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Shambhala Sun | July 2013

Body and Me

Body was 375 pounds. IRA SUKRUNGRUANG bares his soul about their complicated relationship.

Our own physical body possesses a wisdom which we who inhabit the body lack. We give it orders which make no sense. —Henry Miller

Outside winter rages. The wind is a guttural animal against this old upstate building. I swear I feel the sway of this place, feel the cold invading the fissures of the structure. I know after this session I will have to put on my heavy boots and double-thick coat and enter the storm. I know I will have to scrape and re-scrape the snow and ice and slush off my car. And I know that every warm muscle I have worked hard to stretch will shrink and tighten as soon as I step outside. Yet, right now I and 375-pound Body occupy this space that is free of judgment, free of ridicule, free of self-loathing.


Peace pervades this yoga studio in Oswego, New York. Incense permeates the space, candles flicker on windowsill ledges, and Buddha presides at the front of the rectangular room. Played over speakers is the sound of bells, like the ones that tinkle at temples in Thailand.

Today, I am learning to walk.

We go from one end of the studio to the other, twelve of us in varying speeds and strides. Our instructor, Howard, tells us to feel the floor. “You are connected,” he says.

I usually bristle at anything touchy-feely. Such sayings strike me as melodramatic and unnecessarily deep, like bad fortune- cookie slogans. But I let Howard’s words sink in because I like Howard. I like his patience with me and Body, like his words of encouragement when I do positions that Body is unaccustomed to. Plus, Howard’s gray beard is glorious.

I fixate on the word “connected.” I try to merge my mind and Body. I say, step. I say, walk. I say, gentle. The opposite happens. My feet slap the floor, startling my glassy-eyed neighbor, who flinches at the sound. The floor creaks and cracks. I am painfully aware of how clumsy Body is, and when that happens I turn on myself. I say, fat. I say, ugly. I say, stupid.

“Walking is difficult,” says Howard. “We never think about it.”

I take another step. Lift the foot. Place pad of foot on floor. Follow with heel. Shift weight forward. Again.

“This is how we are meant to walk,” Howard says. “No shoes, no socks. Feel it. Skin against earth. Let that sensation spread from the bottom of your body to the top.”

I lose my balance. I stagger. I sigh.

“It’s okay, Ira,” Howard says. He moves behind me, watching my steps.

I’m conscious of my loud walking, of my audible breaths, thick and hot. The others are like stealthy ninjas, gliding over the surface of the floor, absent of thought, just doing.

“What are you thinking?” Howard says.

I don’t tell him the truth. I don’t tell him how much I hate myself, how much I hate Body. I don’t tell him how much I hate that I can’t walk correctly.

“I’m thinking heel then toe,” I say.

Howard doesn’t buy it. He tilts his head and puts a hand to his bearded chin. It is the look Santa might give when he’s deciphering whether you’ve been naughty or nice. “It seems you are disconnecting. Am I right?”

I shrug, but he is. Body and I are not one, have never been one. I have disconnected from Body, allowed him to do what he wants, when he wants. I have lost control, and I started yoga to get it back. To connect to Body. But this exercise of walking— fucking walking—has depleted hope that this will ever happen.

“You can do it,” Howard says. “Give it time.”

Being large and diabetic, time is something I may have little of.

Ira Sukrungruang is the author of the memoir Talk Thai: The Adventures of Buddhist Boy and the co-editor of What Are You Looking At? The First Fat Fiction Anthology and Scoot Over, Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction Anthology.

Excerpted from the July 2013 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

Illustration: Tomi Um

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