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Bending Without Breaking

It’s so tempting to think of a body as an adversary, it ages, sags, eats too much, exercises too little, and wants what it shouldn’t have. At best its a neutral something you get to ignore until it falls sick and possibly even dies. That’s when the illusion is over.

This morning I dragged my adversarial jailer to the mat. Yoga is another one of those things I highly recommend to anyone other than myself. My body is this awkwardly furnished room I live in because I have to.

So I wasn’t the cause of my efforts to reconcile with my randomly attached elephant in the room this morning. That was the fault of M who was doggedly determined to bend his body this Saturday which, as a self respecting component of the weekend, should be exempt from the drudgery of exercise. In my humble opinion.

As M, true to character, went straight at it, I took the circuitous route dotted with multiple distractions. With any luck the yoga portion of the day would be over by the time I had them all fended off. But I do have small, nagging remnants of honor and these finally had me centered on my blue rubber patch, trying to balance on both feet equally so that I wouldn’t fall over. This worked as long as I was upright, hips above feet shoulders above hips, it was more of a challenge when I folded forward into the first move of the sun salutations.

At this point it was obvious that my body and I hadn’t spoken for ages and had possibly lost that mutual language that could make it a possibility. I had now to sneak up on it, catch it unawares or have it threaten to topple over on me. I had to bend at the approximate waist while giving no indication that I had any intention of touching the floor with my hands. It worked, although all of us in this particular mind- body constellation were surprised to be back upright again after the big endeavor of heading south, however surreptitiously.

So far so good. Upright was lovely, you learn to appreciate these things when you are exposed to other more precarious angles. Repeating this and not being afraid of breaking, or rather developing a benign relationship with the unavoidable fear of breaking, prompted a detente of sorts, an entertainment of the possibility that we could, this body and this mind, work in concert to achieve something even if that something were as mundane as staying in one piece while bending.

I played soothing music to calm me down and breathed the way I had learned to at my Vinyasa yoga classes in the good old days when I was almost a yogi and didn’t not pay my dues and neglect to attend classes. As we warmed up, the concept of being something separate from this body became more and more outlandish. I was not working with my body, I was completed contained by it, it had this intelligence that I like to ignore because I prefer the flashy brilliance of the mind.

As we bent and straightened I began to remember how Descartes’ mind-body split was something we all had to recover from.

I was inside my body, my body was inside me, we were intrinsically connected so intimately that the idea that we simply suffered one another would have been comical if it hadn’t been so dysfunctional.

Here was all this richness, this slow peace, this stillness, right here in my body, where I was firmly planted. As my terrified, frazzled mind tried to bend and fold, I fell into my body and it knew exactly where I could go and how gently it could take me there. I had to let go. At least my frenzied, fragmented mind had to surrender to something so obviously more balanced than itself, something not scared at all.

I had fallen back into an unconscious relationship with my body as a necessary prison for my spirit. What I rediscovered so reluctantly was that a profound intelligence was looking back at me from the center of every atom of this body. What a thing.

I so often feel abandoned, adrift and now I felt held so tenderly. And because I had to execute each movement so carefully, like an old woman, I was swept up in such a patience, such a forever. It felt like love.

Now I leave my mat reminded that my body knows how to look after me, my body knows exactly what I need, my body doesn’t threaten me or frighten me, it doesn’t judge me. It simply accepts, welcomes me home, reminds me of the sanctuary within that is always there no matter how loudly the world is shouting. My body also never lies, it doesn’t know how to, so by going to it I am awash in what is real and true.

Me and my body are back together because we were never apart. Not only that, but this body, that looks like it ends so neatly around the visible me, has spaces in it that are mysterious and limitless and they are mine to wander in. So I wonder how odd it is and misleading, the way the mind routinely thinks of this body, and what it is without thinking.

The truth is we walk around in these towering cathedrals, vistas, oceans, galaxies, universes. We are vast and mysterious. I had to rediscover this by bending and stretching through what felt broken, the aching, apparent limitations of my body.

Art: Chermiti Mohamed | Unsplash


If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. 

George Eliot



I live in hazard and infinity. The cosmos stretches around me, meadow on meadow of galaxies, reach on reach of dark space, steppes of stars, oceanic darkness and light. There is no amenable god in it, no particular concern or particular mercy. Yet everywhere I see a living balance, a rippling of tension, an enormous yet mysterious simplicity, an endless breathing of light. And I comprehend that being is understanding that I must exist in hazard but that the whole is not in hazard. Seeing and knowing this is being conscious; accepting it is being human.

John Fowles, Aristos


“To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.”

Arundhati Roy

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