How Yoga Taught Me that Gravity is Optional
I love the progress of a pose: the journey of exploring the body and its movement in space. In a way, my favourite part of a pose is the moment before I achieve it. I can feel it nearby, an arm’s distance away. I struggle with other physical disciplines precisely because I feel the progress towards a pose is more than physical, but rather a meditation of process. I savour each step, and I don’t like being pushed. When my aerials instructor tells me to pull a certain climb and I feel it is physically impossible, my first impulse is frustration and to give up. I then remember my yoga practice: how my whole practice is about the journey and not about accomplishing a Thing, and I breathe. Then, I try again.
Handstand took me close to a year to reach, and I often explain to people that no, I did not get into yoga because of the physical aspects of it, but for the mental benefits. Yes, I can arm balance comfortably and forearm stand is almost relaxing so much so that I can explore air dances, but that’s not the point. It was not always that way. I started yoga mostly as an exercise of learning to be embodied. To stretch and feel my muscles within the confined spaces of the mat. It was an exercise to learn to connect breath with the physical sensations in my body, to listen, to communicate, to get back in touch with my physicality.
I was not always like this. I used to live purely in my mind: a purely intellectual being. My physical body was divorced from my spirit and mind, and I saw it merely as a vehicle for me to be able to go through the physical motions of being alive. I was underweight, mostly because I fed it just enough to be able to survive without starving. I also had moments of insatiable “binging” (what I choose to call a famine feast, and a natural result of having a malnourished body) because my body would rebel against my mistreatment of it, and the results were not pretty. Contrary to what some people think, it really, really sucks to be underweight. You feel weak, you cannot climb the stairs, you’re dizzy if you delay your meal by 10 minutes (I am not exaggerating), and you’re always hungry. Ask anyone who is not their healthy weight: it is not a pretty picture. Your body knows that you do not care about it, and you pay the price.
I took yoga as a way to learn how to talk to my body again. When I first got onto my mat (or the carpet, rather, since I started in my room watching short YouTube videos), my body swore strings of expletives in my direction. It was not happy. It screamed its anger, its hunger, its stiffness. But gradually, I learned to work it, to bend, stretch, open my heart, and invert my expectations. Gradually, we built a relationship of trust and candour, and as I grew stronger, I was able to do moves I thought impossible before.
I fell in love with inversions and arm balances not because they look impressive for the crowd (although that is certainly true), or because I am particularly athletic (I wouldn’t run unless I was chased by a bear), but because they taught me that gravity is optional if you learn to tune into your body and breathe your way through the hard bits. It was a dance between me, my body, and my mind. I learned to turn on the “keys” to be able to balance and invert lightly. The goal: to listen, to tune into what my body wanted on a given day, and to respect myself. Sometimes, that meant resting and doing restorative stretches; other times, it meant inverting and turning my perspective upside down.
It is still a struggle every day. Recently, my handstand practice became accessible for the first time in a year. Seeing as my practice was not always a “strong” one, this is a surprise more to me than anyone else: I am a physical being; I am in my body. I am not just a mind in a body sack. I know that many go to yoga to be liberated from the graviton of their bodies, but I came to yoga to find mine.