After a long weekend away at a wedding, I come home to learn that there is a story in the local newspaper about yoga at our local studio, Core Studio Pilates, and the author decided to quote me more than either the owner of the studio (Jill) or the instructor (Onion Ann). Kind of like interviewing a fan at the end of a basketball game to assess the team’s strength and weaknesses, when you could talk to the players or coach, who are right next to you. I don’t get it.
I had no intention of blogging about yoga anytime soon, since I know less about it than anything else I am doing to prepare for this event. I was thinking that my next entry would be about the advantages to wearing compressions socks on days when I do a long run and it is hot outside…I can speak with authority on that topic.
So, the point I was making while being quoted in the newspaper story is that yoga keeps my body feeling young. My legs and arms don’t look young after yoga, but they feel young at the end of yoga. I feel that without yoga, I would not be successful in my preparations for this event.
There is a bucket load of history that gets me here. This might take a while.
Between 1987 and 1989, I lived in Nepal, a country juxtaposed between China and India. It is famous for being the home of Mt. Everest and the only country that has never been occupied by another nation. Most of the languages that are spoken in Nepal have a Sanskrit origin and basis. I learned to read, write and speak Nepali, Tharu and some Hindi…all while wearing what amounts to a loin cloth, flip flops an a T-shirt for +/- 26 months. I lived, ate, laughed and cried with Nepalese, and at one point pondered marrying a Nepali girl. My heart remains in Nepal, and my wife and I gather donations and build schools for the people in the valley that I used to live in. There is a link at the bottom that links to that ministry. We’ve built three schools, to date, and an entire school there cost us less than a bathroom remodel here in the US.
One of my best friends while I was there was a Hindu priest. He doubled as the headmaster of the school that I spent my first 10 months working at, and he did Yoga. The first time I saw him doing Yoga, I was walking up to his house, on the edge of a river near the Indian border in a place that makes Miami seem cool and dry. He was outside, at the edge of a river, wearing very little and chatting to himself.
Using the local dialect, I asked him what he was doing.
He told me, “I am practicing Yoga.” Not “doing” yoga, but practicing it….like any other skill.
I have no memory of how or what he answered me after that-whatever words he used were about as important as what I had for lunch 3 days ago.
This guy also doubled as one of my primary go-to guys when I hit a word or phrase that I didn’t understand. He knew some English, but not enough to have a conversation. He taught Sanskrit to some of the older students, and I would sometimes sit in his class just to learn from him, as I really knew his mannerisms, gestures, sense of humor, etc. Sitting in his class, I learned the equivalent of the stem of words used in all of the languages of South Asia. While my other Peace Corps peers were struggling like dogs trying to explain to others simple ideas like how we make a cup of tea in the US, I was in the know on the equivalent of Greek and Latin of Asia. In fact, when I left Nepal, the Department of State administered a language fluency test, and I scored a 4, which means native. I was proud of that, and when the examiner gave me my score, I remember saying to him the equivalent of, “damn, dude…you da man!” He said, “that is why you are scoring native.” To this day, I still swear almost exclusively in Nepali.
And I remembered much of what he taught. My wife hates how I can remember all the details of a math test I took in college but not what to bring home from the grocery store. My brain gravitates towards anything with a fluidic pattern in it. Construction, music, mathematics, moving machines, Whatever….I still remember most all of the vocabulary and grammar that I learned during that time. When the phone rings and it is from Nepal, the Nepali embassy or the local Nepali Christian Church, I change language and tone, mentally leave North America, and my wife and kids check out.
Let me bring the conversation back. When my wife suggested that I take a beginner’s yoga class, I did it not to try to connect with Asia and the 1980s…I did it because she had been doing yoga for years and felt that I needed to try it. She had made some friends, and she thought I could benefit from that environment. She would never coin it that way…it would be more like, “I think you might like it.”
My first month of classes were introductory, “yoga for yoghurts,” sort of class. There were a handful of us in the class, and we alternated between Nan and Shona as instructors.
It turns out that each pose has a Sanscrit based name, and, without exception, the girls butchered the pronunciation. Heck, who wouldn’t get them wrong. I can’t pronounce most Spanish words correctly, and about a quarter of our county has Spanish as the primary language in the house. My ears would key into the words, and I would tear them apart to figure out what they mean. It sounded like the Tree pose uses the word for tree…that works. Other poses, for example, shoulder stretch, don’t include anything close to shoulder. Sounded more like the word for nuclear weapon or abominable snowman than shoulder. Each time I would hear a word, though, I would mentally ponder it. And my mind would wander and let go of whatever was in my mind before the class.
And that is yoga for me. We are to ponder what we are doing, hearing, seeing, sensing, breathing, etc. The girls mention that we are to stay aware of our surroundings. My wife really ponders how she is breathing and what she is doing. Breathing hasn’t made it on my top 10 list for conscious thoughts in Yoga yet. But, I get some real mental stimulation when I change the language that am operating in. Leaving English behind, even if only for an hour or two a day, confirms that what I am doing in the classroom has no overlap at the local weight room, treadmill, track, or bike seat. I am doing something different than all of that when I practice Yoga, and the language takes me out of there. I like the Wednesday at 11 am restore and renew class. It fits my schedule, and when it is over, I feel like I have just had a 3 day vacation. My mind has typically left the room and gone back to the Nostalgia of the Peace Corps (Capital letters are used here, intentionally).
The poses are far more challenging than they appear, and despite all my blabber about the language and names, I still refer to all of them in their English names: cats and cows, down dog, pigeon, sphinx, etc, etc.
It makes me aware that I can’t stretch worth a burrchatarra. Please don’t look up what that means…it will embarrass both of us. I need to stretch if I want longevity. No one ever says, “flexibility equals longevity,” but the practice of yoga starts with that assumption in my mind, and it works.
Here is the link to the Nepal Project. http://thenepalproject.org
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