GOING TO THE MAT: 1
And on the tenth day…. she did yoga. And it sucked. It really, really sucked.
This isn’t a yoga blog. But it’s true that I’m yoga-obsessed.
So, here’s just enough context to explain where this piece is coming from: I’m a recent convert. I started life soccer-obsessed. By high school, running came on board. When I “aged out” of serious soccer in my early thirties it became mostly running. Given my love for the ways soccer and running engage the body I thought yoga was seriously overhyped. Because it “didn’t get your heart rate up” it wasn’t real. Nothing to offer me.
I don’t know why I finally decided to try it. Maybe because lots of people whose living—not to mention physical flexibility (something I’ve never had)—I admired swore by it. After four years of dabbling, I developed some appreciation but no great love. It was only a year ago I dove in completely. As an experiment, I committed to doing yoga at least twice a week for a year (as opposed to once every ten days or so, with looooong periods of non-yoga thrown in).
Bam! Totally different experience. Within a few weeks I knew why people love yoga. Something shifted in me, in my body, in my sense of internal strength and focus, in my awareness of wholeness—or at least its possibility. I began to actually experience something I’ve given lip service to for years: that our souls are one with our bodies. Not separate, not housed in, no gap to be found. As one of my ethics teachers, Beverly Harrison used to say, “we are bodyselves.” I’ve long cared about valuing “embodiment.” But yoga, which I previously thought of as physical exercise (and a less superior form at that!) has begun to “ensoul” me.
I’m not describing a miracle here. I think I’m just describing a practice.
In my field of ethics, when we talk about morality, we say that, literally, we are what we do. We are what we do. This means that practice is everything. Not achievement, not goal, not outcome: practice.
Which brings me back to the mat. Except for a brief encounter with a surgeon in January, for a year I hadn’t gone more than a week without showing up. Yesterday I learned that ten days is too long. My muscles quivered (not in a good “hard working” way). My focus strayed (not because my kids were running around). Then, my judgmental mind kicked in (which always makes things better, of course). I started thinking, “I blew it!” “I’ve worked so hard and all the wonderful ways of being in my body that yoga has created are gone.” At least I started to recognize how silly (and very non-yogic) I was being when I found myself growling at the teacher because I was so annoyed at how long she was “making me” hold side-angle pose.
So, I haven’t totally figured out how yoga fits in to how I want to live in the world. But I know it fits and it seems worth trying to figure out.
Here’s what I know so far:
Your body matters.
My body matters.
If we know nothing else with certainty about this experience called living, whether it feels good or bad, healthy or sick, tired or energetic, we each know what it is to have a body.
In fact, bodies are all we know. Our bodies are home. And learning to dwell fully in our home seems, to me, the essence of radical love of bodyself.
It’s also true that if bodies are all we really know, then violating them—yours or mine—is about the worst thing we can do. On the flipside, interrupting social practices that over and over, in large ways and small, violate certain peoples’ bodies and violate those people because of their bodies, becomes the very essence of radical love of bodyselves.
This is why I want to:
-practice anti-racism every day;
-practice loving women in response to all the ways culture makes it so hard for women to love ourselves;
-practice learning more about how disabled bodyselves experience this world and their encounters with those of us who are (for now) able-bodied bodyselves;
-practice and learn many other ways to radically love all bodies—my own and others’—over and over, in large ways and small.
It’s also why I have to stop buying Ziploc baggies! (That’s another blog. But let’s just say, if our bodies are home and the earth is home and our bodies are of the earth, radically loving all bodies includes resisting the ease of Ziplocs among other things [shout out to my partner on this one]).
So yesterday, I realized that my yoga wasn’t lousy because I did something wrong, or failed to do something “good for me.” My lens flipped: I realized the “lousy” came from stepping away from something I actually want. Something I long for. It feels so good and right to have experienced, for a moment, ensouled-embodiment. And it’s downright amazing to know that I actually can be it, have it, live it. All I have to do is practice.
I also realized it was okay that it sucked. Not only because I wanted to come back to the mat anyway. But because I could come back. Achievements can be lost. But If I’m only practicing, then I just have to practice again. Liberation.
It’s a huge shift to experience yoga not as chore. Yoga is a gift to myself. And I love it. (If I could only come to see cleaning the kitchen in a similar way, boy would life at my house be even more fun.)
In this hazy mix of experiencing an ensouled-embodiment emerging from practicing radical love for my bodyself, I realize that radical love for all bodies is no different. Bodies matter. Loving them feels good and right. And the list of practices I named up there is not a list of chores; things I should do because they’re “good for me” or meet some moral high bar. It’s a list of gifts.
Such a huge shift in perspective. Liberation. And experiencing this shift doesn’t take a miracle. It just takes practice. And practice is something I can do.
So, maybe next time I write about yoga, I’ll get really brave and share a picture of my failed attempt to do a headstand in a Colorado meadow (I realize this blog could really use an image or two). Because now I’m wondering what would happen if I could find joyous, loving ensouled-embodiment in that embarrassing experience…..stay tuned.