…evolution consists of the gradual transformation of organisms from one condition of existence to another. – Ernst Mayr
You know the classic evolution image of ape to man, from all fours to upright? It’s been spoofed plenty, culminating in unicyclists and yogis. But I am thinking it might be better if the image was a mishmash – upright to laying on the ground, all fours to standing on your head. Because the truest evolution is knowing that there is no “right” way and there is no where you need to go.
I went in to Chicago last weekend to take a series of classes with yogi Bryan Kest. He is one of my favorite yogis. He talks in a rough Detroit accent, swears and burps in class and has no patience for the “set your intention” approach to yoga. Nor is he going to tell you exactly how to do a pose. “Find your triangle,” he says, “Don’t ask me how the fuck to do it. I can give you plenty of suggestions, but only you know how it feels in your body.” He also says that any time a teacher tells you how to do a pose (or kick a soccer ball or do long division) he or she is really just saying, “This is my preference for how to do this pose right now.” Return to that same teacher in five or ten years, and they’ll be teaching and doing it differently.
The bottom line: it’s different every day. Your triangle is deeper one day than the next. And on the third day you might think, I would really just like to stay in child’s pose. I’ve known this for awhile, but I’m starting to get it in my gut – thanks in part to flirting with the second half of my life. Not just how I do triangle pose is different but so is how I respond to my daughter’s rolled eyes or my son slamming a door; how I approach a messy house or an unexpected bill. I am finding more patience and softness around such things, but on some days I’m going to yell, I’m going to roll my eyes right back, and I may even slam that door!
Which doesn’t mean I’m not evolving or that I’m regressing. Evolution is an ebb and flow, learning again and again and seeing the multiple opportunities you get to practice. In relation to the disc surgery he recently had for a longtime back injury, Kest said that the most powerful yoga practice he has right now is in not doing the yoga. “We get so hooked on the prowess,” he said, but can you let go of that notion of going to the next stage and the one after that?
I’ve always wanted to be lithe, wispy, willowy. But I am a solid oak.
I look in the mirror these days and so often see my grandmother. There are her eyes but also her physical build – a strong, stable body. Like a girl with dark curly hair who pined for straight blonde strands, I’ve always wanted to be lithe, wispy, willowy. But I am a solid oak. Just like my grandmother, who at 90 years-old wrote me this morning to say that she never dreamed she’d be this active at this age – exercising, painting, spending time with her partner–a late-life love. The only recommendation she had to me was to keep doing my Kegel’s! (Ironically, Kest recommends this too, asking why is it that there are no machines at the gym to protect your anus or urinary tract muscles but there are a ton of machines to work your glutes and biceps?)
View none of it as a grand leap forward or a tragic step backwards, but all as an opportunity to gain a different vantage point.
While I was in Chicago, I took in the people. I’m increasingly amazed by the way we all tell our stories through our bodies and beings. So much is spoken without ever opening our mouths. I saw so many stories of evolution- some endearing, some hard to look at. The guy in the yarmulke wearing the RIBS FEST t-shirt, the kid in kitchen staff whites with the limp, and the girl on the “L” with scars all over her legs and a tattoo on her foot that said simply ALIVE.
The next time you fall – literally or figuratively – be curious about what’s on the ground. The next scar you receive, see if you could draw petals around it and turn it into a flower. The next thing you won’t be put in your mouth because of some rule, know that this makes you no better than the next person who is surely appalled by something you do eat. View none of it as a grand leap forward or a tragic step backwards, but all as an opportunity to gain a different vantage point. Evolve into yourself, knowing that some days this might mean being on your back and some days it may mean stretching to your fullest height. Neither is better, they just offer different opportunities.