A Weigh To Go

| By Angie Mattson Stegall |

One Sunday, I found myself struggling uphill on a trail. My husband, Nelson, and the dogs were ahead of me motoring up the switchbacks. And I realized something profound: I was trying to hold my breath. Hiking uphill on switchbacks, I was trying to hold my breath.

WeighHave you ever tried to do much of anything constructive while holding your breath? Right there on the trail, though, I had a flash of insight. About five years ago, I was attending a marketing/mindset retreat in Las Vegas. The weekend ended up being about SO much more than marketing. One set of speakers were yoga professionals and these two guys were good – grounded and lovely. They talked to us about health and our bodies and how important they were.

After their talk, I walked up to one of the speakers and told him, “I hold my breath. A lot. I’ve done it since I was a kid. I even remember telling my mom I didn’t want to breathe anymore because it was so hard to do.”
You know what he asked me? He said, “Angie, do you want to live?” All the air was sucked out the room. I felt like he hit me over the head with a 2×4.

And I swear, hiking up that trail that day, I realized again I was holding my breath so no one on the trail would hear me breathing hard out loud. Even though the only beings on the trail were my beloved husband Nelson and our two dogs. And the dogs had their tongues lolled out so far they practically hit the ground… panting like freight trains and happy as clams.

And yet there I was, holding my breath as if my life depended on it. Right then, I realized at a deep cellular level, somehow I equated breathing with being wrong. I equated breathing – especially out loud – with being seen… with being judged. And somehow, to my unconscious self those things were unsafe.

Maybe it started when someone on the bus called me a butterball when I was in third grade. Or when my older brother jokingly said something to me about my thunder thighs when I was in fifth grade. Or when I had to order the largest size swimsuit on the swim team. As they handed me my new suit, the girls passing them out laughed when they read the size.

Or maybe it was realizing how I looked next to other people. A photo of my best friend Amy and me in sixth grade kicked my body angst into high gear for years. You see, Amy was lanky and tall; I was the opposite: short and squatty. Not fat, mind you, but a bit chubby. Sturdy. And thus began my lifetime of seeing myself as fat. Of holding my breath in order not to be heard or seen.

Interestingly, in yoga class one night recently, I argued with myself. “This class is about your body – not how big or small it is, but rather what it can do. This class is about your breath and breathing into these poses.”

And yet, I judged myself – harshly. At one point, I looked up to see three very fit women bending over, their delicate and dainty hands reaching for the sky. The girl next to me was a bit less thin, but just as fit. As I looked straight ahead into the mirrors at myself, all I saw was my butt – the width of it, its mass, stretching my exercise pants tight as I bent over into downward dog.

I stared. I judged. But I kept going, bending and stretching. Reaching and breathing. When I’m home alone, I can ignore how out of shape my body is. In a yoga studio lined with mirrors, all I saw that night was fat, flabby arms, a chubby stomach and a very ample behind.

But still, I kept going. Bending and stretching. Reaching and breathing. See, I know my body likes yoga. Despite my perceived ‘size,’ I’m really good at yoga. My body has always been pretty bendy and flexible. When I consciously breathe into a pose, I can stretch even deeper.

Sure, I could be stronger – my core needs some serious strengthening. My balance could use some work. And the rolls in my belly and the size of my thighs keep me from doing some of the trickier, technical moves. Regardless, I keep going. Bending and stretching. Reaching and breathing.

I’m now 42 years old, still not in the best shape, but I’ve learned to love this body. I’ve learned to smile at myself in the mirror and see real beauty. I’ve learned to only wear clothes that I feel good in, no matter if they are in fashion or not.

I’ve also learned to keep breathing. It was through Somatic Respiratory Integration and yoga that I learned how to breathe properly, fully, by using my lungs, diaphragm and whole belly. I’m grateful that I’ve come to realize the first ten minutes of any kind of exercise sucks for me. I huff and puff. It takes me forever to get warmed up and even longer to find anything resembling ‘my groove.’ Once I do, though, I’m a workhorse. Strong and capable with pretty good endurance.

There’s also a secret I learned: everyone huffs and puffs. Everyone breathes hard during exercise. It’s completely normal. No reason to feel ashamed. To hide. To disappear. And finally, I’m grateful for yoga. It shows me this body can do a lot.

Years of therapy, suffering, and continuously trying again have gotten me here, to a place of openness and acceptance. I especially embrace Pig Tails, my very spunky 5-year old alter ego, who is fun and feisty. Yes, I still find myself unconsciously trying to hold my breath so no one will hear it, so no one will see me or judge me. As soon as I realize it, though, I fill my air with lungs. I pooch out my belly and imagine a big ball filling my pelvis. I let it out with a loud ‘whoosh’ of gratitude.

When I think about this road I’ve traveled towards self-acceptance, it brings me to my knees with understanding and compassion for myself. Instead of judging, I simply breathe deeply, stretch fully, and move with purpose.


Angie Mattson Stegall is a business coach and adventurer who explores the world by boot, boat, and bike. Connect with her at www.YourOrganizedGuide.com.

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