My Body and Me

Cross-posted at Mars is Heaven.

Let us just skip right over the yoga class I went to on Monday night (I write this on Tuesday morning). I bitched to BF for three or four minutes without taking a breath about why it made me so unhappy, but it’s just not worth complaining about here. The good news I garnered out of that trip to the studio is that I’ll be teaching at Lululemon for three of the four Saturdays in July. Woo! I love teaching there, and it almost definitely means three feedback forms. I’m also taking over the fourth Saturday of the month at the studio at 10:15, which is a class for which the nominal instructor has been a no-show twice now with no explanation. It’s a prime slot, and I’m glad I’m finally afforded one.

Teaching three or four times a week has given me a whole new relationship to my body. Yoga teaching is a vocation (or an avocation) that requires a strong and healthy body. It’s a vocation where the body is constantly used – for demonstration and for adjustment. The body is depended upon, not just to get us from here to there, or to lift and carry, or to be in one physical space for the duration of a workday. It must bend and twist and stretch and work for 60-75 minutes, and do these things well enough to keep the students safe in their imitation of your poses. It must do the difficult things you ask of it, or you will not be doing your job. I wouldn’t say that my job is as hard on my body as an athlete’s or a dancer’s job, but it’s the same idea: the body is your profession, and when the body breaks down, your ability to do your job is compromised.

This has led me to alternately push my body (during class) and try to treat it very kindly and gently (at all other times). I’m afraid of it breaking [further], and I’m almost equally afraid of it staying unbroken, because that means I have to keep punishing it this way. I’d have it a lot easier if I had larger classes, composed partially of students who know what they’re doing, because I could rely on the more experienced students to partially model the class, and wouldn’t have to do every move, every breath of the class with the students for the sake of demonstration. As it is, with three or four students per class, none of whom really know the poses or the sequences, I’m left with lots of demonstration and little rest or adjustment time. Although I love teaching, I’m tired of working so hard, and I don’t know where the breaking point is – where my edge is, the place where I say this far and no further, no more classes on my schedule, no more teaching one student per class rather than just telling them to go home, no more full sun salutes with them.

I should add that yoga is, by and large, not unsafe – my eye keeps catching on the word “punishing” as I’m revising this post, and it’s not really a word that is generally associated with yoga – but too damn much of anything is not healthy. Teaching fills me with joy and light, and I love saying “you’re welcome” to students at the end of a class, but my weary Sunday evenings, when I find myself with barely the energy to get off the couch for a snack, are my body reminding me that it’s also hard, hard work.

So while I honor and revere my body for doing such great work for me, I’m also a little afraid of and for it. My mind keeps pushing and my body keeps responding, until it’s exhausted, and even then I find it usually has a little more to give me. This is disrespectful. So I try to baby it, make it feel better with more gentle or ecstatic yoga when I practice by myself. But then I get angry at it for being too inflexible to bend all the way over, for being so weak as to have injuries that haven’t fully healed despite the energy I’ve put into that healing. More disrespect. I apologize, and I get cautious: how much have you got for me today? Can you go a little farther? Good, goooooood body. Let’s keep going. And then the cycle starts all over again with pushing and responding. I’m afraid of its limitations, which I don’t really understand fully, and I’m intimidated by its ability, which has been tested mightily and has continued to triumph. All of these emotions I feel about my own body, the crude matter that houses me, the fingers typing these words.

There’s another, only partially related set of actions and reactions that I have with my body: what’s going to happen as it ages. The spectre of aging is a huge percentage of the reason that I do yoga: I want to maintain a youthful range of motion, lubricated joints, a healthy spine (ha), good circulation, etc. I had an elderly woman in my restorative class recently who couldn’t sit on the floor comfortably, lift her own body to scoot herself forward, or stand up without help. I do not want that to happen to me, just through the normal deterioration of the body. I’m petrified of that eventuality, to be honest – like, cold sweaty nightmares kind of fear - and I want to do everything possible to keep myself safe and strong and able for as long as I have.

I’m also vain, and when I see my body changing as I get older, I feel a sense of something slipping away. I know intellectually that to everything there is a season, turn, turn, turn, and there’s a time for me to be 22, and a time for me to be 45, and a time for me to be 71. There are advantages and disadvantages to every time in life. But the disadvantages of age, they press on me, they bring me naked terror. I’ve been living with the disadvantages of youth (no one takes me seriously, and it’s more frustrating than I can explain in paragraphs, so this parenthetical will just have to do) for as long as I can remember. But I really don’t know if trading that in for a sagging face and unexplained aches and pains and hardening ligaments is worth it at all. I’m not sure that it is.

I’m just trying to stay in love with my body, rather than resenting it for its limitations and changes as it ages. It’s hard to do, but it’s my hope that yoga will make it easier – rather than harder, as it is now, with the cycle of teaching and its stresses.

4 Responses to My Body and Me

  1. [...] my body and me Cross-posted at No Butts. [...]

  2. Taoist Biker says:

    “Funny out of context for $500, Alex:” Your body is amazing.

    As someone who has seen just a little bit of what you can do with your body, I’m quite impressed. And not a little envious, in truth – while recognizing that I don’t have the necessary drive to change my priorities to do the mounds of work that it would require for me to even approach the level you’ve achieved.

    I can tell you that I can tell that I’m not 30 anymore – I get a little more worn out when I do physical work for more than half an hour or so than I did not too many years past – but I think my activity level overall is helping me. It’s not that I can’t hop on my bike and lead Boy up the big hills when I want to; it’s that I find myself not wanting to do the little two minutes of wrestling in between TV shows like I used to. Once I get into moving-gear, I seem to do just fine. (For now.)

    I think you’ll gradually find an equilibrium between too much and not enough, although it will likely be a somewhat fluid equilibrium, and it may take a while to get there. Teaching in some respects probably makes it harder, since you have to push physically in order to communicate what you want to your students – but in the end I think answering questions will help you find the mental space that will bridge the gap.

    It seems that I stopped worrying so much about people thinking I was too young to take seriously when I was about 32 or 33 – right about the same time I started slowing down physically, I suppose. What I’m trying to say is that there’s a happy medium for you just around the corner. ;)

  3. Kimmothy says:

    Wanna know something really weird? I seriously, swear-on-the-Bible, just came over here to post and the name of it in my head was “My thyroid and Me.” I know there’s no way to prove it but why would I make up something that random?
    Your body may be way (WAY) more flexible than mine, but it’s good to know great minds think alike.

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