Thursday, May 28, 2009

Barefoot and Posing

I’m an absolute beginner in yoga.

I’m a beginner in Buddhism, too, but at least my dalliance with Buddhism has gone on for a long time.

Even if I’ve never seriously meditated I’ve read books by people who do. I’ve contemplated a lot of their philosophy and to some extent begun trying to live by it.

I do have a sustained practice in the form of therapy. I watch my thoughts, but I also say them out loud to someone who has taught me what it might mean to live the questions (as she pointed out that Rilke said) and shown me by her own actions what openness and compassion can look like.

Over years of talking, things happen—the thoughts shift, they lose their substance, one’s ways of responding to the world become a little less fixed. That may be similar to what happens with meditation.

For me, anyway, the Buddhism and the therapy have been complementary. Buddhism taught me I could sit still and bear the miserable thoughts and feelings that were coming up in therapy.

Therapy gradually taught me that many of the thoughts I was most convinced were true were little more than a barrier against any experience of life I didn’t think I’d be able to manage.

At this point, I’m pretty much an absolute beginner in life.

Although in some ways I feel like a very physical person, all my training has been to lead with my mind. I’m sure that if you spent years on the cushion Buddhism would be a physical practice, but it’s less so if you read a book and then go sit for 15 minutes every now and again.

I’ve dabbled in yoga for years, too, without treating it as much more than a source of calm and exercise. It seemed too religious to get into at any depth, I suppose. My favorite parts were the various forms of lying down and then the deep rest at the end.

I wandered into the local yoga center to meditate, feeling guilty that I came so often for free, but resisting the invitation take classes at a place that I’d remembered visiting years before and finding too strenuous.

Eventually, though, something clicked. C. said, “You should come practice with us,” and I heard the word practice.

Practice. I could take my emotion practice and my watch-my-mind practice and toss in a body practice and see how they all came together.

Fireworks, is how.

Relatively speaking, I don’t think the classes are all that hard. Still, for me in the early weeks the physical effort was so overwhelming it was as if I’d lost touch with my mind entirely.

I went back to the time when I was ambidextrous, and I couldn’t tell right from left. I heard the words but I had no idea how to translate them into what to do.

I felt about five years old, disoriented and vulnerable—but this time trying not to worry about it.

With my thinking disabled, I had none of my usual defenses. Once at the end of class, I almost started to cry. There were moments of grief. I had tiny moments of feeling I could play. Sometimes I walked home nearly floating on my own sense of sunniness.

I had to go into therapy and talk about it all.

I suspect I was a little bit unnerved, because in the early weeks it seemed like I kept coming close to various kinds of accidents. I nearly crashed my bike. I practically set my house on fire.

I had this idea that I was trying to injure myself so I could get out of it.

Then I started to enjoy getting stronger. I’ve had tiny inklings of what it might mean to relax while feeling you were doing something that was way beyond your physical capacity.

I’m learning to visualize.

Some days I can almost balance. The next day, it’s hopeless.

The whole experience reminds me of learning to drive a car. The first time I ever tried to change lanes at 55 miles an hour was on Route 17.

Keep foot on the gas, look, signal, check the mirrors, steer, and not panic my father? I couldn’t imagine how anyone could put together the dozen things one had do get from one side of the road to the other in the tiny space of time allotted.

Once I stepped blithely into a lunge and now I’m only halfway through my checklist of body parts by the time the time the pose is over.

Still, I haven’t quit. Yet.

I’ve always done yoga with my eyes closed. I loved that that was an option—it helped me to black out my own self-consciousness.

I liked yoga the way I like swimming—you’re doing something in close proximity with other people, but you can pretend they’re not there.

It’s not like that this time. My eyes are still closed, but it’s not just because I’m shutting the other people out.

Somehow, this feels like a community. I really like the people, both the teachers and the students. There’s laughter. The classes are often a great deal of fun.

All of this is a whopping five months old.

I can see already that there’s a way to do yoga what would require a serious commitment. I bet you don’t really know anything for years and years.

It’s probably not for me.

Still, I’m intrigued. I’ve just started reading B.K.S. Iyengar. I like how many images there are when people talk about yoga. I like a spiritual approach that gives the body its due.

I found myself thinking I should keep my own yoga journal, because I can imagine myself being continually fascinated by experiences and ideas.

If everything that occurs to me now seems impossibly stupid a month from now, oh well. If perchance I stick with it, it might be interesting to see what I learned along the way.

Or not.

Okay, I’ve had the thought. Now let it go.

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