I suppose no one ever makes a resolution to spend more time becoming at a computer potato, though I certainly spent last year acting as if that had been my intention.
So as the year turned, I resolved, as did everyone else, to get fit. Though I walk almost every day--and could log a dozen miles easily--I gave myself a slide last year, what with intestinal parasites (India nearly a year ago already!) and writing deadlines and the paperback tour for Slow Love and the startup of Moms Clean Air Force (check out our video of Ayelet Waldman, whose book The Bad Mother is fabulous).... My preferred airplane meal is a bag of Teddy Grahams and peanut (for protein) M+Ms, which is fine if you are on a plane once every three months but a bit more problematic when that's dinner five nights in a row.
What to do? I don't like walking in freezing weather (not that we're having so much of that...ahem, global warming, everyone, pay attention! Resolve to connect with this issue and be a force for change!) I love to run, but have hurt a hip several times in running. Cycling? I've been really wanting to train there--on the inspiration of my son Alex who loves cycling, but I'll have to buy a bike. And the cold...etc. What to do, indeed?
All this internal nattering was wheeling through my brain on the last evening of last year, part of which I spent at the last performance ever of Merce Cunningham's dance company. A sad passing, that. The angular, taut MC way of movement has been etched into my consciousness as long as I've been watching modern dance, and because of his relationship with John Cage, who was active at Wesleyan, I was exposed to quite a bit of their way of seeing bodies move through space, to say nothing of sound moving through space and time. It was thrilling. Ah, college. A time of limitless possibilities, all manner of fabulousness and nonsense too, and who could tell the difference and why would anyone want to?
The last dance of the legacy tour was in the cavernous Park Avenue Armory, and the extent of my critical evaluation is this: it was a glorious performance.
Because there were no curtains and the stage was in full view before the performance, those of us who got there early to nab a good seat could watch the dancers warm up for 45 minutes. That, too, was an incredible treat. Many of them went through yoga moves.
Somehow I ended up tucked on a bench along with a small chorus of dance veterans, many of whom were well into old age--choreographers, dancers, producers, designers. The woman next to me, who was at least 80, sat quietly as people came up to pay obeisance, but she became quite animated during the show, laughing at certain moves, clapping, sighing appreciatively, murmuring. She provided quite a good guide as to what to notice.
During the warm up one dancer bridged herself up into the yogic "wheel pose"--Chakra asana? Urdhava Dhanurasan? ah, the infinite possibilities of the web, the unknowability of answers revealed therein...It is a back bend with feet and hands on the floor. The dancer held it for a while.
Those beautiful, fit, lithe, strong, bodies, capable of spontaneous leaps of joy. How divine in their expression.
My elderly neighbor watched this bridge arch up, sighed heavily, and said, "Ohhhhh, I used to be able to do that."
I watched that bridge arch up, sighed heavily, and thought, "Ohhhh, I used to be able to do that."
It used to be one of my favorite stretches.
Then I thought about all the things I used to be able to do. I used to ski down Colorado mountains. I used to be a waterskiing counselor in Vermont, for heaven's sake, slaloming across the mirror surfaces of Lake Champlain at sunrise. Heaven. I used to run four or five miles, easily. I used to roller skate the roadway around Central Park at dawn. I used to...
Suddenly it came to me: I do not want to become a person who used to be able to do that.
I want to be able to do that wheel pose. And more.
I am of an age where the road divides. One way is banked with sloth, torpor, entropy, and what-have-you kinds of nonsense, throwing everything into a gloomy shade. The other road is full of hairpin turns. They require flexibility and a nimble spirit. Much more exciting. The sun shines, and the views are better.
Why, oh why, is it so very hard to keep doing the things that are good for you, and that actually make you feel good for a long time?--and why, oh why, is it so easy to slip into the ways that end up feeling bad, mere seconds after they felt good? That is the question I will ponder, when I'm not mindlessly caving into sloth, torpor, entropy, and other kinds of nonsense.
So off to yoga class I went, to learn, once again, the moves that open heart and limb.
P.S. Went to a few classes. Shocked to see how much flexibility I had lost...and how much my body welcomed the stretches and began to move towards the poses. The yoga does stay in the body, somehow.
Then I read that horrifying New York Times piece about how yoga wrecks your body.
During my next class, all I could think was, your ribs are going to pop out. Your spinal fluid will seep out spill down your insides and your bones will grind together. Your hips will be thrown out of joint... Yes, I have a vivid imagination, but when you read that piece and learn of the injuries people have brought on themselves....you'll see why fear suddenly moved into the middle of my practice.
So I wrote to Katrina Kenison, the author of a beautiful book called "The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother's Memoir". I happen to know through some correspondence with her that she is devoted to her yoga practice. I wanted another take on that article--and I wanted reassurance. Here's what she wrote:
my gentle advice to you is to replace fear in your yoga practice with compassion -- for yourself, for your body, and for where you are. Go slowly and feel your way. Breathe. If you are paying attention, and caring for yourself rather than trying to compete with some thirty-year-old on the next mat, you are not going to get hurt. Anyone who pops three ribs in a spinal twist is brain dead. I was really shocked that the Times would publish such drivel, but life is too short for me to pick away at all the erroneous statements and illogical conclusions therein (although a few of my Kripalu classmates have done a good job of that!). I do know that when I practice regularly, gently, my body feels lighter and less stiff and my hips and back don't hurt. And when I don't, everything aches all over and I feel about ten years older.
And here's a great response from yoga teacher Bernadette Birney, who writes about how yoga has always been about power--and that must be respected! I love her story about how she became a yoga teacher; there's a lesson in it for all of us, no matter what our dreams of becoming....