I had a good yoga class tonight, lots of hip openers, which I love, and my sore toe (which I totally blame on last year’s extraordinarily expensive high-heeled boots) wasn’t too bad. I like the studio I go to and I like the teachers and I like stretching and breathing, so I’ve been trying to go twice a week these last couple of months. It’s good for me.
Most of last year was pretty rough for me physically: I was tired most of the time and my face was broken out for about six months straight and I hurt my abovementioned toe and I was always cold and in general I felt run down and exhausted and sallow and gross. I went back to tribal bellydance for a couple of weeks and then stopped going for a variety of reasons, so I wasn’t doing much of anything physical for quite a while there, because it was dark and cold and I was tired and so on and so forth. I got lower and lower in terms of my energy and all I wanted was to go to bed at 9:00 every night so I could make it to the early bus and go to work and come home from work and go to bed. There didn’t seem to be much time for much else.
In November I switched offices so now my commute is a manageable ten minute bus ride and ten minute walk (and also my office is located directly across from Fidel’s, so, there’s that). Things got a lot brighter for me just with the deletion of two hours of commuting a day, oddly enough: I think it also helped that the earth itself got physically brighter too as it was trying to be spring here–I mean it was still rainy and overcast but there was so much more light so much further into the evening that you had a lot more time to actively appreciate just how rainy and overcast it was. So bonus there, too.
And what I seem to want to do, a lot, now that I have all this free time on my hands, go out to dinner with friends, go to see live music, and, more often that not, often enough that I kind of don’t even know who I am anymore, is…exercise. I guess that’s what it is. I’ve been going to yoga and going to this weird weightlifting-to-music class and have got back into tribal, just one hour a week. Except that I hate the word ‘exercise’ unless I’m using it in the sense of ‘I will now exercise my right to vote, and also my right to drink tea and eat bickies while reading feminist blogs in bed.’ I hate the phrase ‘work out’ even more, so I don’t really know what to call it: moving around?
Anyway, back to yoga. I found the studio not because I was wanting to concentrate on my breath or reach up out of my hips and lengthen my spine, but because they have relatively cheap and extremely glorious massage there, and I like few things better than exercising my prerogative to pay a nice lady to rub me with sweet-smelling oil while I lie naked on a padded table. I’d been to see Gracie a couple of times and one day one of the yoga classes was getting out just as I was coming in. Hmm, I thought, looking at them all glowy and relaxed after class. Hmm hmm hmm. I wonder if I could do that? I’ve done yoga-ish things off and on in the past—when I was living with my mom in 2008 we went to a Sunday morning class together for a while, and of course we always stretch before and after dance class, so I sort of knew what pigeon pose was and I had heard discussion about posture and dropping the tailbone and lengthening through the crown of the head and so forth. I just went to class one evening, and I’ve been going ever since.
I am still basically not okay with my body. I guess I am still not done thinking about it yet. I still feel guilty for not being okay with my body, because my body is very functional and gets me where I need to go and has a great immune system–I was one of like four people at my work who didn’t finally succumb to sickness during swine flu and is pretty healthy in general–much of that health, of course, is supported by my various privileges that allow me to access a doctor and afford healthy food and clean water and medication when I need it.
My body conforms to certain Western beauty ideals, in that it has light-colored skin, and all its limbs and organs, and it can process sensory information, and it does not, at this time in its lifespan, need any extra hardware or software to get around or to communicate, and yet I can still, if I’m not careful, get very very caught up in all the ways it doesn’t–or, more to the point, I don’t—measure up. I can repeat the rosary of my imperfections all night if I’m in a certain mood, if it’s been a hard week, if I’m not careful.
So I went to yoga, because my body wanted to move around a little bit, and because I was so tired, and because I don’t like active things that are too jumpy or stressy or loud (which makes the fact that I’m now doing the lift-weights-to-music class hilarious, but that’s a different story). And it turns out my body really likes yoga this time around, after flirting with it off and on for years. I’m starting to really look forward to it, and to get mad when I can’t go twice a week. The other day I was having a super annoying day at work and part of me wanted to go home and lay on the couch so bad and read my feminist blogs, which is in fact what I did–after I went to yoga. Like I said, I don’t know who I am anymore. I’ve even switched from wearing long baggy pants to class to extremely ass-tastic leggings so I can, you know, make sure my knee is tracking out over my ankles properly in Warrior II.
I’m definitely getting into the physical aspects of it—which are similar to what I like about the physical aspects of dance, of course: learning a skill set and then imposing endless variations upon it. I also happen to have a naturally flexible body (in some directions at least) and I like getting bendier and stretchier and also the idea that there are a couple of ways to do each pose that can be beneficial. I like feeling my muscles work in some specific ways. I like having open hips and open shoulders, and I wish I could do a forward bend or a handstand.
The non-physical side of yoga has been, thus far, a little harder to get into. I guess that’s always the way. I think, at almost-thirty-five, I’m pretty much always going to be what I am: over-analytic, prone to fruitless comparison, self-deprecating. I’m that way in yoga class a lot too: on Monday I was feeling super strong and I was maintaining the shit out of those balances, man, and the whole time I was thinking “Man, I am maintaining the shit out of these balances!” With a sort of self-satisfied half-smile, pretending not to care if anyone noticed how awesomely I was totally balancing. I’m always very nervous about what I’m wearing (because I still just wear cheap shelf-bra camis and leggings from Glassons and there’s never quite enough butt coverage) and sometimes feel that my big bottom and sway back are not right for a lot of the poses—I have a terrible time just lying on my back and always need extra props when we do, of all things, relaxation pose. Also, I have this weird need to be the bendiest and stretchiest in class, and to have the teachers notice and comment on said bendy-stretchiness, preferably where other people can hear. Basically I want an A+ in yoga. I would like to be at the head of yoga class, please.
I know this isn’t the right attitude, of course. I’ve been doing a little reading and all signs point to letting go of all that stuff, of concentrating on the internal and the personal. I’m not even sure that I believe in some of the more hippie aspects of yoga—hippiedom being, of course, my kryptonite, something that attracts and repels me in basically equal amounts. I sort of fear being all yoga-precious, you know, like, yeah, hey, tonight’s class had a really liberating energy, you know? I could really feel my second chakra opening up. Namaste! You know the type.
However. Tonight we were doing some crazy hip-opener thing (frog pose, maybe? Any pose named after an amphibian, I like) and the teacher gave us all these props to help us stay in the pose, and at first I was all “I have very open hips! I will have none of your props! RAAR!” but fortunately she just ignored me and gave me a couple bolsters and told us to stay in the pose for a while longer, and try to discern between discomfort and pain.
If it’s pain you feel, she said, get out of the pose right now, right away, and take a rest. No pain in yoga. Get out as quickly and easily as you can.
If it’s discomfort you feel, well. Think about that for a little bit. See if you can stay with that for a moment or two as you stay with the pose. Try not to distract yourself. See what happens.
I did that, for a little bit. A couple of breaths, as the teachers say. I tried to stay with it. Then I got into down dog pose, and rose my foot in the air behind me to bring it into a lunge, and did some side bends and then my beloved pigeon pose, and then some twists. I got my extra props for relaxation pose. I even chanted Om three times with the rest of the class, quietly, under my breath.
And I have been thinking about all of that all evening, on the bus, eating chatting online to a friend, getting ready for bed. I have been thinking about all of that: my body and how it works, my mind and how it works, how they come together and fall apart. I don’t really understand why I want to do this so much, or what any of it means or what it’s good for, but I’m going to stay with it as long as I can. Who knows what will happen.