Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Not a resting pose

Two perhaps unrelated things: yoga and an article from Inside Higher Ed.

First, after over a year of doing vinyasa yoga, at which I am not so good, I finally felt yesterday that I was making some kind of progress.  Yoga has always felt to me like a series of parts.  There are many instructions and many adjustments.  There are the parts of my body that I know are weak and the parts that are strong.  They rarely complement one another.  I have never liked having my body go over my head, for example, say, as in a cartwheel or somersault.  I am glad to finally be away from the teacher who insisted that everything in yoga built towards doing a headstand.  I'm not sure I ever care if I do a headstand.  

But, regarding the body going over the head--or something like that--I find I'm able to, well, sort of, "float" forward from down dog (which is still not a "resting" pose for me).  This involves trusting your upper body and shoulder strength enough to lift and swing the legs forward from the inverted triangle of down dog.  For me, doing this has meant that I have to let go of the fear that I will lose my balance and fall or somersault forward, in some way landing on my head.  

Also, moving from high lunge to warrior three, I actually felt my core engage as opposed to just my supporting leg.  Clearly, this makes it easier to do the transition and hold the pose.  And these things just sort of started happening automatically, without my really thinking about them.

I've always been fascinated by this sort of physiological effect--the shift between training and learning to compete, essentially.  Most of my previous athletic experience has been in track, so training is a series of components that builds not only stamina, but muscle memory.  For instance, watching the Olympic trials a couple of weekends ago, I was trying to explain to my husband and daughter why it's so difficult to win a 400m trial or race from lane 8, the outside lane.  You have to run the entire race based on your training: all the intervals you did to develop a sense of pace at different points in the race.  If you have a hope of winning, you won't see your competition either at all, or until you're rounding the last part of the final curve.  Having someone to chase after can make you run faster.

But, the life that your body has apart from your mind and how you can enter that physiological space--or be unaware of it--is a line I'm always excited to cross.  When your mind stops thinking and the body is capable of taking over.  I used to like it when I'd trained hard enough that the 'kick' at the end of the race came naturally--without thinking--and I felt my body switch over to some other sort of internal fuel--because at that point, something shifts physiologically, and your muscles feel lifted out of oxygen deprivation and what your body can do is completely separated from what your mind has been telling you--you vault over the mind/body barrier, so to speak.

For me, in poetry, the rhythms and the visceral sounds of language become some sort of manifestation of the body, grounded in something like the body, and often, I don't care to move out of it toward some other Platonic gesture that moves toward higher meaning.  The arc of Western thought (and some Eastern thought, too, I suppose) sometimes seems wrong to me, with its emphasis of moving beyond the body, leaving the body on the lowest rungs of the ladder of understanding, and insisting that higher thought and understanding are only achieved by advancing into the spiritual or bodiless realms.  That's just not my experience.  

And my own tendencies, to write about bodies, sex, and birth and so on, are only reinforced, I think now, by the experience with Robert.  I want to live my own bodily, visceral life, as hard and fast and much as possible because I know he can't do it with his--subconsciously making up for something, or realizing how much that bodily experience has meant to me over time--regret that he'll not have it.

Because, for so many people, the ugly fact of Robert's body stands as an incorrect representation of his mind.  His body is screwed up, so his mind has to be.  I'm so tired of that thinking.  So, only if your body is functional and lithe, can you have advanced intellectual abilities?  That seems to fly in the face of much of Western thought and philosophy!

Take this exchange, for example.  Congress is in the midst of broadening the Americans with Disabilities Act to guarantee more rights for college students.  This has led some higher education lobbying groups (the ones that serve college and university administrations) to get very nervous about protecting their "standards"--they want to ensure they can weed out anything that smacks of cognitive disability.  

So, see below and see why Senator Harkin is a new hero (from Inside Higher Ed):

Leading Tuesday’s discussion was Sen. Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who played a key role in passing the Americans With Disabilities Act 18 years ago. Harkin, who is promising Senate legislation within the next month, often seemed perplexed by education leaders’ concerns about the House bill. He was particularly skeptical of Hartle’s suggestion that higher education be provided a specific clause in the legislation, giving colleges and universities “deference” to determine which accommodations are unacceptable.

“We can’t do that,” Harkin said bluntly.

To clarify his position, Hartle offered an example of an accommodation that he said would undermine academic standards. He noted that students of comparative literature need to be able to read and speak a foreign language, and that this basic language requirement must be upheld to preserve the integrity of such degrees.

Hartle’s example led to one of the more interesting exchanges of the session, with Harkin arguing that a mute student in the 21st century could likely still do the work necessary in comparative literature if the proper accommodations were made. Harkin suggested that academe may be tied to some “antiquated conceptions and dictums handed down from centuries ago” that “have to be challenged once in a while.”

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