Texture

Reflections on an ashtanga practice at nearly 58 …
Ehlers-Danlos … and how it’s all getting better and better

The texture has changed. This is what strikes me this morning about my ashtanga practice – the weekly full series. Like an ordinary miracle, all the body conditioning, weights, pilates, ballet barre – and of course not doing yoga every day (but rather a bit of this and a bit of that) has organised my tissues. I don’t feel so much like two pieces of knotted spaghetti (overcooked), more like a body of solids and fibres, levers and springs – calibrated.

Equation
Muscle density > proprioception > embodiment: the felt sense that I am here in this body, filling it, pushing through its pores, not just joints and bones and a few ragged sinews.

History
There’s a reason they call it ‘the change’. It becomes impossible to go on in the same direction. And from that surrender, that willingness to throw in the towel, came an invitation into something that turned out to be miraculously expansive. First there was the expansion of completely giving up: the exhalation, and the utter freedom, the wide open skies. And then the expansion in capacity. Followed by: the resurrection of fallen structures, old abandoned postures … an architrave becoming usable here, a surprising buttress, columns, pilasters, even the curly Corinthians standing up out of the rubble. It was impressive, and it had foundations.

Pandemic
Praise be also to pandemic life for the finishing touches: relief from choices, stimmuli, days that start in the small hours, running from pillar to post; for releasing me from exhaustion, first, and then into … energy. There’s no going back from here.

* * *

I’ve written so much in this place about aging with ashtanga as a process of reduction (or at least that’s my memory of what I’ve written): injury and pain and hypermobile tissues. And in the end, of course, all we have is only on loan. Eventually, the ticket’s up and we have to hand the whole lot back in. In the meantime, though, who knew there could be so much exponential increase, so much enjoyment, so much power, aged 57 (nearly 58) with Ehlers-Danlos? It isn’t a story I’ve heard anywhere else. But it’s the one that’s happening to me now.

Ashtanga vinyasa, wild horses and me

In any long-term relationship there are times of affinity, utter and complete, and there are times when you are like planets spiralling into different solar systems, and you feel you must leave – you must. I did think I would leave ashtanga, in the storm of menopause. Or I thought it would leave me. There were times when I hated ashtanga; it hurt me every which way, and none of my old strategies worked. At the same time, in another storm, Pattabhi Jois was being outed as an abuser, and a teeter-totter tower of bricks was tumbling down. I’ve never been to Mysore, and I knew nothing about the sexual abuse, but I knew about triangulation of power structures and injurious adjustments. I knew that I had internalised voices that told me what to do and how to do it, and that these overlords didn’t know about connective tissue differences or autistic learning styles – how we set out alone in the little boat to the anchorite isle.

So I started gathering my own stones, from this place and that, also sticks, small animal bones and pieces of strangely degraded plastic, oddments of shape and colour that pleased me and which served the architecture inside my head, and I began building foundations again.

If a yoga practice doesn’t help you to move well in daily life, something is surely out of kilter, but that is not enough for me. It’s sufficient to walk functionally only if you are slow-walking into a song that your body is singing. The definition of yoga can be whatever you like, but for me it is that I am poised on the brink of creation, and I am thinking, what can I form from my clay? How can I throw my pot, temper my steel, spin my yarn into a bright cocoon in which the parts join up and it is more than the sum of the words?

I no longer bleed, but I still practise ashtanga, and it is both the same and utterly different. Wild horses did not become less wild, but I whispered in their ears and together we slipped the traces and set out. We’re listening and we’re weaving in threads of many different weights and colours, but we are maverick, and you cannot tell us what to do. Or what to think either. Well, you can, but we are not listening.

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