The Art of Sweaty, Messy, Radical Self Acceptance

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In 2011, I was introduced to hot yoga. Though I wasn’t new to yoga, I was sure I was going to hate it. A ridiculously hot, sweaty, smelly room with strangers for an hour and a half in 105 degree heat? No thanks. But with some encouragement and the idea of getting out toxins and old emotional baggage through sweat and hard work, I agreed. After I survived my first class, I was curiously hooked. As a person who it takes a 90 degree day to even break a sweat, I had a release in my body I hadn’t felt in a long while. The endorphin rush I imagined that runners got - maybe I’d found it! The strength and focus required to hold and move through the poses in the excruciating heat and humidity reminded me of my days dancing and rehearsing in hot, unairconditioned downtown NYC dance studios in August….and suddenly I’d found my THING. What I didn’t expect though, was the wild transformation process that my new physical endeavor would initiate.

Something happened when I had to stare at myself with single-minded focus and meditation in a mirror for an hour and a half. Every class, it was like I was seeing and hearing myself multiplied. No, it wasn’t just the heat making me see double… There I was. And there I was. And there I was. Everywhere I turned, I couldn’t escape myself and all of the inner critics who shouted at me. “Her body’s so much fitter.” “Ugh…my stomach fat bunches over when I bend.” “You’ll never do that pose.” “Why isn’t my leg going higher?” “I’m too weak to hold that…” and on and on….

The compare and despair would start and a rant of self-hating dialog would ensue. I would continue to try to put blinders on and stare at myself, but it’s really hard to do anything difficult very well when your inner voices are shouting at you about how gross, ugly and horrible you are. I’d get half way into a pose and then if my inner voices turned on me, I’d fall over. Again and again. The sweat dripped from places I didn’t even know I had sweat glands. I got really gross, down and dirty with my mess of a self. And it was THERE> that place when I was lying on the mat, holding still, while sweat was streaming off my stomach and down my back that I learned how to surrender. How to just be. With my purple face, tear burned eyes, broken heart and fear of the unknown, I kept going from this place. I slowly experimented with giving myself compliments and replacing the negative voices with encouraging ones, little by little.

The reason I’m writing this personal story is though your path to a transformation or self acceptance may not be through hot yoga, I want to draw your attention to possibly recognizing it happening through another form of TAPAS according to Patanjali’s Niyamas in yogic tradition (not the spicy Spanish food served in small plates!) - which means going through the HEAT of something challenging and difficult that leads to a purification or deep transformation. For me, the tapas of hot yoga made me first confront myself inside and out- and all the pieces I did not like or was afraid of - the sweaty, messy, ugly, imperfect, weak, dark, broken, jealous, and angry places that I tried desperately to hide from myself and others. By facing that fire head-on, I had to absorb and take in all of these pieces of what makes me, ME. Whole, not broken. Yes, it was painful, yes, it totally sucked and three classes out of four I had tears streaming down my face along with the sweat. I got support. I knew I couldn’t finish what I started alone. I went through the heat with myself in order to reach more self acceptance, which was really just a homecoming, a true seeing of the person who was always there, underneath all the mind chatter and negative inner critic self-talk.

Once the internal transformation was started, I felt freer, more open, lighter. Like chipping away at layers of old stone or soil to find a treasure or fossil perfectly preserved. But as I did that, I knew parts of my life couldn’t remain the same. I felt the pull of a big life-altering change - the ending of what was the longest intimate relationship of my life. I needed to go into yet another fire of what would be unknown circumstances and unknown parts of myself in order to get there. I had to face the heat rising of all of my inner critics standing up again, not beside me as allies, but in front of me... yelling: How can you really do this? You won’t survive! You’re not strong enough. Who do you think you are? I had to call on all of the wisdom I’d learned and how to integrate those fears and voices - looking beneath at what they were trying to protect me from. I had a choice, I could stay in the familiar and comfortable (uncomfortable) place I was now in, or I could keep moving forward… and so I did- with fear, with trembling, with some sort of faith and a high dose of surrender and acceptance.

In order to face a transformation or a big change, to call it out, we need to keep moving... moving forward, not looking back and I realize that what was once my source for self transformation isn’t what my body or spirit needs in such high doses now, years later. I’ve adjusted my physical practice now, my movement diet includes yoga but it also incorporates more movement and dance, more stillness, and even silliness. Though I still love a sweaty class or hot, hot summer day.... I need less extreme heat to stay healthy. 

So, what was once your source of transformation in the past, may not be what you need to keep growing today into tomorrow....

As I feel the bubbling up of another change, another challenge arising, instead of gripping on with fear, I’m choosing to stay curious about the source of this new heat arising within me, and what it may be leading me to next on my self acceptance and transformation journey. 

How about you? Where are you on your journey?


With love,

Steph