BOS 09 10 2020 doublesize
A family member quoted an adaptation of a familiar saying yesterday: practice makes progress; no one is perfect.

This quote fits well with the yoga practice I've started. It's an online 30 day challenge. I've never done yoga before, but my daughter pointed out that for the first time she is stronger than me. I'm not rolling bales and catching sheep anymore. I joined her in this practice which has us lifting our body with our arms and core.

Although I started for the strength workout, I also know the value of a daily practice that encourages attentiveness.  

Early in many of the practices, the teacher has us bow our head to our heart, bringing "the mind intelligence to the body intelligence." Our culture tends to separate mind and heart, body and spirit, and we value intellectual truth over any other. I value this moment of asking the mind to bow to what the body knows.

As this yoga teacher tells us that our body is amazing. Everyone can do an adaptation of the practice. With tree pose, the beginner will stand tall, hands over heart, and just their heal lifted. With experience, a person will lift their foot and place it against their shin or knee, while the more practiced will be able to place their foot on their upper thigh. Everyone can grow in the practice; no one is perfect. The teacher affirms that our body is just fine.

This also runs counter to the message from our culture. Advertising constantly tells us what to do to fix our body. People in commercials, whether visiting a restaurant or buying clothes, are almost invariably thin. People using workout equipment already have muscles and not a bit of flab. A few clothing websites have models with ordinary bodies, but in general the message is that we need to fix our body. In the women's clothing section, you can still get underwear that holds in and hides bulges at the middle. I was shocked when I found them. I thought girdles had disappeared years, decades ago.

Given the prevailing message that we need to fix our bodies, I value this encouragement to listen to what our body knows now, to what our body can teach us as it is. Yes, we can grow in the practice, but we don't need to "fix" what is.

This teaching resonates for me. There is a line in an ancient Hebraic psalm in which the writer praised God as creator because "I am fearfully and wonderfully made." (Psalm 139:  14) This is a strong affirmation that we are amazing as we are.

Another of the repeated messages comes with the teacher thanking those engaging in the practice for taking this time "for you."

Our culture gives a mixed message about doing things for ourselves. We are taught that paying attention to ourselves is selfish, therefore bad. We are, at the same time, encouraged to indulge our desires--to drink the best vodka, eat the best ice cream, travel to the best beaches.

In part, this yoga teacher is saying that it is healthy to do something that attends to our body and our inner self, something that encourages growth in us. The teacher reminds us that we need to take care of ourselves. Many of us learn the hard way that we can't look after other people without looking after ourselves.

However, as the teacher goes on about building stability and strength on the mat to set us up for success off the mat, I become uncomfortable with the emphasis on self. It feels completely centred on me.

Even as I follow the teacher's voice, a part of me is aware that the tradition I am embedded in has a different emphasis. The Hebrew scriptures declare that humans are "fearfully and wonderfully made" and given the task of caring for creation. Jesus is quoted as saying "love your neighbour as yourself," which suggests that we must love and care for ourselves but that we do so in order to care for others.

This yoga teacher reminds us to take what fits and let the rest wash over us. With that instruction, I will follow her teaching to gain balance, strength, attentiveness, and carry these into my sense of the mission to care for the world within my reach.

Cathy Hird lives on the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway


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