Sunday, July 7, 2013

Surviving yoga; embracing body

Okay, I'm back and fully alive again.  Or nearly fully alive.  Migraines tend to suck the life out of me for at least a day.  Add to that the fact that I haven't been to yoga in about a month...for the first half of the day, I'm pretty sure every muscle hurt, included the ones involved only in blinking.  Luckily, it's all largely worked out as the day has gone on.  I even ran out and danced in the rain a little bit.  You just have to do that every now and then, you know?  You just have to let yourself feel the rain and let remind it you that you're alive.

But yoga.  Whoever this Bikram dude was, he was insane.  I mean seriously, who thinks of stuff like this?  "Not only are we going to attempt to contort our bodies into postures that just don't make any logical sense," thought he, "but we're going to do each ridiculous exercise TWICE, over a span of 90 minutes, and we're going to do it IN THE HEAT!"  It's not just a little bit of heat.  A lot of heat.  Ridiculous heat.  It must be like 175 degrees.  Or 105, according to Wikipedia.  I wasn't too far off.

The class itself?  Is torture.  You think you're going to die.  Or slip off your mat and slide across the floor and into the mirror on the amount of sweat that is rolling off of you and everyone around you.  Yes, everybody has a mat, and yes, everybody has a towel, and yes, the floor is some type of super absorbent soak-up-the-sweat yoga floor, but there is just so much sweat.  It comes out of places 
This is not me.  I do not look like this.  Yet.  Or, perhaps, ever.
where you don't even have pores.  You will sweat just laying on the floor and not moving.  But no, just laying still isn't good enough.  You have to do things like stand on one leg, with one leg up in the air behind you, hold that leg up with one hand, and stretch the other arm in front of you, so you look like a bow and arrow.  As much as you want to, you don't get to just stretch it and then put your leg down.  Nope, you've got to hold it while the yoga instructor rambles on and on about how much good you're doing for some random part of your body, and how all you have to do is breathe.  I'll have to do some research as to whether there are stats on the murder rate of yoga teachers.   I think it's a good thing that yogi wannabes are generally a peaceful people.

Yoga, of course, is about you and no one else.  It's not about the gorgeous woman with the Ganesha tattoo who drips sweat like it's her job, but doesn't look fazed in the least.  It's not about the 60 year old man with leathery skin who looks like he could hold the one legged postures for days.  It's certainly not about the woman with the unruly braid in her pink sports bra who accidentally fell out of a posture, dropping her foot BEHIND her head, and so did a casual back flip as she started again.  And you know, it's a good thing it's not about them, because what I've found is that the regulars don't tend to be very friendly.  Given, I'm not very friendly after I've sweat out all the fluid in my body and my muscles are shaking when I'm sitting still...but still.  They're the opposite of friendly.  And if you try to be friendly, they WILL shut you down. 

For example, one poor girl tried to be friendly after class with someone who was clearly a regular.  "It was hot in there today," Friendly Girl said as they stood, waiting for the shower.  The Regular looked at her, wearily, and said nothing. 

"I thought it was hotter than normal.  Maybe it was just more humid.  I wanted to stick my head out the window.  I wasn't sure I was going to make it.  Do you think it was more humid?" Friendly Girl asked.

The Regular, with absolutely no expression, finally responded with "I think it was the normal temperature.  I did notice that my sweat was more watery than usual, but I've really been trying to
Also not me.  And yes, this does hurt your head.
 And it is hard to breathe.
increase my fluid intake, and I drank coconut water before class, so I think it was more related to that than to the temperature."  She then turned around, thus ending the conversation.

Friendly Girl looked hurt.  I wanted to jump in, but was so confused as to how sweat could possibly be "more watery," I didn't dare say anything at all. 

So why do I keep going back?  What is it about this torture that I enjoy? 

I don't really know.  I like the challenge, I guess.  I like the repetition.  I know it will be the same every time I go.  There's a ritual to it that is strangely comforting.  The change and progress I see is measurable.  Most of all, though, this class is the only thing I have found that can actually make my mind be quiet for 90 minutes.  For 90 whole minutes, I don't have to think about anything.  All I have to do is be in my body.  All I have to do is breathe.  The only thing I have to do for 90 minutes is survive it, one minute at a time.  Yoga class is the only thing I have found that forces me to inhabit my body so fully.  I start the class self-conscious.  I don't want to look at myself in the mirror.  I scrutinize and analyze and feel embarrassed...and by the end, that is gone.  I am there, in my body, making it through 90 minutes of sweat and heat and stretch and twist, and it makes me feel strong.  It makes me feel successful.  For that little bit of time, I get to feel completely comfortable in my skin, if only because I am too exhausted to do anything else.  I get to be conscious in the way I  inhabit my body, even if only because I can feel every muscle, tendon, and bone.  My body--THIS body --the one that I live in and argue with and have such a complicated relationship with every day of my life -- this body carried me through 90 minutes of intensity without any analysis or thought or deliberation.  It makes me feel alive and capable.  It makes my body feel whole, and trustworthy, and --yes--even beautiful. 
To be clear...this is also not me. 

In class yesterday, my teacher quoted Bikram as saying that "yoga is the only subject in which the subject is not the object."  Yoga is the subject, she clarified, but you are the object.  Your body is the object.  We do not go to yoga class to "do yoga."  We go to deepen and strengthen our relationship with our bodies.

90 minutes of body-living is worth it.  90 minutes where my brain gets a break, and the only thing it has to do is breathe --that's worth it.  90 minutes of intense focus on the present moment, with no thoughts of the past or the future is worth it.  Surviving yoga means embracing my body.  Therein lies the biggest challenge.


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