Saturday, April 10, 2010

Not a Pretty Girl

I am not a Pretty Girl.
That is not what I do.
I am no damsel in distress, and I don't need to be rescued
So put me down, punk
Wouldn't you prefer a maiden fair?
Isn't there a kitten stuck up a tree somewhere?
~ Ani D.

What can I say?!  I chop my hair short, and then next thing you know I am listening to Ani DiFranco again like I'm back in high school in Northampton, Mass.  She has written some great songs, though.  :)

Now that I'm a heartbeat away from launching into my career as a Bikram teacher, I've started remembering the real reasons I got interested in this practice in the first place.  I've brought this topic up on this blog before, in bits and pieces, but I haven't really delved.

So.  I found Bikram yoga (or rather it found me) when I was still a ballet dancer.  When I took my first Bikram class at 19, I was still a pretty gung-ho ballet dancer.  A couple years later, I went into a ballet company full time (after graduating from MIT, which is another story).  This company turned out to not be a great environment for me (understatement), and I turned into a very burned-out ballet dancer.

The thing that really sucked all the joy out of the dancing was the way someone was always judging you.  It was so fucking relentless.  Any time I made a move, I felt like someone was watching.  And not just watching, but critiquing.  And not in a nice way.  (There were some jerks in the company.  Also, some bitches.)  It just wasn't cool.  It made it hard to just practice, because it felt like someone was always watching, ready to analyze any fuck-up.  And of course, even when someone wasn't watching, I would still be judging myself, ready to beat myself down over any fuck-up.  Pretty discouraging.  But I think the most discouraging thing, in all of this, was knowing that no matter how hard I tried, even if I tried my absolute hardest, it wouldn't make any difference.  I would try so hard, and I would still get shot down.


But during all of this, I was wandering in and out of Bikram yoga classes in Boston, just for the extra exercise... and as I listened to the instructors, I heard something really great: "As long as you are trying the right way, you are getting 100% benefits."  This was like the best thing I'd ever heard.  I just thought, are you guys serious?  I just have to follow your instructions and try my best?  This stuff will still work perfectly even if I don't really know how to do it and I'm falling over and fucking up all over the place?! Sign me UP!!

I remember when I had just started practicing in Harvard Square, one of the studio owners was taking a survey of the newbies in the room before class, and she said, "Oh, and there's J.  She's only just started, but I wish I had her practice!"  It was a sweet comment, and this is a woman who I really grew to love.  But I remember that at the time, I totally recoiled from that comment.  Did not want to hear it.  Because number one, I knew that I was was a brand new baby yogi and I had no idea what I was doing yet.  And number two, my (somewhat misguided) thought process went something like this: "She thinks my postures are better than hers?  Great, so that means she's thinking about how 'good' she is compared to how 'good' I am, which means she is watching me and making value judgments based on how my postures look, and fuck that shit!!  No thank you!"

See, I really took that whole "trying 100% the right way" thing to heart.

And beyond that, I understood right off the bat that yoga wasn't about having "pretty" postures or making attractive shapes.  Because that was exactly what I went there to avoid.  Ballet was all about making the prettiest shape possible, and it didn't matter what it did to your body in the process.  (One of my friends had hip surgery when she was 19, for Pete's sake.)  Yoga was exactly the opposite.  Yoga was about creating the posture that would give you the most internal, medical benefit, and the fact that some of the poses happen to be pretty in their full expression is just a side effect.  An anatomically correct pose is very beautiful, but in an organic and natural way.  As my Mom can tell you, because she's heard me give this little speech more than once, an art like ballet acts on your body from the outside in.  But yoga... yoga is the only exercise that works from the inside out.  ("Practicing Yoga Asanas is the only natural physical activity in the world, because it is scientific."  Dialogue.)

So as far as I'm concerned, this whole concept of having a "pretty practice" is pretty much irrelevant.

That's not to say that the yoga isn't beautiful.  Oh my god, it's the most beautiful thing ever!  Healthy bodies are beautiful.  Great technique is beautiful.  Healing bodies are beautiful.  The practice is beautiful - not the perfection, but the practice.  There's nothing more beautiful than seeing someone who is trying the right way and executing a posture to the best of his ability, regardless of strength, flexibility, age, or injury.

Okay, I think I have exhausted my writing ability for the moment.  I have also packed my first suitcase!  My entire portable hotel-room kitchen is now packed away, along with a giant tub of OxiClean and some earplugs.  How exciting.  Stay tuned...

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