Photo: CC ggvic, thanks!
On my way to the yoga studio, I gather I look like a woman escaping from a burning building.
BY MAGAZINE CORRESPONDENT NICOLE FLEETWOOD
Until recently, I had come to see my 5-year yoga practice as one failure after another.
This sense of failure results largely from my ongoing struggle with time management and what has felt like the impossibility of achieving harmony in my daily routine. My inner battle has informed the way that I approach the mat.
Routinely, I arrive at the local yoga studio hurried, scattered, hair uncombed, and clothes strewn together with no rhyme or reason. From the expressions of concerned passersby, I gather that I look like a woman escaping from a burning building, as I dart past them on my way to the studio.
If my grandma could see me, she would shake her head and sigh, “Ain’t that a shame.” My mother, an impeccably dressed Southern woman, would offer perhaps to pick out my exercise clothes for me in advance. Somehow I did not absorb their lessons of self-presentation and time management (and their gendered permutations).
What makes this all the more pathetic is that I live within walking distance of the studio and for the most part I work on a schedule of my own making. I pretty much control a large chunk of my time, but then why am I so out of control of time?
Out of time and out of control
A typical day goes something like this: In the morning after taking my son to school, I check the yoga schedule posted on the refrigerator amidst the school lunch menu, the self-improvement quotes, and the greased over family photos. I choose a class and then plan my day of writing, running errands, and my son’s pick up time around the class.
I make this choice hours in advance but with tragic comedic recurrence there’s always the mad dash, the adrenaline rush, the worries about whether I will make it before the cut off time for entering the studio. And yes, I have been turned away for arriving too late on more than one occasion. It is humiliating to beg to be let in when I know that there is no excuse for my lateness.
I feel like the proverbial hamster, seemingly getting nowhere, but perhaps that’s the point.
Another missed opportunity, another deep breath
Once I make it inside the studio, sweat on my brow and clothes damp with moisture, I scamper about to find a space. The other students accommodate me, sliding over slightly to make room for my mat. I avert my eyes for fear of a scowl or look of disapproval from them, but they are, without fail, kind and warm.
The others around me seem so much more capable of dressing themselves, managing their schedules, and arriving on time than I.
I take a deep breath and try to let go and be present. But the struggle for much of the class is processing my own disappointment. Another missed opportunity to show up, I lament.
During one of these yoga classes, I replayed the same questions in my head: Why can’t I get here on time? Why do I make things more difficult and stressful for myself than necessary?
In the midst of this inner monologue, I noticed a shift in thinking that began with a change in my body.
My body responded
The teacher made adjustments to my torso, as I was moving into Warrior 2 pose, a pose that causes me trouble.
That I struggle with such a basic, straightforward pose produces even more frustration in me. How simple it seems to bend one knee forward, to elongate the other behind, while the arms extend in opposite direction and the eyes gaze over the forward facing hand?
And back to the voice of critique and failure: Why does it cause me such pain and difficulty to attempt something so elementary?
What is wrong with me? Why can’t I get it right?
As the instructor shifted my trunk, she said to me in her matter-of-fact New York style, “Work the pose,” to which my body responded by dropping deeper into the position.
But more importantly, my voice of self-defeat was interrupted by another voice that responded to the teacher’s instruction.
The taste of authentic balance
An unfamiliar character in the daily drama that plays out in my mind spoke out to disrupt my familiar narrative. I call the character my inner drag queen who, without missing a beat, responded: “Well alright then”! Snap! Roar! Work it, girl!
My arms extended from shoulders in alignment, as the right leg bent to a 90-degree angle, with ankle under knee. The feel of my hips as they opened was both painful and expansive; my perineum moved toward the ground. My eyes gazed over the fingertips of my right hand.
It was a momentary balance of presence and projection.
I smiled fantasizing about being another – someone other than a workaholic, divorced mother who is always running from here to there. I smiled at the image of another me – fabulous and flaunting – as the Warrior 2 pose transformed into another one. It was a refreshing displacement of being present in the class – something I struggle with in general – and being caught up in fantasy of this momentary expansion of possibility: the awareness that there is another way for me to inhabit this body and to work with self.
Working the pose brought me into an awareness of my wrestling with time – struggling with past and then anticipating the future – through the body. It brought to mind one of my favorite quotes from Virginia Woolf:
Moment by moment things are losing their hardness; even my body now lets the light through.
Working the pose was an opportunity not only to observe but also to embody time passing in the present moment.
Multivalent moments in a body of light
So “work the pose” brought me into deep awareness of how I work with, inhabit, and often punish this late 30 something year old body.
To work the pose has become a mode of operating in other aspects of my life. As a practice of self-presentation, working the pose is not so much about vanity, but more about courage and embodiment in my daily life, in each moment to be precise.
And for me, that mode of fearlessness allows space for other voices and possibilities to arise and challenge what we take as the norm. The adjustment that the yoga instructor made to my body and her simple instruction reconnected me with the role that fantasy has always played for me in imagining new ways of being and enacting other possibilities in the here and now.
And oh yes, one of the unspoken pleasures that I have always found in my yoga practice is the cultivating of space for creativity through the movement of the body. Oh, yes: work the pose, indeed!
My yoga practice reveals a deep tension that has governed much of my adult life: the desire for harmony and presence in dialogue with a mind that is always anticipating the next move. It is a pattern that leads to my overlooking the necessary steps in the here and now and that rushes me forward into a future moment that never quite arrives. Simply put, in order to work the pose, I need to be present in my own life.
“Well, alright then!” Snap!
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.