Thursday, December 4, 2014

Seasonal Work

Winter is coming.

Sorry, I've been reading A Song of Ice and Fire, better known as the Game of Thrones series.

But it is, obviously, and coming fast! I love every season with the exception of those 90 degree Summer days when going outside feels like dying, but I know, I know. Most of you would take that anyday over the onslaught of ice, snow, deceptively deep slush puddles, and freezing temperatures that make up an NYC Winter. Unfortunately for all of us, we don't get a choice in the matter. The planet moves, and the seasons change. Magic!

A very wise friend of mine once pointed out that Spring and Summer are the time for exploring our world, moving outward from ourselves, and Fall and Winter are the time for exploring ourselves: the vast world we contain.

Perhaps that's why I find myself more interested in the contortion side of my aerial training as the weather chills. I have more patience with sitting on the floor, and putting my body in positions ranging from downright pleasant, to mildly uncomfortable, to a combination of pain and panic that is basically a high speed form of therapy: let go and let gravity, or break.

Once I was explaining my nightly stretching routine to a friend and fellow yogini. She stopped me to ask, "Wait, why are you calling it stretching and not yoga?" That was easy to answer: it wasn't yoga. Yoga is about cultivating acceptance of your body, and by extension, of the present moment. Contortion is about changing your body's connective points from the inside out so that you can make beautiful lines and shapes. In spite of certain physical similarities, the goals of the two couldn't be more different. Or so I thought.

Over the course of long years I've watched my hamstrings lengthen, my quads release, my straddle widen, and my splits deepen. My shoulders are slowly but surely yielding to my continual demands for greater range of motion, but for many a moon my spine seemed to yield what it's always yielded and not an inch more.

I've had teachers tell me I have a bendy spine, but I'm accessing flexibility in my thoracic spine, that I have a pretty good back bend, but whatever it is they were seeing, I still felt stuck, miserable, and unable to breathe in back bends.

And then I went to a contortion class at the Muse, with a teacher I've worked with before I was fond of...and I felt my toes rub across my skull for the first time...quite possibly in my life.

And then we did the same pose in a yoga class, and slowly, carefully...there it was again, almost, a brush of hair on the skin of my feet!

And then I went to open workout and pulled, and yanked and pulled in half no avail. Another friend and yoga teacher put me in wheel pose and pressed, firmly and lovingly, the way you might press on the hip of a large horse to move it out of your way, on my thoracic spine, reminding the vertebra there to play their part.

And then I went to another open workout. I rehearsed, and then went in for a couple more tries of back bending. I stretched, I pulled, I wished, I wanted...and there it was! A small miracle more earth shattering maybe than the original time, since there was no instructor guiding, coaxing, and lifting me deeper into the shape: toe met skull.

So why tell you this? Because maybe contortion is more similar to yoga than I thought. I spent years accepting the spine I had, but dreaming (literally. I've put my feet on my head in my dreams more times than I can count) of a bendier one. Working slowly, not forcing the issue, not getting frustrated, and happened. In a way that seemed some how utterly disconnected from any effort I made to get there.

Which is a whole lot like the way yoga changes my life: I learn to love and accept myself right where I am, and I just keep practicing, and suddenly I realize I'm living with greater compassion, greater generosity, and greater joy.

These changes happen when we focus our energy inward, and what better time to commit to this inner work than when we aren't so keen on going outside anyway? Don't have a goal in mind. Don't expect to get to a certain point. Just do the work. Starting with the hardest part of all: accepting where you are before the work has commenced. And someday, you'll surprise yourself with a miracle as magical and precious as the one many celebrate on December the 25th.

I''ll be working right along with you. I still have a long way to go, starting with loving and accepting the self that I am right now, but that acceptance will blossom into greater growth. I know it.

And maybe someday I'll nail that chest stand and pull my feet down on the floor in front of my face. A woman can dream!
Here's a picture of my half monty pre-foot-on-head days. And here's a very important call to action. This particular miracle happened for the very first time at the Muse, the same place this performance happened, at the last class that took place at their old space. They've secured an awesome new space, but they desperately need to fund their kickstarter to outfit that space to be a safe and comfortable place to train. Please donate whatever you can, and spread the word far and wide! Remember that some of those rewards can make great gifts, and the Muse will gladly provide you with a beautiful gift certificate if the reward won't be ready in time for the holidays. Just e-mail them. Even if you don't train there, even if you don't do circus at all, even if you live far away, please contribute to keeping independent arts alive in Brooklyn! Thank you so much.

Live Omily,

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