Friday, August 23, 2013

Bonsai of the Body

I vaguely remember the very first yoga class I attended back in college.  I dressed in a light peach tank top and faded blue tights and went to an early morning class in Jadwin gym.  I believe I mostly faux-meditated as I pondered the unfairness of the universe and my heartbreak over my ex-boyfriend who had started dating another girl right after we had mutually agreed to break up.  I remember marveling that I was so skinny that I could do a lotus position with ease.  Afterwards, as I held my palms over my heart and muttered the various chants, I felt very ascetic but otherwise could discern no other benefits from the yoga pratice.

I hesitate to talk much about my interest in and steadily deepening appreciation for yoga, because I have never fully embraced the spiritual aspects of it and so cannot feel that I have embraced the practice as a whole. And for a while, practicing yoga and being a yogini was a "thing" to do (I think it is still), so I was uneasy about the faddish element to my enthusiasm.

The first time that I really understood yoga's difficulty and complexity was in law school, when I was mostly attending pilates classes at a fancy, private gym (my first ever).  The teacher demonstrated a flying side crow and eight angle pose, and I remember being slack jawed at these elegant, balanced poses that seemed to defy gravity.

I began attending yoga classes steadily when I began working in the real world.  It just happened, mostly due to circumstances.  I pretty dislike using the treadmill, elliptical, stair master, bicycle, rowing machine, or, you know, any other piece of gym equipment.  And it was a slow time for a corporate lawyer. 

I didn't set out with any intentions, but somehow, it swept me up.  Looking back on nearly five years of yoga practice, I think that yoga is like bonsai of the body. 

Bonsai (which actually comes from the Chinese term penzai -- arhem arhem, just giving credit where it's due) literally refers to the cultivation of miniature trees in a small pot.  But metaphorically it's a practice, a form of meditation, focused on patience and cultivation. 

It takes the long view. 

Similarly with yoga, through years of practice and adjustments, you stretch and shape your body into a toner, fitter, more self-aware you. 

Yoga allows you to re-acquaint yourself, with you.   As a baby you explored your own body, popping your toes into your mouth, giving your elbow a lick, folding your head between your legs.  You tend to lose that connection as you grow older. 

There are so many moments, when my ankle is tucked into the crook of my armpit or my wrists folded beneath my feet or my shin inching past my opposite ear, that I am pleasantly amused to realize that this is I, touching me.

Hello, me!

Yoga familiarizes you with your own body.  Maybe it seems incredible that you wouldn't know your own body, but it's true.  Yoga makes you realize that your left hip is tighter than your right, your right hamstring tighter than your left, your right shoulder creakier than your left, your neck very flexible but your wrists not, your knees very weak but your ankles very strong.  Most athletes or active people know this to some degree, but likely not to the same level of detail that yoga catalogues.

Yoga rewards you with very concrete accomplishments.  For years I was so frustrated, once to the point of tears, that I could not do crow pose.  And then, it happened.  It still isn't consistent and I have many improvements to make, but being able to do certain poses that were nigh impossible before is so rewarding.  I used to view handstands with dread but now with just a modicum of dread.  See?  Improvement.

During practice, sometimes I feel so light and weightless, and other times I can't believe how heavy my legs or hips are.  Regardless, yoga has encouraged me to celebrate and appreciate my body. 

I really hope that I am still actively practicing when I'm a wrinkled old lady.  What a gift that would be.

1 comment:

  1. I really liked this post. Really beautifully written!