Friday, October 16, 2009

Meditations on why I do yoga

I ended up going to yoga after all. Let me digress a little and explain -- I was a headstanding, Sanskrit-chanting, blissed out yogini chick for about a four-year span of my life -- my late 30's early 40's. Then, for a lot of reasons (which I will not get into here, but suffice to say it had to do with my marriage almost breaking up, being in a funk about my work, changing gears and getting an actual career, and repairing my marriage) I went on a two-year yoga hiatus wherein I didn't even think about it.

But recently a lot of factors brought me back to the mat. Number one, changing jobs and getting an actual career that makes me incredibly happy was the first thing. I am actually in a place where I can get out of my head and back into my body because I'm not all tied up in knots about the fact that I hated my job so much. Number two was my younger brother getting diagnosed with the dreaded-but-sadly-expected diabetes. I always thought I'd be the first one because my brother has always been a bit of jock, what with all his hockey and baseball and golf playing antics, to say nothing of his semi-physical job. But nope, he's 44 and earlier this year -- whammo. Welcome to the blood-taking calorie count for him. So that kind of spurred me to think -- better get active sister or you are next. Number three was the myriad aches and pains I've been having lately. For heaven's sake, no one tells you that being in your middle 40's creates these weird twinges and downright annoying spasms in your feet, knees, hips and back. Plus I was tired all the time and I know that if I get my kapha body up off the couch my pitta soul will thank me for it (digression -- I picked up some Aruyvedic lore and have always thought that "pitta trapped in a kapha body" described us Iroquoian people to a T). So back to yoga I went.

I'm practicing a form of bikram-inspired yoga, a North American hybrid called moksha yoga. I've been taking a bunch of classes at the Moksha downtown studio and it's a beautiful place -- all eco-friendly interiors and clean lines, my kind of space. Of course, there's the lithe 20-something yoga gurls running around in their tight little Lululemon outfits and their neurotic energy, but I just hang out with my shorts and tank top and don't give a fuck about the fact that I'm six inches and probably a 100 lbs bigger than the biggest of them. I stopped caring. After all, I'm 45, I've got a husband and kids and a house and a dog and a car -- all of those things you can literallly feeling them vibrating for -- and I could give a shit what they think when they look at me. Actually in the shower I've been tempted to say, "Yeah, this is what you're going to look like after two pregnancies that put 60 lbs on you, 30 of which you have never lost and then two rounds of breastfeeding!!" but why scare the poor children. After all, yoga is about compassion...

But last night I had a really great teacher who wisely counselled the class that it should be about friendliness, and humour, and compassion, and not about achievement and competition and success, because after all, what are those things really? And it made me smile and even though I sweated probably 20lbs of water out of me -- it lingers with me today.

Which brings me to my main meditation today. My (white)brother-in-law actually asked me this on the weekend -- How do you reconcile that form of belief with your indigenous spirituality?

And besides worrying about why he felt he could ask that question, I've actually ruminated on this very topic for a long while. It comes down to this: my culture is about adaptation. This is how we survived. We have a long history of adopting other people into our clans, those persons replacing the ones we lost to war, starvation, disease. I don't think you can actually call those of us who are Iroquoian pure bloodline Iroquois; we are the sum of all of those years of adoption and assimilation of other tribes, other peoples into our own. And even if we call them Iroquois, who can say what those people who were adopted have brought into our culture? Our genius for survival is our ability to adapt. Our genius for resistance and political savvy and powerful people is that we harness all of that internally into our beings and project it outward into the world, onto the Turtle's back. We are a traditional people living a postmodern experience and culture-jam it back. It's a survival technique and it works. Even though there are only about 100,000 Iroquois people (this figure literally made me weep) in the entire world, we are here and we survived, coming back from the brink of extinction, and we continue to prosper. We will continue to survive and adapt. We are Darwinian in the extreme.

This brings me back to my personal belief around meditation/yoga/liberation. In the old days, work was your meditation. Working in the fields, pounding corn, making clothes and weapons and tracking animals, even walking the warpath -- this is all about turning off the mind, getting into your body, and becoming something other than yourself. My dad used to say that when he plowed a field it was like a meditation; hours could pass in the blink of an eye, there was only the earth, the sky, and the hum of the tractor. Now that I live in a city and the work is not physical but mental I need/desire/crave that exercise of the body that shuts off the mind. Even if it's for a little while.

So I'm feeling fairly great today. A little sore, but energized, alert -- happy. And ready for the challenges of the day.