Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Early to bed, early to rise…makes a man healthy, wealthy and tired

I’ve been waking up really early on Tuesdays and Thursdays this semester. And I plan to continue to do so. I don’t have class until 11, but 8 o’clock is no longer a stranger to me. Is this some sort of self-imposed torture, a penance for burning the midnight oil, an attempt to force myself to go to sleep early? Well, yes, in a way, but there’s a more direct purpose too: I’m taking a yoga class.

I started doing yoga postures as a means of getting stretched out after rugby games. The effect of 80 minutes on the pitch may best be described as “compression”: my body always feels as if it has just emerged from a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. It always helped, of course, but I realized after taking my first class that yoga is more than just stretching. For me, it’s all about the breathing. And that’s where the spiritual aspect of the practice began to emerge.

I mentioned in my first article that I read a recent Los Angeles Times piece about yoga cocktail parties. It doesn’t take much explanation, but basically, enthusiasts gather at one another’s houses to do some yoga with an arranged instructor and then get wasted afterwards. This is perhaps the most dubious venture I’ve ever encountered. I mean, really: must L.A. have as its principle aim the transformation of everything sacred into a fad, something with which the idle rich can occupy themselves for a while and move on? This and other examples of yoga’s foray into popular consumerist culture turned me off to yoga for a long time.

The sentiment was certainly irrational, but I had a hard time disconnecting the practice itself from its attendant conflations of late. But at some point last week, in the middle of one of many downward dogs, it all clicked: this shit is for real. Aside from the flexibility I’ve gained very quickly: which has given me better athletic performance and more peace of mind: I’ve attained, albeit for only moments at a time, a harmony of body and mind which can be described as nothing other than sublime. I experience that sublimity spiritually.

Again, it’s all about the breathing: When one forces the body into admittedly unnatural shapes which put an incredible strain on the muscles and breathe deeply all the way through it, there is at first a sense of conquering the body’s impulse to return to “normal.” But at the same time, the intense focus on the breath causes the mind to shut off such that the sense of achievement begins to fade away and all that’s left is the moment. This requires all the mental and physical focus available, resulting in a “clarity” which, again, I experience as spiritual.

Of course, everyone who does anything does it differently than everyone else and describing the personal effect of yoga is like trying to explain “Metal Machine Music” to your high-school band teacher.

But there are hurdles larger than communication, commitment chiefly among them. This class is really early for me. By the time I’m done doing work at night, there are only a few scant hours before a succession of pigeon-poses or some similarly silly-named thing that make me wonder what I’m thinking whenever I wake up at the crack of dawn (or anywhere near it) voluntarily. So, going every day for months regardless of all else going on is tough, seemingly impossible. But I hope that I can push myself, or something can push me, to continue, because the value of doing something with great commitment can often outweigh even the value of the pursuit itself.

I just hope this doesn’t send me into a frenzy requiring that I learn how to sip a martini mid-sun salutation at 9 a.m.

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