Monday, December 9, 2013

My Body is Aching

Recently my body has been aching.
My body has been aching from my unrelenting disapproval of its non-compliance.
Recently my body has had enough of me and has dug its heels into the ground.
Like a child that I had been forcefully dragging behind me with a strong hold on its arm, my body has stopped dead while screaming, wrestled itself out of my grip, crossed its arms over its chest and with tears running down its cheeks told me that it is not moving. It is not taking one more step.
My body is making a scene.

credit: Jade Beall Photography

Recently my body has been showing me what will happen when it gets sick of me and my unceasing tyrannical perfectionist expectations of it.
Recently my knees have started to ache from the way that I learned to turn my thighs inward to create an illusion of having a gap where there is none in an attempt to break up into two the almighty shame that are these thunder thighs hoping the sight will be less detestable if it is two smaller abominations rather than one big one.
Recently my ankles have started to ache from the way that I learned to turn my feet inward in order to appear small, non-threatening and unimportant, causing my feet to over pronate and my ankles to sickle inward. My body aches from my lifelong attempts to make myself appear too small of a threat and too sweet of a target to make any externally launched attacks worth their effort.
Recently my back has started to ache from the way I have learned to permanently tilt my tailbone down and forward to hollow out my stomach, making it appear flat as to say ‘See? I take nothing. I need nothing. I will not ask anything of you. I will not need.’
Recently my neck has been in pain from the way that I learned to lift my shoulders and round them forward not only to shelter my too large, too soft round breasts inside my sunken chest from greedy and entitled stares, but also to replace them with protruding collar bones in an attempt to draw only kind and empathetic eyes.
Recently my scalp has started to ache from a decade of straightening my hair in my attempts to asphyxiate my thick Mediterranean curls and the unapologetic way with which they rage and roar and instead force and flatten them into soft lofty controllable strands that are airy and light enough to be caressed by a gentle breeze.
My hips and shoulders ache from overworking this heavy and unlovable load in never ending monotonous movements on trails and treadmills, up stair climbers and mountains, in gyms and yoga studios, fighting and beating into shape its natural propensity to be unacceptable.

My breasts ache from doubling up on sports bras when I teach yoga for fear of becoming the big bosomed bendy joke.
My body is tired of the way I shamefully and hastily cross my arms over my chest in the refrigerated section of the grocery store because I was once again the last to find out that my protruding nipples got out and have been hooking sights for a while now.
Recently my body is refusing to be in pain, in order to keep everyone comfortable, because it may look like it’s trying to steal a boyfriend or a husband. How dare she have breasts like that and be friendly too!? Trollup.
My body is tired of being locked down, strapped in and harnessed into compliance.
My body is tired of contorting itself for approval.
My body is tired of contorting itself into invisibility so that it may not draw what it is not entitled to.  
My body is tired of contorting itself to minimize the risk of threats that come with not walking alongside a man.
From a lifelong attempt to push bone through fat into visibility, to appear more acceptable and less powerful than I know I am, my body is so unbelievably tired.
Recently my body has silenced the parts of me that shield the world from my soft offensiveness.
In fact, recently, my body has been telling me to fuck off.

My body is also pissed.
It’s pissed because it wants itself back.
It’s pissed not only because of all the demands I have put on it, but also because of all that I have denied it.
It’s sick of being permitted only the endorphin releases that postdate rigorous workouts, heavy lifts, strict yoga practices and the long distance runs of an athlete.
It demands the pleasure that is in the soft movement of a woman and it is being unapologetic about it.
It wants to move.
It wants to sway and swoon and undulate. It wants to walk, and bend, stop and dance. It demands I allow it the pleasure of softly rolling my hips like a waterfall.
It’s telling me to hold and stretch and lift my chest, to swirl, to kick, to squat and reach.
Recently my body has stopped giving a shit.
Not only about what I think but also about what you think.
It is letting me know that it intends to dance and move like a woman regardless of whether these cages, fences and obstacles are self-made or imposed.
It doesn’t care anymore about rules, whether they are mine or society’s and is trembling inside the strait jacket of norms.
It refuses now to take responsibility for any reactions of others.
It wants its power back.
It wants its fucking power back.
This body can mesmerize, hypnotize and move in a way that can stop traffic like the thorn in the side of the synthetic addictive hierarchy that constrains it.
These hips can stop traffic.
And it is pissed that the only space for it to move in the ways for which it was designed is attached to a stripper pole.
This body embodies a resistance.
This body embodies a revolution.
It has stopped giving a shit about the stares, the whistles, the honks, the licking of lips, the bikes that ride too close.
It doesn’t care anymore when it’s making people uncomfortable for embracing the pleasure of its natural movement while on a walk in a public space.
It dances now like no one is watching, like it was told, though indeed they do watch.
It doesn't care if it is scandalous anymore.
This was the body of a dancer and it still is.
It never wanted to offend but it is done self-censoring.
It appears, my body doesn’t give a shit anymore.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Notes from a Snail

This morning, having returned home after my tri-weekly group exercise regimen, as I was standing in the kitchen and stirring the high protein liquid breakfast du jour and staring off into the silence, all the unfinished conversations from the morning started coming back to me. I could remember how most of them started, but not how they ended…

How did I respond when Mary Anne asked me if I had received a certain group invitation that went out? Was I gracious and excited? I know she really extends herself on these get-togethers…We were interrupted by John, who just wanted to say bye on his way out…Was I present enough? He must be going through a lot with his upcoming move of wife and children to a whole new State. And how about Ben? How did I respond to his joke? And Lisa? Did I say bye? I know she’s still feeling like the new kid since she switched back to our 6a.m. group….

All these thoughts start piling up and sometimes can make me feel anxious. Interactions seem to occur so rapidly that I often feel the sting of not having had the chance to give them the care and love that I would have wanted to. Most of the time, I can let this go, but sometimes I start working backwards and injecting words of affection into where I feel there were gaps left in the moment and I end up sending a couple text messages.  A ‘You rocked it today! See ya Friday!’ here or a ‘Oh - was gonna say, if you need moving boxes, I have some. Lemme know :)’ there.

I stop stirring my protein blob as I wonder if anyone else of the around 20 people who were there this morning are doing what I am doing right now? I mean, nobody does this, right?! Everyone has let go and moved on, right?! And if they do have a quiet moment to think, it is probably filled with expectations of the future rather than investigations of the past, right?

Welcome to life as a snail. Yes, I made peace with it long ago. If this great human ecosystem were a forest, then yours truly would be a snail. In a forest, snails make sense. They have their role and they do their thing in a great orchestra of symbiosis. The seasons aren’t going to pass quicker because the snail moved faster. It’s only in this human ecosystem where productivity is King that being a snail is sort of a problem. If you wanna get ahead in life, you gotta be a hawk. Hawks like change, hawks like movement, exploring new heights, pushing boundaries, hawks gets promoted, hawks show leadership, hawks eat snails…for breakfast…

You call us all sorts of things - introverts, sensitives, Kaphas, or just plain weird. You complain about how we drag our feet when it comes to change. You see, it’s because we move slowly that we hear the things that are said about us behind our backs and, to be honest, they are mostly true. Like a snail, I experience the world generally in one of two ways, as it passes by outside without me at a rate that doesn’t interest me or so intensely up close and personal that its jagged ridges are churning up against my entire being. My slime shield is my sense of humor and joyful nature. Yes, I have a slime shield. I feel everything. Often, I have to pull back from the world whenever I can for as long as I can because I get tired of feeling everything. Sometimes I can only access my own feelings after a period of solitude. It replenishes me. I don’t own a TV and I don’t seek out the news much. If there is news I must know about, one of my friends will call me. If I ever apply to a job with you and my CV indicates that I like to multitask – I lied. I don’t (note to self – edit CV). What I do like is to see animal shapes in the clouds, to interact with only one or at the most two people at a time and I like sweet things that take forever to dissolve in my mouth, like Werther’s. At a very different rate and magnitude, I like all the things a hawk likes. I like growth and change and seeing things.

You know what else snails do? Snails ask themselves what animals others would be in this great human ecosystem so they can love them better… I have a friend who is a hummingbird. She thrives when she gets to move at a million miles a minute. She lives in Manhattan and I have made sure she never visits me in my sleepy desert town. She would lose it. I too once lived in Manhattan – I started developing kidney issues and hair loss from the stress. In this magical human forest, there are all sorts of animals - there are squirrels, and moles, and owls, and lions, emus, and wolves, giraffes and bumble bees. Some days I start out a hyena and then go back to being a snail and under the right conditions one can bring the lioness in most any woman, like if you threaten her cub… Point is, we are all so beautiful in who we are, no? Yes.

You, dear reader, may well be a powerful bird, like an eagle, but you are probably not a hawk. While you blend well with hawks, a full-fledged hawk likely wouldn’t be reading this; they would have rolled their eyes at my slow verbal meanderings by now, lost their patience and gotten on with stuff ages ago. And the thing is, I love them for it! Because why would I expect a hawk to do what a snail does? I don’t expect myself to do what a hawk does. It would only bring suffering. I am certainly willing to be a very fast and productive snail, I will even wear a hawk suit some days and sit in on the meetings where we all pretend to be hawks, but I will never again expect of myself to be a hawk.

So, this is a time where the world values hawks - efficient, far traveling, git-er-done hawks. That’s okay. It’s not the hawks’ or world’s fault that this is the time to be a hawk. The hawk deserves its time in human history. But sometimes hawks need to come home somewhere and sit down at a table where a snail has made homemade scones from scratch and hot chocolate and will run their fingers though their tired feathers and just listen… Listen to the hawk talk about how everything is clearly for the birds.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Ordering Yoga, but with God on the Side

Did you know, Yoga is criminal?! Every couple of weeks we read a story about the next lawsuit that in some form or another takes issue with Yoga’s so-perceived inherently religious connotations which are argued to infringe on individual freedoms. Most recently in Encinitas, California, a family is suing the school district for "civil rights violations resulting from its inherently and pervasively religious Ashtanga yoga program" (read the story here). I am about to tell you why this pisses me off - in my zen sort of pissed off kinda way, of course...

All of these lawsuits ultimately rub up against one question - ‘Can you take God out of Yoga?’ In the East, Yoga was once practiced in the temples in order to facilitate the body with the strength and capacity to spend hours and hours in meditation and stillness. What we have come to know as the final resting pose of our practice, Savasana, was once upon a time its culmination. Thus, today, we spend 70 minutes in movement and 5 minutes in rest where once a single hour of Yoga preceded eight hours in meditation. Yoga creates space in the bodies, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual, for the divine. But that was then. And that was a different world, a different time and a different Yoga.

Yoga is in an interesting time. Those that practice traditionally in India are up in arms about what we have done with Yoga in the West and, undoubtedly, there are times when I teach where I think Krishnamacharya would be turning in his grave right about now. On the other hand, here in the West, Yoga is further evolving and being molded into ever new forms to reach people it previously couldn't (i.e. Yoga for Children, Yoga for Depression, Yoga for Veterans, Yoga for Big Bodies, Yoga for Addiction Treatment, Yoga for Wheel Chairs, etc). The old Yoga is rejecting the new and the new Yoga is continuing to reject its traditional and rigid temple roots. You are witnessing a child break loose from a mother, but our Yoga is forever tied to that which gave it life, through essence. In either event, no lawsuit will stop this train, even if a few people get rich on dumb law suits. Regardless of form or flavor, Yoga is an idea whose time has come. Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come, leaning on Viktor Hugo's famous quote.

Now, that Yoga has arrived in the West with its pastel colors, slammin' bodies, white tube tops, and mats in any color to match your mood, some get scared, or even angry, when they get a little more than the glamorized sequence of orderly stretches they had bargained for.
So, then, can it be done - Yoga without the Divine? My big box gym employer where I teach to a room of 50 people certainly seems to think so. I am given only few rules for instructing, mainly: no use of walls, no plow poses, no wheels, no incense, and, oh, no Ohm’s. Done and dusted. Corporate feels that that should pretty much keep me from rubbing up against anyone’s religious beliefs. As long as we don’t Ohm we’re good, right? Or are we?

While I think it is sort of delusional to assume that just because one cuts the mane of a lion, one ends up with a kitty, my answer to this is – it depends. It depends not so much on Yoga, but on you. It depends on you. While the teacher, the environment and the type of Yoga most certainly factor into the experience, the question of whether you are stretching or doing Yoga is ultimately one that is decided by you on your mat. It is you that is the variable in this. 

You see, if in fact there is absolutely nothing miraculous about the breath to you, you are safe. If you are not moved by the fact that you breathe your entire existence without needing to think about it and that if you did have to remind yourself to breathe you would have stopped ages ago, you are safe. If you have no association with the idea that breath and life go hand in hand and that your every breath is a miracle and gift to you to experience life itself and feel and fumble and laugh and smell stinky cheese and wipe tears away and reach and grow and fall and do it again, then you are safe. If on that mat, you feel nothing, and you are stretching a hip flexor in order to run better, you are safe. But, if you happened to find yourself celebrating the gift of life itself which fully includes your Divine and wanting to create space within yourself to experience it more fully, deeply and committedly while you are here, then you are in trouble. Then you are not stretching. Then you’re doing Yoga. In other words, Yoga celebrates life itself. Only as long as life is not sacred to you, you can bypass the spiritual notions of Yoga unscathed.

Whether rosary or mala beads, whether Amen or Namaste, whether mantra or prayer, is it not God that precedes and predates religion and dogma? God didn't need dogma. We did. And once I truly understand this, then any room, any song and any breath is a pure and utter celebration of my very personal definition of God, then I get to celebrate God anywhere, everywhere, all the time.  

I admit, I do struggle when I am accused of advocating devotional practices to a false God. It's not easy. But sometimes I am taken aside after my class by someone who would love to try Yoga and I am gifted the opportunity to play a role in making Yoga available to someone who wants to feel uncompromising of their personal beliefs. Sometimes I get to gift Yoga to someone who can experience it as a platform to go deeper into their very own beliefs. Not mine. That is my greatest honor.