Raquel Welch died last week.
It feels strange to me that this should happen so soon after I posted her photo and wrote about how she first introduced me to yoga.
Actually, my mother helped Raquel and yoga to reach me. I went with Mom to a bookstore in the Federal Way mall long before Amazon or much of the internet existed. I had wanted to find a book on dancing but nothing in the store had what I wanted. Instead, I found an oversized book full of gorgeous Raquel Welch yoga poses.
Looking at the cover now, I see that yoga isn't even in the title. It's all about beauty and fitness.
I pored over that book, read about each pose, and practiced. Most of the time I practiced in my mom's art room on the gold-toned carpet that had seen better days. Much much better days. I don't remember having a yoga mat.
I memorized the poses so I could turn the lights off in the evenings after my parents and sister went to bed. I practiced in the safe and soothing dark to Vivaldi's Fours Seasons.
Welch wrote about meditation and about how savasana, or corpse pose, was tempting to skip, but that I shouldn't skip it. She said that the stillness was one of the most valuable parts of the practice.
I skipped it. A lot. I was not much into total stillness at that point in my life.
In spite of that, I noticed a calming effect from the breathing and from holding the poses. I also noticed that my body felt better after yoga for hours and days afterwards. Unlike running or other exercises, I wasn't pushing myself into a place of pain and discomfort in order to care for myself, yet I felt stronger and more balanced from it.
After she died last week, I read that Raquel had a depth to her that I never imaged while looking at her beauty. Her father came from Bolivia and she later advocated for more visibility for Americans with Latin heritage—something that wasn't much done in the decades of her work or in the late 80s when I was poring over her book. She fought for more recognition as a woman and a person, and she succeeded.
In spite of her obvious strengths, I feel some embarrassment about my original yoga motivations and the book with the pink title—the book from a Hollywood icon. I want to tell you that I began with something deep and meaningful. That I originally studied from an ancient traditional source, or at least from someone with East Indian heritage. I want to just tell you about practicing with Vivaldi and not about Raquel.
The truth does not line up that well with what I imagine enlightenment looks like.
The truth is about a mall bookstore and a teenager who admired the glory of Raquel's human form.
I've come to believe that we find enlightenment in many surprising ways and that it's okay to answer the call of beauty in flowers and in people. As I've gotten older, I've become more able to see the extent of human beauty—not just in slender women with long legs. For that, I am tremendously grateful to other amazing humans all around me with a vast variety of shapes and sizes.
Looking back, I think I needed Raquel to move me slowly toward more stillness and to that wider perspective. I'm grateful to her for the door to yoga that she opened.
Thanks, Raquel. Your art, words, and yoga mattered. I miss knowing you are still in this world with me.