Clean and Elegant

Clean and Elegant

Monday, 22 October 2012

21st Century Yoga and an End to Self-Care

Someone just wrote an article called, “An End to Self-Care.”  The author claims that our society is way too concerned with avoiding burnout.  We should focus our energies on social engagement, on community action, on making changes.  No more, change yourself, then change the world.   Change the world, and you yourself will be transformed too.  Everything changes all  at once.  It’s so efficient.  Although I understand some of what the author has to say, I find the article to be a bit preachy and one-sided.  That said, I love Nathan’s response to it.  Nathan happens to be one of the contributors to the book, “21st Century Yoga:  Culture, Politics, and Practice.”  Writers Carol Horton and Roseanne Harvey have compiled ten excellent essays that discuss contemporary yoga in our western society.  Yoga’s potential, its gifts, its limitations. 

Buy the Book Here.    Or on Amazon.
Topics range from healing anorexia through yoga to teaching yoga in the military, and how yoga does and doesn’t challenge the political status quo.  Just because we become more clear-headed and self-aware does not mean that we will go on to lead a more peaceful life, to be a “better” person.  Nearly every essay hit home for me, but these two essays are  spurring the most thoughts for me right now:

Matthew Remski’s “Yoga Will Not Form a Real Culture Until Every Studio Can Also Double As a Soup Kitchen and other observations between yoga and activism,”
And Michael Stone’s  “Our True Nature is Our Imagination:  Yoga and Non-Violence.” 

To put it simply, both authors urge teachers and practitioners to move beyond the fabulousness of our acetabular rotation and use our practices to serve others, to build community, and transform the world. 
Before the arthritis sneaks in.
Transforming the world can take place on a small scale, as small as nourishing and giving within a loving committed relationship, within a friendship.  I've experienced this sort of transforming love with the Boatman, and it's something I've never had before.  And of course we cannot forget the Big Black Dog.  I don`t discount the great importance of these relationships but lately it seems that in other areas, I am paralyzed, alone on my yoga mat, waiting for my acetabulum to become more fabulous.  I have been waiting for a long time. 
I have written about how yoga transformed me and my life, how it taught me not to llie.  I wasn’t lying when I wrote these things, but I’m not convinced that “Yoga made me a better person.”  Before I committed to a daily practice, I made concrete and honest contributions to the world.  When I was a teenager, I helped my parents take care of Glendon, a little boy with cerebral palsy.  I spent summers working at camps for children with special needs.  Two years into university, I left school to live and work at a home for adults with intellectual disabilities.  I stayed there for two years.   Many of the people around me didn’t own yoga mats-they still don’t-and perhaps they wouldn’t necessarily become better people if they did. 

It was when I left the house for people with disabilities that I found Darby and Joanne at Sattva Yoga Shala.  After five or six years dabbling in different types of yoga in different capacities of commitment, I finally had the time and energy to embark on a daily practice.  My acetabular rotation became increasingly fabulous.  I learned how to go upside down.  Most importantly, within days of beginning morning Mysore with Darby, with the help of a temporary source of sexual gratification, (The Vegan Life Coach, not Darby!), I stopped puking in my mouth.  Puking in my mouth, or my deal with rumination syndrome/bulimia, is this long, sad, boring story that is just one variation on the plethora of stories of people around the world who struggle with eating disorders.  Even though I never “achieved” a trophy anorexic weight, or damaged my body to the point of a stroke or a heart attack, I come back to this story again and again, not only because the puke came back again and again, but because the experience was Hideous and Traumatic. Before my yoga practice became consistent, everything I did was tainted with puke.  I was young, with pure intentions and an open heart.  I wanted desperately to serve: to transform the world and transform myself.  But in the background of all the valuable work I did, all day long I could taste the puke.

While I was caring for others, feeding them, changing their diapers, the taste of vomit stopped me from fully experiencing where I was.  I wasn’t fully there for them. 

Of course, we can’t all be “fully healed”  and “fully in the present moment,” before we’re ready to serve.  Otherwise no one would ever do anything for anyone.  But how much self-care is reasonable?  How much is necessary? 

When I left the house for people with disabilities, I felt both extremely guilty that I would no longer be serving in the same capacity as I was before, but also convinced that I never wanted to do anything so all-consuming ever again. 

Five years later, those years at that house are probably the most tangible “contribution” that I’ve ever made. In the meantime, I’ve maintained a daily Ashtanga yoga practice.  I can count the number of unsanctioned days off I’ve taken (besides Saturdays, moondays and ladies’ holidays) on less than one hand.  In misguided attempts to further cleanse and purify my body, and a failure to curb my tendencies towards overexercise, remnants of my eating disorder returned within eight months of daily practice.  My symptoms lingered for a few years, and then went away.  Ultimately, my yoga (asana) practice has shown its potential for healing, self-absorption, and shall I admit it, some physical violence.  Although sometimes I would like it to be, practice isn’t an insurance policy that gives you a pass for the rest of the day. 

That said, this is not a “breaking up with Ashtanga” letter, and I do feel that my practice has benefited me immensely and it remains a necessary part of my routine of self-care.  I will keep practicing wholeheartedly, but perhaps I can let go of some of the neurosis that’s wrapped around completing the same postures in exactly the same way every day.  And I need to remind myself that even though there are things I learned on the mat that I couldn’t realize while I was frantically changing diapers at the house for people with disabilities, other very important things occurred while I was changing those diapers.  Despite my then mediocre acetabular rotation. 

In his writing and interviews, Michael Stone always speaks about yoga being an act of intimacy.  Our yoga practices should allow us to engage in more intimate relationships, both with ourselves, with others, and with the world.  I guess that this means we may be practicing yoga more often than we think, or perhaps not as often at all.
In any case, I thank Carol Horton, Roseanne Harvey and all of the contributors to 21st century yoga for inspiring these reflections.  I highly recommend this book, and I look forward to the next volume. 

The End.
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Twitter: @mypelvicfloor
I Let Go, by Erica J. Schmidt

A Broken Body is Not a Broken Spirit
My Life's Purpose
The Benefits of an Ashtanga Yoga Practice

1 comment:

  1. Someone once said to me, "Your practice can't do the work for you. Do your practice, and do the work". Or something like that. But probably more eloquent. Anyway, I can relate to what you're saying - when you practice for a while it seems like the transformations are happening all on their own and you are just along for the ride. "Do your practice and all is coming". But at some point that magic ride stops and you have to take the reins again, otherwise you end up just as neurotic as before, except now you are a neurotic yogi. Which is not transformation, it's transference. I think there comes a time for all of us yogis when we are ready to gather what we have learned and take it off the mat - and as my same teacher said, that is where the real yoga begins.