On and off the mat

I know I’m supposed to settle zen-like into any spot, but every Wednesday, I subtly scan the studio while getting my mats and blocks and the strap I hate, trying to ascertain which of the remaining openings will best allow me to work and breathe and flow.

Mouth breathers and moaners try my nerves as do the chatterbugs. Except for the teacher’s even voice and some swishing as positions are adjusted, yoga should be silent. That is one reason I go. To work hard and practice mindfulness and revel in some damn peace and quiet.

I choose the spot near the door and under the fire alarm, stacking my props neatly behind me in the space between mat and wall. When I’ve acclimated to the warmer room, I bunch my socks into a tiny parcel, and tuck them under the folded-four-times blanket.

I find, in yoga, that different moods during different weeks draw me to different blanket colors. Today I choose the festive new orange and green one, both shades bright but not obnoxious. Happy and soothing like fiesta decor or sun-kissed Greek facades.

I brought some fiery red angst into class with me this morning. Fresh off of a Facebook joust with an acquaintance of my sister, I’d gone through Trump’s proposed budget cuts and stood up for the arts, LGBTQ rights at the federal versus state levels, public transportation, and effective anti-poverty measures before 9am. The acquaintance values none of those things and cares not if they are tossed out with the bathwater.

I cannot see how we can be in community with others who only wish to support and fund the exact things THEY care for while refusing space for any other values or passions to enter the mix. That is not community. That is a bunch of exclusionary islands, all sharp angles and squared corners, bashing into each other before settling at cool distances, no unity in sight. 

I am ten minutes early to class and so, after unrolling my two mats-two because of my bony back body-I lie down and shut my eyes, exhaling the ugly parry and inhaling Om. The sizzle in my chest is quieting when my hair is brushed aside by the ungainly tossing down of mats, blocks, straps, and Grip-Itz next door: that last spot has been claimed by someone with a generous array of accoutrements.

The intrusion into my limited rectangle of personal space continues for the next 75 minutes. I take this as a yogic challenge. 24" x 68" plus change is plenty, isn’t it? Is it?

My minds sweeps back to a book I first read more than a decade ago: Appetites. It is profound in many ways, changing and helping me evolve each and every time I make my way through the now worn, notated, fading pages. In it the author, Caroline Knapp, discusses how we, especially women, do not feel our appetites, our desires, are worthy. And so we rein them in, mashing and folding and constraining them into the tiniest boxes possible, regardless of the costs of doing so. Which are usually great.

I think about how I’ve so neatly and thoughtfully tucked my props behind me, not wanting to intrude into or steal from my wing-women’s spaces. And yet the mate on my port side does just that. Does she notice? Care? Should I applaud her? I don’t. I’m annoyed. And as class unfolds, I casually, gently, forcefully push her strap off of my mat, her blankets away from my thigh, her panoply of blocks away, away, away.

Should I then applaud myself? For claiming my meager space in this studio? For having stood up to a white guy who hates the arts and thinks the EPA and the Department of Ed should be abolished and who’s irritated by funding public transportation (because “no one subsidizes my commute”) but supports the building of a huge fucking wall on our southern border? Why should I subsidize his fear and bigotry?

Class is underway, and I square my hips toward the front wall as I am instructed. I think about how often I so neatly and thoughtfully tuck myself around others and what they want and need, most always leaving the bitty leftovers to fill in my own contours. I am hypermobile and must balance my Gumby tendencies with more demure positions that “protect and further” my stability. This irritates me, and I consider it a second yogic challenge: how can I be so open and flexible in some respects while so rigid in others?

I consider again my body, front and back, the boundaries, the extent of my skin, my breath, my arms in various positions: robot, cactus, T (for which there is no space today). Are my ribs constrained by my hands taking in their extension and shrinkage? Or are they limited by fascia and physiology over which I have no dominion? Or both?

Can I feel as if I’m lying flat on the mat but still melt more? Like butter through a grate? Can I extend beyond my bit of space without shrugging into what I want versus what I deserve? Is it worth sternal friction to try in some way, any way, to stand up for the values I think are right for this country?  For myself? Those that are most inclusionary and expansive? Those that feel selfish but are anything but?

On Friday, I am taking my boys to my homeland: Louisiana. Door to door, from my house to my parents’, it’s about eight hours and includes two plane rides. The kids are great travelers, but we are leaving the house well before 6am, and this week has been many things. Easy is not one of them.

I am tired. My interest in Minecraft and made-up story lines is waning, but I am forever the literal, rule-oriented mother aware of both optimal screen time and the direction towards which my toes and knees should be pointing. This elicits what could be called yogic challenge 3: the degrees to which my borders and boundaries should be malleable and are versus aren't.

Being a hypermobile person, I have experienced rubber band ligaments as well as silly putty bounds. I have learned that while both feel quite nice, neither is actually too healthy. I consider that consistently stable positionality is a worthy goal. Even when it pushes the tide against my bow and is uncomfortable and frustrating. It is possible that more stringent limits might actually lead to greater liberation. Of self. In life.

And perhaps that’s really the constraint and emancipation offered by the mat. What seems to be a bounded bit of rubber is in fact only the launch pad. But before lift-off, you must stand up for but question yourself, set boundaries but accept some overreach and erosion of them, stretch but focus on a stable core. Otherwise? The noise muffles the peace, and the middle doesn't hold.