Why yoga?

It occurred to me this morning that yoga is a lot like writing. There are a hundred tiny movements in one single transition, and you must be aware of all of them to execute the total process (the series of transitions) to its best effect. Unfortunately, each of those tiny movements can be draining if not outright painful, and your awareness of this fact does nothing to build confidence.

Maybe you’ll understand if you try it:

The thing I both love and hate about yoga is how aware it forces the practitioner to be of all her failings. It can be easy to hurry through other workouts: when I lifted weights, I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth and refused to breathe as I counted out each chest press. This is part of why I never got anywhere with it: the pain was negligible, but I deliberately made it unpleasant for myself. I put myself in competition with everyone around me (yes, I’m the psycho at your gym who stares at your toned shoulders and silently resents you for them, that’s me) for no reason. I made it impossible for myself to succeed, much less enjoy myself. I was focused on the numbers, raising them every week, but didn’t gain any sense of accomplishment from doing so. That’s because I hadn’t accomplished anything but putting additional pressure on my spine.

My spine and I have a weird relationship. You see, it’s curved. It used to be more curved, and when I was younger there was some debate as to whether I should be put in a back brace. I wished and hoped and prayed that this would not be so, and then it wasn’t. Now I wonder if maybe I should have just worn the damn thing. Orthodontic braces fixed my molars, after all — maybe a prescription corset could have fixed my posture. Today, at 26, I’m plagued with persistent lower back pain and occasional neck pain. Part of that is my inability (or unwillingness) to sit up straight as I’m typing. To date, yoga and Pilates are the only semi-permanent fixes I’ve found for these issues. Painkillers and hot packs work in the short term, but they do nothing to relieve the tightness in the muscles or the misalignment that creates it. To fix the problem, you have to address the root cause, and re-align from within.

I’d love it if yoga sculpted my body into something I could enjoy looking at. I’d love it if it made me measurably healthier, if it slowed my pulse or improved my circulation. But the real reason I do it is so that I won’t hurt any more.

I write for basically the same reason. I get the same sense of accomplishment from both activities: that awareness of incremental progress, the once-difficult stretches slowly becoming more fluid, the Hey, I kept my balance, this time, when it all works. By no means am I proficient, but I have a definite sense of improvement. I know I’ve succeeded if I can stretch just that little bit further or bend that little bit deeper. It has nothing to do with numbers. It has to do with me, alone on the mat, trembling. In the end, the blank page is not so different.

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