Saturday, January 09, 2010

Sorry My Mistake

Happy baby pose (My sister's photograph)

I’ve been going to an Ashtanga Yoga class—two hours on Saturday evenings. I had a much different idea of what Ashtanga was before I started. Everyone always called it “power” yoga, and I hated that idea, because what I love most about yoga is that it doesn’t deal with archaic ideas like power, or “cardio.” It allows me to focus on being exactly in the moment that I am in now, in the body I am in now.

Ashtanga is many things, but it is not “power” yoga. It’s typical of vinyasa flow classes, where each movement corresponds to a breath, exhale or inhale. And it is intense. Every class I end up moving forward into my practice deeper than I had imagined I could, and it’s because so much is asked of me that I allow myself to move to exactly the place my body needs to be.

My favorite yoga truism is, “your body meets the asana in time.” Asana is the Sanskrit word for pose, and I’ve found that to be true in the rest of my life as well. My body meets the asana in time. In time, I find myself in the place I’ve been trying to be. Half of it is not trying at all, but breathing into the muscles, into the pose, breathing in time. “Do or do not do,” said that old sage, Yoda. “There is no try.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about a Gardner quote lately, from his book On Becoming a Novelist. Even though I adore The Art of Fiction, I resisted reading his second fiction-writing book because its title seemed so cheesy. Shouldn’t a real novelist be able to write without a book on becoming a novelist? It seemed to be more about figuring out how to wear cool glasses and hang out in cafes than actually writing a novel.

But one quote stayed with me:
“In her apprenticeship years, she succeeds, like Jack o’ the Green, by eating her own white guts. She cannot help being a little irascible: some of her schoolfriends are now rich, perhaps bemused by the fact that one of their smartest classmates is still struggling, getting nowhere, as far as anyone can see.” [emphasis, and gender correction, mine]
It’s that “as far as anyone can see” that matters. It’s exactly like yoga. I move forward in a pose by inches, by breaths. Some days it’s merely a finger’s-breadth that my hand shifts forward, but that is where the asana is meeting my body in time. It’s that way, as I write. I inch forward, making no progress, as far as anyone can see. Only I know that I’m releasing, breath by breath. I know that my sentences are strengthening. I know that my plots are taking shape. As I huddle in my basement, dickering over words, shrouded in down and dried out by electric heat, I know I’m exactly in the place I need to be.


Audra said...

What do you mean by "it doesn't deal with archaic ideas like power or cardio"? Why are cardiac workouts obsolete, and what do you mean by power is obsolete?

sfauthor said...

Nice posting. Do you know about these yoga books?

Melissa said...

I was being half-facetious. :) Obviously, I believe in the importance of cardiovascular exercise, although I do hate it when it's called "cardio." Power I feel more strongly about--yoga is about being centered and mindful, the antithesis of hungering after power. Calling it "power yoga" seems to be the worst of Americanizations.