One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” –Henry Miller

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bend it like... a Yoga Guru

Yoga leaves me flat on my face like a lifetime of running never has. If you've ever had a friend, girlfriend, brother, or mother tell you it's hard-- it's hard! If you've never done yoga, then you're probably wondering what the fuss is about.  It has a way of pushing you into impossible, back bending, joint twisting, inverted, muscle burning, positions.  Yoga has proved to be a combination of the most dichotomous practices. You have to be incredibly strong and yet incredibly flexible. You have to keep your core rigidly straight while turning your limbs in every direction. You must twist your body one way, but look another.  Lets not forget that you must maintain your balance while controlling your motion and breath.  It's as exhausting physically as it is mentally.

I've been practicing yoga for 7 weeks now. I started classes after my co-teacher told me that she was taking yoga at the center by my apartment.  I had hoped to start yoga while I was here, but an opportunity presented itself when that same co-teacher asked if I wanted to take classes with her and another teacher. There was a discount if 3 people signed up at the same time for 3 months. Now I go 3 times a week for an hour.  I wish that I could tell you that I've now taken on the quality of Gumby, his horse Pokey, or Mr. Fantastic, but, sadly, very sadly, I haven't.  It's still just as hard as it was day 1.  Though, I might look a little less like a fool.  I can now put myself into the positions (that's more than I can say about 7 seven weeks ago..or even 3 weeks ago)-- even if I'm not turned into same extreme angles as some of the other women.

One of my Yoginis is an older woman.  I would call her a Guru.  She's been practicing yoga for a long time--it's her studio. The other instructor, I found out recently, is a year younger than me. She is also very good, but probably not a Guru yet.  My yoginis don't speak English, though the younger one and I have tried to talk on occasion. 

The language barrier made class in the beginning a challenge. I spent more time looking at other people than i did practicing yoga. I sat towards the middle of the class so that I could see the instructor well, but not in the front so that I could follow others in the class. It's different for me now. I don't have to follow so much anymore. I lot of the class has become routine and because of that I've been passively learning Korean. I don't know exactly what the words translate to, but after hearing them repetitively, I know that I do certain motions after certain phrases. 

Some days I'm thankful that I don't understand what my Yogini is saying. I'd probably like her a little less.  (keep in mind that her tone is always so peaceful and she has the most serene look on her face while asking us to do, what feels like, the most impossible positions and that would become frustrating.). I imagine she says something like this:  "Bend backwards. Now, in an upside down position, control your breath. Wrap one arm around your leg. Lift the other leg in the air with mindfulness. Keep a firm footing. You are planted to the floor-- you are a tree. Now reach your other hand to the sky with gratitude. Find your chi." She's never asked us to do anything like this, but some days I feel as though she might as well have.

At this point I've become a regular. The women there recognize my face and know my name (I'm the only westerner in my yoga center. I know this for a fact because in our dressing room we're given a little cubby with our names on them. A romanized name like Jessica stands out ).  I don't know names, but I recognize most of the women and I know them through quirky mental notes: mrs. bendy (she could be a yoga guru herself), ms. nicetown (she lives in my building), smiley woman.. etc.  Only a handful of the women speak enough English to get by (and I speak minimal Korean), but we say hello and goodbye, and exchange knowing looks after a particularly hard class.  One woman and her daughter live on my street. The three of us walk back home after class together. The daughter knows a little English, but doesn't always come to class. Even on days that it's just the mother and I we some how manage to have a conversation with only a few words. 

I have to say, I like the feeling.  It's nice to feel like part of a Korean community, one that's separate from my school. 75% of the time I don't understand them and they don't understand me, but I feel a sense of belonging there and that is just as valuable as the yoga itself.


  1. when you get back i hope you will teach me as well

  2. I will! Laxmi, I could bet money that you'd be good at yoga.