscule part of the population but never served me even at my fighting weight. It became hard as a yoga teacher to want to return to work. What would people say?
For the first time in my life, people’s opinions seemed to cause me angst and concern.
Eight years later and nothing in my body seems to change; the hand of time has done me few favors, and lack of sleep and long work days and travel probably are no allies taking their own tolls on the taxation of my daily life. It was especially daunting launching a yoga video channel to want to take time to film my own classes in lieu of others more fit in form. It was like every criticism from my father came to the fore, an incessant and vexing whisper in my ear.
The problem with filming my classes was not in a lack expertise or my own credibility. My concern was that somehow the credibility and legitimacy of my practice would somehow be in question by people because they might make a first impression based on my body type that would be contrary. I have always been short, stocky and very muscular. Now I definitely look like I have had a kid and some weeks I might look like I never even do yoga at all which is ironic because I commit to practice yoga almost daily.
In putting together the Sattva Yoga Channel I took a lot of joy being behind the scenes creating and structuring the wireframe, white-boarding in collaboration with developers, doing competitive analysis and thinking strategically long term about what the channel could be for myself, my teachers and the yoga community at large. And while all of these thing kept me busy and feeling important as a valid contributor, there was something markedly absent in how I was approaching this second baby of mine. Creating with love this channel has done more for me on a personal level than any of my other businesses or professional gains because primarily its ideation and incipience forces me to ask the question:
Why I don’t feel comfortable in front of the camera: this unforgiving, fault-finding aperture looking back at me?
Why I would rather learn a new craft such as videography in a few hour crash-course in lieu of all my other skills -yoga and philosophy- cultivated over a lifetime? How is learning something new in the middle of my life more pressing instead of having to be in front of a video monitor possibly criticized while people sit in the privacy of their own house and form judgments? I realize that this is unfair to me and also unfair to all those individuals that may stand to benefit from the richness of my teaching. I have been implementing these values and studying this topic for most of my life. I suspect I kind of know somewhat something about this practice. Also what limited thinking I have when I am in insecurity mode on not giving my audience the benefit of the doubt that they would welcome the teaching. This way of thinking wedges a limitation paradigm on everyone.
Sometimes I am disappointed that I cannot be more gentle and gracious to myself, a courtesy that I extend freely to my students and teachers I train and employ. I sometimes cannot figure out when people that don’t look like me that I think look beautiful are critical of their own bodies. For me, it just fundamentally makes no sense and yet here I am dishing out the same criticism to myself.
Can yoga and its increasing commercialization not fall prey to the trappings of Hollywood and media about unrealistic body ideals just because everything else goes down that rat trap? This is not a statement to criticize anybody who has taken advantage of their own body, beauty and sex to make a career, create a persona or just plain make a buck. People do it all the time and society is quick to give it a certain name. Either way, we just can’t seem to catch a break. But I find in yoga we should all take a pause, catch our breath and exercise a greater compassion.
Sometimes that source of compassion can only come from within and needs to be directed towards oneself.
So here I sit in a quaint small boutique hotel in the Cusco, Peru wondering what is it going to take when I get back from my trip to feel better about myself and get past these immature ideals about myself?
A long-time student, studio owner and teacher and I were having a conversation this week and my frustrations and own insecurities about my own body came up. This is a woman that I admire and respect, wise as she is and committed to the practice, telling me how inspirational and beautiful my practice and teachings are. It encouraged me to stop seeing my reality in the terms of my shape. She inspired me to write this and share my story although I have put its daemon off for months. She reminded me to take step away from the refraction of reality through my flawed ego and start listening to others more often, appreciating that cadre of women that have stood by me, encouraged and found useful application and joy in my teachings.
Each day is a process, humbly prodding along, growing up a little more along the way. The triggers in my ear taunting me along the way steadily diminishing and fading into the background.
We will see how it goes. I promise to keep you posted. For now, it’s lights, camera, ACTION!