The word came to me like so many breaths of inspiration do lately: on a yoga mat.
“Set a soft intention,” said the voice at the front of the room.
Gentle, said the voice at the front of my skull.
I was a little taken aback. When I was angry and weepy in my therapist’s dark office, she would say, “Be gentle with yourself” and I’d snarl back at her, “I’m not breakable!”
My ferocity didn’t even ruffle her hair. “Of course you’re not.”
But deep down, I felt breakable and I hated it.
That was spring. I feel less breakable now. It’s partly because I’m sturdier physically. I weigh [_] pounds more than I did then. [_] is not a lot in the grand scheme of body sizes, but it’s enough that my beautifully tailored “date night” dress is uncomfortably snug.
It goes on, I can zip it, but I look “shrink-wrapped,” as my mother says of too-tight clothing.
I used to say, “I won’t be gentle with myself, but I’ll be kind.”
Unfortunately, my self-kindness easily veers into cruel-to-be-kind, emphasis on the cruel.
Or, you know, unkind.
But the gentle that came up for me recently was not therapy-gentle. It wasn’t the gentle I hear myself using with preschoolers as they reach for a ceramic keepsake or a new baby, a little patronizing, stretched like caramel: “Gennntle…Gennntle touch.”
No. This was a different gentle. It was a refusal to push and pull myself. A refusal to let it my body hurt, to do movements (and later, eat foods) I hate because they’re the “right” ones, the “best” ones, or the “good” ones.
This was the gentle of treating my body like the animal it is. To let it expand out, be soft, and feel good.
In recent pictures of myself, I see those [_] pounds. I see the places where fat and fluid have “puffed” me up, places where I’m filled out, convex. Soft.
And I remember a bit from Carrot Quinn’s memoir, Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart. She’s cuddling with a fellow hiker:
“Here is so soft,” he says, touching my hip. He strokes my quads. “And here is like a rock.”
“I’m a girl,” I say. “Parts of me are soft.”
That line has stuck in my head so firmly. I’m a girl…Parts of me are soft.
I’ve been push-pulling against the soft-animal-girl-ness of my body my entire life. I’ve questioned everything about it, and I’ve been so damned hard on myself.
What if [_] more pounds on my frame is all right? What if it’s exactly right?
I’ve learned to appreciate and love my menstrual cycle. Having a period used to be a huge source of shame, but I genuinely love having my period now. I love that feedback from my body that the beautiful animal machinery inside is running smoothly. It was a rocky, winding path to get to that emotional point, but I got there.
The challenge now is to trust that I will get to a place where being [_] pounds heavier than part of me still thinks I “should” be is no longer shameful. Trusting that I can fall in love with my body’s softness.
The only way to reach that place is by being gentle.