Monday, October 16, 2006

Paean to Yoga in Cliché Mode

One of my sisters asked me recently why I did yoga. Her view was that it was a waste of time. She’s a person with lots to do: a full-time teaching position in a European university, and two beautiful but willful little boys. She used to love to go to the gym and sweat. She seems to feel that unless something is strenuous both in appearance and subjective experience, it’s not really physical exercise. She doesn't really want anything less than her ideal workout (although she stays trim running after her children and shorting herself on meals) and laments her former-fitness-buff fate. I understand that; I am still addicted to cardio machines and weight work, and glad I have time to do it. And yet, I love yoga. It’s really more of a complicated discipline than either of the above, an exercise not of exertion but of control and precise forms. Rather than heavy breathing to pull in the air, the breath is coordinated with movements, usually very slowly done, calling for a lot of muscular strength in places you didn’t know you had muscles. The movements themselves are at the edge of what is possible for most amateur practitioners in terms of stretching and flexibility. American yoga doesn’t ask the impossible, and offers alternative positions for those who can’t quite do the lotus or the various twisting “binds” that conclude some of the more advanced postures. Poses like “triangle” are a balance challenge for me (let’s not even talk about “standing tree”)! The spiritual aspects of yoga are downplayed for Westerners; in my state-sponsored university gym, any “meditation” at the end of an hour-and-15-minute yoga session is verboten. But the vaguely-Eastern music drones on. Sometimes it’s pleasant when kept at a low volume. At the very least, it helps create the illusion that one’s movements are smooth, not jerky. I have achieved more of that “good achey” feeling (particularly in the hamstrings) from yoga than from almost any other workout. Friends of mine have had to take naps afterwards; even the instructor ends the class with, “Don’t go tossing any hay bales today. Be kind to your lower back; it’s probably very vulnerable right now. Drink plenty of water.” This is also what some massage therapists say after giving you a deep rubdown. I rarely follow the advice, but it indicates that there have been enough unfortunate post-session events for both yoga instructors and massage therapists to be wary of lawsuits. So something must be getting done to the body! I’m a once-a-weeker, not all that devoted, but I look forward to it. My Saturday morning yoga class makes my weekend.


Anonymous said...

another try with "other"

Anonymous said...

I lile y'r blog! I notice that in contrast with my comments & opinion stuff that your's is quite personal . I am too academical for that!