Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I remember - I learn

This week I started attending a new yoga class for women. I haven't been going to a yoga class for about 3 years, preferring to save gas money and continue a home practice. However, the home practice has been a little spotty and my body is feeling the need for more focused self-care, so off to class I go!

It was the very first session of the class. Most of us didn't know each other. We gave each other friendly little glances, but mostly kept to ourselves, still sneaking peeks at each other--how is she doing that? am I supposed to lean over more? how on earth can I do that?--yet mostly self-absorbed, which is actually ideal in this case. We are not trying to compete with each other, just trying to figure out what our bodies feel like in this yoga practice.

I liked the teacher. Very kind and nurturing, yet clear about what is ideal and safe. She's just getting to know us, too.

My favorite part of the class was doing some of the standing poses and feeling the muscle memory returning. Some balances are precarious, yet my body remembers to lean backwards just enough to keep me aligned. It was a good feeling. A powerful feeling!

How does my body remember?

For instance, how does it remember to stand up straight so my back is happy? To turn and acknowledge someone? To roll out pie crust? To thread new salt into the narrow neck of the shaker? To play ping pong or throw a frisbee? How it feels when grief moves through the body? Or how a dance connects and progresses? How to draw a fine ruled inkline without a blob at beginning or end? To tighten a bolt just so? To balance on one leg and a block?

I think the body just remembers. I know that's not an answer. Think of it more as a philosophical musing.

The brain keeps any neural pathway that's had active use, maybe letting it fade with disuse ("use it or lose it" some people say), but eager to open it up again when we have occasion to strengthen it. So some of those little-used pathways may have died back, choked with weeds, or more likely, overgrown with the everyday actions of our lives, but traces still remain.

It's reassuring in some ways. Yes, we can get caught in old responses, we can neglect old skills. Yet there is something still there to call back when we need it. And the body rejoices--I remember!

I remember what it's like to feel my body balanced and dynamic.

My favorite new part of the class was playing with what yoga people often call "flow," moving poses in synch with ones breath, in and out. I've never taken a "flow" class, preferring to solidify my physical understanding of each pose in Iyingar yoga, using props to support each pose and settling in to experience each one at length.

Here the flow seemed to make sense for the first time. We did eagle pose with flow, slightly raising our heads and entwined arms with each breath in, lowering them with each breath out. Moving with our breath was also a welcome change for several other poses.

Using flow seems to enjoy and encourage the ebb and flow in our bodies and our lives. Nothing stands stock still. Everything is constantly changing or flexing in cycles. Even something that seems rock solid may be changing slightly on a cosmic scale.

And our lives and bodies change too... constantly flexing and moving, cycling through different phases.

A new phase in life - exciting, scary, invigorating, wearying.

We see our old life, our old ways, while we are pulled towards our new ways. Or maybe the new ways are variations on the old. And so we flow through our cycles and explore new pathways. My brain is certainly being stretched, and my body too. We are all part of the same animal.

I think I'm ready for new experiences! Just trying to stay in the flow.

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