On the Limitations of Textbooks


(UPWARD Dog) The real "Urdvha Mukha Svanasana." (Image sourced from Google.)

So for the last few days, I’ve been doing a version of the upward dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) that makes the pose look uncannily like the plank pose (Uttihita Chaturanga Dandasana).

For those of you who aren’t familiar with yoga or its terms, what I’m basically saying is that I’ve been doing something that doesn’t look like what it should like in the textbooks.

And—my teacher Editha would be proud.

A lot of this has to do with my (extremely belated) realization that—for all the vaunted universality of the human physiognomy—my body belongs to a category with only one member and that category may be immune to the universal claims of textbooks.

Said another way, there are things I can’t do, no matter how much I practice, without risking my body in some way. And if it took me this long to realize it, it’s because I no longer have the imbecilic robustness of youth. There was a time when I could jump up and down barefoot on a cement floor more than a thousand times without much effect (I used to skip rope to stay fit)—and that time no longer exists.  These days, even picking up a bag from the floor is an uninsurable health hazard.

This kind of conservatism makes it admittedly a little challenging when you’re a yoga instructor who’s expected to go to bed with your foot in your mouth (literally), but in my relatively short experience, students seem to appreciate a teacher who occasionally demonstrates frailty or vulnerability. It’s very hard to think about yoga as a gentle practice that builds character and patience if you’re confronted by a teacher who looks she’s never needed a day of patience her entire life. (We’ve all met that kind—the kind who can do back flips with their hands tied behind their backs.)

So my upward dog these days isn’t textbook perfect, but it’s what works for me. Which simply goes to show that every kind of perfection, like every kind of body, belongs to a category that only has a single member.

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