Strong and Fragile Parts by Arielle Bernstein.
I first started doing yoga two years ago, when my ex was offered a temporary position in Mongolia. I had the apartment we had shared at the time to myself and for the first time in a pretty long time I was living alone. I was looking for anything to distract myself from the pain of separation and found a 50-dollar all you can do month long yoga deal. I thought even if I hated it, 50 dollars was worth a few classes. Before then I had been one of those people who gently chided yoga aficionados, always running about with their yoga mats in tow, wearing their Lululemon and eating salad.
I have spent my twenties forcing myself to try new things, but I still tend to give up on things I’m not naturally good at quickly.
I’ll travel the world, but I’m afraid of diving in and learning a language, knowing I won’t be as proficient in it, at least immediately, as I am in my mother tongue.
All this is a long way of saying I love yoga, but I still kind of suck at it. My body resists a lot of poses I try to get into and whenever I take a class there are a bunch of people surrounding me who are doing things better than I am. I don’t know if I will ever be one of those people who effortlessly and elegantly goes into headstand. I do find complete comfort in a quiet room, the scent of nag champa and patchouli everywhere, the peacefulness of bare wood floors and my body not trying to do anything but be in one place.
Yoga is the one place I give myself permission to smile when I fuck something up, to not be competitive with the people sitting across or next to me.
In a goal-oriented culture this type of space is actually relatively rare. We are taught to feel guilty about unstructured time. Yoga like most things popularized in American culture, is often sold as a status item for consumers. We have magazines that feature young, healthy blonde women looking seamlessly sexy and peacefully poised. What separates appropriation of a tradition and appreciation for it? Probably, for the outside onlooker, very little. When I walk around with my cutely designed yoga mat and yoga pants, I probably look a lot like the middle class white people who popularize yoga magazines. Lucky for me, in yoga class I don’t look graceful- I’m a little ball of sweat, trying at things I often can’t quite reach, until falling, relieved, into child’s pose.
When I was 16, I had a close friend with a degenerative illness who had just gone through surgery. The town where I went to high school was small and we were all very sad for our friend, but at the time I was going through a lot of other things too- typical 16 year old angsty things, as well as an, at the time, undiagnosed eating disorder that made a lot of my anxiety and depression a heck of a lot worse.
During this time period I remember my father driving me to school and mentioning to me that I really was lucky to have the body that I had and that I should be good to it- that in life no one is guaranteed anything and we need to be grateful for the things we have all the time because we are so incredibly lucky every single day we are here alive, breathing and experiencing the world around us.
I didn’t understand what he was telling me at all at the time and, in fact, I thought his comments initially were insensitive to just how different our culture views female bodies from male ones. Today, I think about the advice my father gave me often, probably daily, especially when I finish up a yoga class and I have time to reflect on the things I did right and also the positions or poses I didn’t quite reach.
Since I was a little girl I craved equal parts privacy and connection.
I still love the blood rush of intimacy about as often as I push it away. Two years ago yoga equipped me with the strength to be alone and a year after, when my ex and I broke up, yoga helped me grieve that loss, to manage my sadness and anger and to make choices that were the best ones for me to make.
I love writing because it helps me to distill my feelings and impressions of the world around me- it helps me value my experiences more; it keeps me conscious of my heart. Yoga is a physical manifestation of this same attitude: It not only keeps me conscious of my body, it also nurtures it. It not only makes me better aware of my breath, it makes me grateful, truly grateful for both my strong and fragile parts.
Beautiful post Arielle. Jen’s mom Barbara.