Guest Blog by Poet Robbi Nester
Here’s a treat for all of you – whether you have tried Yoga or not. My friend Robbi, who I grew up with, is a poet who has written a chapbook of poetry about Yoga called “Balance.” It’s delightful. So here is her guest blog on her relationship with Yoga. And check out her book link too!
Guest Blog by Robbi Nester
A hobby is something casual we do with our time, something we can take or leave, at will, without having our lives too greatly impacted. For me, hiking is a hobby, spending hours in the kitchen laboring over special dishes is a hobby. But yoga is much more than a hobby for me, it is a way of life. Up there with writing, which is profession, habit, part of who I am as breath, my yoga practice has become for me just another given, one of the necessities of life.
I tried many times and for many years to pull together these two pillars of my existence, writing about yoga, without success. On one hand, there was the instruction book, a description like the ones I heard from my yoga teachers every day in class—femurs back, eyes soft, shoulders back, that sort of stuff. On the other there was rhapsodizing about the feelings yoga gave me—the sense of calm, the ability to focus, the utter clarity.
To make a poem out of yoga, I had to fuse the physical and the psychological, adding for good measure a dollop of auditory pizazz and the verbal equivalent of the rhythm of the pose. These things had to be perfectly blended, with not a word too many, accurate as an instruction book, yet also exactly the equivalent of the mental state of the person practicing the pose.
The book, published by White Violet Press, follows a sequence of poses developed by B.K.S. Iyengar to foster emotional stability. There are 15 poems and 15 illustrations, one for each of the poses. I figured that people who came to the book having little familiarity with yoga should have a way in to the poems, though they also offer many visual images that approximate the appearance of the pose itself.
My cousin, Nina Canal, who lives in Marseille, France, generously offered to illustrate the book, a task accomplished by email, since neither of us could afford the time or money to get on a plane to meet in person. Nina was not a yoga practitioner, so this presented an additional challenge. I sent her books with pictures of Iyengar and others doing the poses, though not always with the props demanded in this sequence.
Iyengar yoga is known for its use of such props as bricks, backless chairs, straps, and yoga horses. According to my yoga teacher, Denise Thibault, one student who had never been to an Iyengar class before asked her, “Is this the kind of yoga where you move furniture?” In essence, yes, though the furniture is not the usual kind and the moving happens for a different reason than the usual one.
The idea is that the novice should be put into an approximation of the classic pose, even if that person’s body is not yet ready to accomplish the pose by itself. The body’s memory, the system holds, will remember the feeling of being in this pose, and, given enough practice, the person will one day be able to dispense with the prop and go into the pose proper. That being said, although I have been doing Iyengar yoga for 25 years or so, there are some poses (many, actually) where I have not been able to leave the prop behind. For example, I still do headstand at the wall because of my weak shoulders. But Mr. Iyengar is 93 years old, and still practicing yoga many hours a day. Judging by his august example, I’ve still got some time to go, and thus hope of improvement.
I know that’s possible because when I first started yoga, I could barely make it past my knees with my fingers in standing forward bend. Attempting downward dog, I would sag in the middle like a junk-yard sofa, and headstand was beyond hope. Getting into the poses, even with props, was a great challenge, as I would slide off the folding chair in shoulder stand, or it would fold up on my fingers. Every class led to days of painful stair-climbing, sitting, standing up from sitting.
But I ignored the sniggering from the back of the room, and persevered, as indeed I had with writing so many years before. That said though, I was hardly a natural athlete, though I had been, arguably, a born writer, who lived, for all practical purposes, at the branch library across the street when I was growing up in Philadelphia.
In contrast, I hold the distinction, as far as I know, of being the only person ever to get an F in high school gym and still attend class. I was hopeless at team sports, slow and awkward, dreaming in the outfield, only to be bonked by the ball, too short at 4’10” for basketball, unable to jump or to serve a volleyball, always chosen last for a team.
It makes me smile, therefore, to think that at age 59, I can relatively easily slip into poses that would make my former teammates groan, and hold them for a long time as well. I guess that shows that all things come to those who practice.