Updated: May 11, 2022
It’s Valentine’s Day, and Risha greets us all at the door with a cup of warm cacao. As I whip off my socks and head to my mat, she pulls some freshly-baked snickerdoodles out of the little oven in the hall kitchenette and the smell of cinnamon soon blankets the space. This sure feels like love, I think to myself.
As the usual pre-class conversations fill the room, my focus drifts to the feeling of my leggings cutting uncomfortably into my waist and I’m momentarily filled with anger at my body, my unruly, messed-up body that is stubbornly holding on to the extra weight of pregnancy. I have whiplash from how quickly I oscillate back and forth between days of fierce and vocal opposition to the “bounce-back” expectation of moms in my generation, to the next day where I grab up handfuls of my expanded skin, fists shaking, wishing I could slip right out of it, like an ill-fitting garment.
Surrendering to comfort, I roll my leggings down releasing my deflated and misbehaving belly. I eat another snickerdoodle. We take our first posture for tonight’s practice.
To frame our practice, Risha talks about love, it's many iterations and its many manifestations. “I don’t know if any of you are spiritual, but is everyone familiar with Corinthians 13?” she asks. After a moment of silence, I recite “love is patient, love is kind…” and then Risha reads the rest of the passage aloud to our class. I hear the familiar words, the preferred reading at every wedding celebration I’ve been to in recent memory, but this time my brain pushes back against them. Sure, I get that you love another person that way, but what does it look like to love yourself that way?
Love is patient.
We take our arms up overhead and stretch to the left, and I feel my old shoulder injury catch like a busted door hinge—shit, I am SO sick of this—I think. I’ve done the physical therapy, I’ve gotten the steroid shots, I am here in yoga trying to strengthen these muscles and this isn’t getting any better! Am I going to have to deal with this forever?!? I take a breath, exhale, and try to stretch a little deeper. My fingers are able to creep one millimeter further along the ground. For today, I’ll take it.
Love is kind.
I feel like I have not been kind to my body these past two years. While it has definitely seen some shit during that time (having to get a pacemaker, our battle with infertility, IVF, childbirth), I should have been more grateful for the days that it worked just fine. A few years ago, I read in a book that you should never say or think anything to yourself when looking in a mirror that you wouldn’t say, out loud, to your best friend. Honestly, if I said half the things I think to myself out loud to another human being, I would probably have zero friends. I work on it. I know that if I can’t be kind to myself, then any kindness I show to others is theatre, nothing more.
It does not envy, it does not boast—
We take our first down-dog, and I have a small panic that I haven’t shaved my armpits recently—but thankfully, Risha purposefully omits mirrors from her studio, so I can’t frantically crane my neck around to check the status of my pit-hair. I remember other studios I’ve attended with floor-to-ceiling mirrors, where I was so tempted to compare the arch of my back, the height of my leg-lift, to the other women around me. This pulled my focus so far from my own body, and I’m grateful for the lack of temptation at Selah. At least I put deodorant on before class. That’s as good as it’s going to get today, people!
It is not proud.
This one’s easy—I just birthed a HUMAN! It’s about one of the only things that I can be unabashedly proud of regarding my body these days. As we arch slowly into camel pose, thrusting our hearts out like statues of medieval martyrs, I think about “good” pride versus “bad” pride; pride is defined as “a feeling deep pleasure or satisfaction as a result of one's own achievements, qualities, or possessions or those of someone with whom one is closely associated.” Well, if that’s pride, then yes, my love is proud. And maybe that’s ok, for now.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking—
Can practicing self-love ever be viewed as not “self-seeking”? In many ways, practicing self-love, choosing to prioritize one’s self so that you can attend to your heart, mind, body, and spirit in a meaningful way, is inherently inward-looking. I’ve been struggling a lot since having a baby with feeling guilty for not answering texts from friends, not always showing up for my family in the ways that I want to, not being mentally present or “fun” enough with my husband some days. Some days, self-care feels really self-ISH; going to bed at 8:30pm even though the sink is still full of dishes. Silencing a call from someone I made a phone date with because I totally forgot about it, and I just… can’t. How do you love yourself with the same intensity that you love others, that love that is so self-LESS? I’m going to keep thinking on that. We come out of a low lunge and I feel my hamstring twinge.
It is not easily angered.
I’m just going to say it—postpartum hormones are some serious shit. I have never felt the arbitrary flare of anger blaze up inside of me like I have since giving birth. And it is always toward myself. That I didn’t do something well enough. That I forgot a bill and threw off our monthly finances. That I had a bowl of ice cream and went to bed feeling like I made another bad choice for my body. That I left the baby too long in a dirty diaper. How dare you, I chastise myself.
I don’t know from what dark corner of my insides I’ve summoned up this hateful voice, but it is daily work to put it back in its place. To shut down its incendiary bullshit. I know its malice has nothing to do with love, and it’s going to take, as Risha says “a whole lot of compassion and grace” to quell it. I know love is louder. I just need to tune my ear to it, like a crisp, plucked string. Aaaaaaaaand also make sure I keep taking my Zoloft.
It keeps no record of wrongs.
Damn, I used to be able to get my arms so much higher in Humble Warrior… I literally feel like my shoulders are filled with concrete. What the hell.
The whole “keeping no record of wrongs” thing… I’m working on that one too. (See above.)
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
“Truth” is so subjective, but when we come to practice yoga at Selah, we are encouraged to live and exist in our own truth. Nothing that has to be justified to anyone else, just simply what we bring to the mat on that day, in that hour, in that particular moment. And sometimes I bring love for my body with me, and sometimes I don’t. But maybe that’s ok, as long as I’m rejoicing in that truth. As long as I’m marinating in that truth, and letting it wash over me. To love my body is to say, you are what you are right now, in this moment, and that’s enough for me.
FACT: I am breathing. Rejoice.
FACT: My heart is beating. Rejoice.
FACT: I am here in the company of other women, ministering to my body. Rejoice, indeed.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes—
I am face-down and carefully spiraling my leg up into the air for three-legged dog—protecting my lower spine by engaging my struggling lower abdominals with all my might. I am trusting that if I hold my leg up for a few more seconds, my wrists will not capsize and send me face planting into the mat. I am hoping that all of this work, physical work and heart-work, will help me fall in love with my body again. Protect, trust, hope, repeat. Exhale.
Always perseveres. Love never fails.
I’m laying nearly comatose in Savasana and reflecting on the last phrase of that Corinthians passage… okay, so “love never fails”, but what if I fail? Last summer when my heart stopped suddenly due to a previously undiagnosed condition, my body literally failed for 6 seconds. These past few months when I chose to have an extra glass of wine or eat a slice of cake for breakfast to counteract the sheer exhaustion and stress of being a new parent, that felt like failing. Having to size up every pair of jeans I own felt like failing.
But the look in my daughter’s eyes when she opens them first thing in the morning and sees me leaning over her crib, that feels like nothing but love. My husband’s sure hand on the small of my back herding me away from the heaping pile of dirty onesies and bras over to the couch to rest, that feels like love. This all-over warmth settling into my muscles and bones after a great yoga practice—that feels like love. And those are the things you can count on. Unable to be earned, just given from the universe without expectation. So, for this Valentine’s Day, I’ll cling to that. Also, when I get home, I’m burning these too-tight, pre-baby leggings in the driveway. And I will absolutely grab two more of Risha’s cookies on my way back to my car.
Amanda Wilkinson holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Hollins University where she was the recipient of a Jackson Fellowship and a Teaching Fellowship. She is the recipient of the Gertrude Claytor Prize in Poetry from the Academy of American Poets, and her poetry has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her poems have been published on Poets.org, in The Journal of American Poetry, Foundry, Flock, The Sycamore Review, Sugar House Review, Silver Birch Press, and The New Territory, among others. Her essays have appeared in AAAA Magazine and The Morning News, and she sits on the Board of Directors for Ruminate magazine.
In addition to writing poetry and nonfiction, Amanda is a results-driven, creative professional with a proven track record of creating revenue-generating content for a variety of nonprofit organizations. Her passion for telling the stories of diverse organizations (theatre, education, literary, etc.) allows her to craft unique, human-centric content that motivates and engages constituents. She is currently the Assistant Director of Development, Annual Fund & Parent Programs at Whitfield School in St. Louis where she lives with her husband and daughter. Little Human Relics is her first book.