Friday, June 10, 2005

Orcas Mandala

Yesterday, I tried yoga for the first time. I don’t know anything about yoga, except that it seems to involve stretching, some of the stretching has names that people make jokes out of, like “downward dog,” that lady sitting in the chair on PBS is doing it for seniors, there’s something vaguely spiritual about it and magazines are starting to say that it’s really good for you.

So, after talking to Rhonda and her friend Jared about it for a little while (I really didn’t learn more than I already knew), I went to the place that they recommended for a class. I figured that I could wait until I got back to Chicago, but then I’d have to find the authentic studio that wasn’t just doing it because it was trendy. I wouldn’t have enough knowledge to judge that very well, though. Also, I’d be surrounded by pretty people who would be shoving their heightened spirituality at me. So, I need to learn here. It’ll be part of the island experience.

Here is what I learned about yoga: it’s hard.

It’s hard because it’s subtle. When I’ve learned to play sports in my life, fine tuning things like grips on bats or racquets didn’t become an issue until after I’d mastered the basics. In yoga, tiny little adjustments in posture are necessary right away to get the right stretch. Luckily, there were only two other women in my class and they knew what they were doing. So the instructor, Hannah, was able to walk around easily and adjust me. It was mind-blowing what a difference tucking my pelvis or rolling my shoulders just a few centimeters made.

But all the time, you’re supposed to be breathing. And that’s good, because blowing out your breath really hard gives you something to focus on when it hurts to keep your leg in the air. I like the breathing. Time doesn’t exist when you think about your breathing. There is only the air. At the roots of language “air,” “breath,” “wind” and “spirit” are all represented by the same word. When you notice each breath that comes in and each breath that goes out, every other thought but that seems not to even exist. It’s like prayer. In fact, my first experience with paying attention to my breathing was when the chapel in college brought in a Buddhist to demonstrate meditation. So my first experience with meditation was sitting on a pew in church with a cross looming over me. Since the chaplain had organized it, I didn’t have to feel threatened by a foreign religious practice. I could pray to my own god through someone else’s tradition.

Today, muscles I didn’t know I had hurt. Did you know that it’s not just skin over your ribs? There’s muscle there too and mine hurts. The breathing that Hannah was instructing was different than the breathing that I’ve learned to sing. In singing, the breath goes down and fills up your belly, pushing your diaphragm out. If you fill your chest while breathing to sing, you don’t give your vocal cords enough room to resonate as well. In yoga, though, you expand your chest, activating it. By activating it, now it hurts. Everything that is worthwhile, though, hurts in the beginning.

I don’t know much more than I knew before. I did a dolphin and a twisted root. I breathed. An hour felt like forever and went by in no time at all. I hurt. It’s worth learning.

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