Sunday, January 17, 2010

Core like a star

Toward the end of the school year, in 2007, in fact, near Memorial Day weekend, my backyard neighbor Stacey asked me if I had ever thought about doing yoga--she was and very much enjoying it. Come to the studio with me, she said, there's a membership special.

I asked her if I would have to chant. Chanting is pretty much where I draw the line with outside activities. That and things that involve hurling my body into space.

Oh, no, she said, looking concerned--it's like 'yoga-cize'--the flowing postures. Vinyasa.

So I started doing something another version of myself would have rejected out of hand. The first thing that impressed me was yoga's difficulty, having never given any thought as to whether I could support the weight of my body on my palms and wrists for extended periods of time. The answer to that turned out to be, no.

I had been a runner, a track athlete, for most of my physically active life. A little cross-country skiing that did not involve navigating steep downhill slopes. My balance has never been good, and it's one thing to propel the self forward on its own terms and conditions, quite another to throw in the variable of gravity. As a kid, I found myself too often in that sudden tangle of legs, skis, and ski poles--arms, too, if the wrists stayed in the loops--sudden in that way the brain blips out the fall and there's only before (upright) and after (laid to ground, cheek cold against the snow, feet twisted in bindings that don't release). Because the old X-C bindings clamped to the boot's toes with the ferocity of a dog with a bone, the variety of landing postures after a fall never ceased to amaze me--the contortions that only a skiing partner can undo for you.

So, sufficiently convinced of yoga's worthiness through its relative difficulty, I pressed on with it through weak plank poses, my body's center bowing in the middle, agonizing down dogs (this is a resting pose?), and pathetic attempts at crow (sure, my whole body can perch atop my upper arms bent forward over my palms). There were days I found the yoga instructor's calls incomprehensible.

But it rescued me. I had been at my limit with lifting Robert--he was tipping toward 60 pounds--and my arms lacked the coordinated strength to continue to lift well. After the second week of yoga, an incentive was a new-found awareness of undiscovered muscles in my arms.

It rescued me. I entered this exercise tunnel on the cusp of middle age, with all its physical uncertainties generated from the body's own natural unfoldings and overflowings, as well as the emotional stress that drags with it an undertow of bodily unhingings.

Sometimes, women who have children lose a sense of ownership of their bodies, or at least that was the case with me. That is, I had a sense of inhabiting my body like a person within a rented structure. This structure suffered physical change, not the least of which was childbirth, and I looked through its eyes without any further understanding of its exterior. I had spent my recent life being inhabited by others, tolerating and accommodating changes to my dimensions, interior and exterior decorating, additions, bigger windows, stress to the foundation. The new owners were benignly careless the way college students are for the few years they nick, scratch, and spill before moving on. In the end, I accepted myself, my physical self as some sort of rent-back, perhaps to buy.

For me, yoga has not been a spiritual practice; rather, its value lies in how it takes me to my body's interior structure: the joists, the frame, the studwork. After a year building arcane muscles and sensing the body as a series of blocks--arms, shoulders, trunk, back, thighs, feet, hands--shifts in physical perception announced themselves to my conscious mind. A sense the balls of the feet had for supporting the weight of the thighs in high lunge, a growing awareness that my body had core muscles, the center of my abdomen like a powerful gear that leveraged the actions of my limbs.

I found myself one day in half-moon, right foot planted on the floor, knee bent only so slightly, plane of the body rotated sideways, left hip rotated upward and left leg extended, shin and foot squared, left arm reaching up, right hand on a block--and there was my core like a star, supporting from the center each of my limbs, and I let my hand go from the block and felt a release of gravity. I could sense levitation if not actually accomplish it, much as Mr. Ramsay in To the Lighthouse understands the letter P, can see Q so clearly, and can imagine R.

Mr. Ramsay is looking forward into the channel of philosophy. I am sometimes looking backward on my physical self, yoga having helped me backward to my old runner's body, a recognition of my waist, the memory of strength and litheness. The me before all of this happened rooted and extended through the me of now. A rare thing it is, to rebuild the site where your house once stood.

And in sessions now, I am better able to lose myself in the complexities of bodily movement, escaping the mind. Somehow, the release of this connection feels right--my body, which produced Robert's body, able to live for both of us a supra-physical existence in which I can channel him, his mind-body disconnection real and acute, the cells of his body that still move through mine animate and levitating.


Elizabeth said...


Mary Jo Thompson said...

Thank you SO MUCH. Namaste. This is beautifully written, Geneva, and I related to every word of it. PS. Have you chanted yet? It's very calming.

devemaster said...

Great story!