This week in 'Amal Muses' I talk about Yoga, but not just about back-bending, of course!
No online publication for this one, but read below for the whole text. Enjoy!
Bending Backwards in Competition
By Amal Ghazali
When it comes to Yoga, most of the stories you would hear is about how someone was going on a downward spiral emotionally and physically, and one day they came across a beacon of light that was Yoga, and now they meditate everyday and have achieved upmost bliss and Nirvana where they can quiet the mind and hear imaginary waterfalls somewhere in the distance, while standing upside down.
This is not one of those stories.
My relationship with Yoga began like this; there was a free class in my University, I went for it because I couldn’t afford a gym membership and was bored, kind of liked it, and the rest was history.
Over the years I had an on/off relationship with Yoga. I am a mediocre student, which means what I lack in flexibility I make up with a lot of giggling during an otherwise quiet class, and I needed to be forced to push myself further. Recently I was intrigued to try out a slightly different type of Yoga class called Mysore Yoga. Historically, it is a type of Yoga practice originating from a place called Mysore, India. Symbolically, the name basically hints at what will happen to you the next day – sore all over.
The Lesson Begins
The class started at 7 a.m. which was as early as when I get up to go to work. The concept of the class was rather different than what I was used to. For two hours, I would be doing my poses alone, unlike the usual class where everyone follows what the instructor does. The point was that I would be doing Yoga according to my own pace, instead of being slowed down by other beginners or rushed up by more advanced students. My instructor’s name was Freda, a fine exotic-looking lady with lean muscles and ballerina limbs that made me feel like a soggy, over-boiled sausage just standing next to her.
The first fifteen minutes were great. They were poses I was used to, and I began to feel slightly cocky with the fact that I could do them all rather easily. I checked myself out in the studio’s mirror, looking poised and firm in my Downward Dog pose. I glanced to my side and saw another girl turning her body into a round-shaped human ball, which was then rolled around by Freda. Wait. What? Am I expected to do that too? That looked… impossible. My initial confidence immediately simmered down.
The next hour was a blur of muscle quivers and sweat dripping down my face. Freda seemed like a disguised, soft spoken angel who was determined to turn me into a human pretzel. Who knew I could put my legs there? Even my legs were surprised. Why was my right arm on my left side? Lord knows, but there I was.
The minute I saw another girl do a strange pelvic twist, I got nervous. I was absolutely confident I could not pull that off. I saw Frieda walk slowly towards my direction. Please, God, not me. I began to wish that she was going to call some other girl to do it. Please don’t look at me.
She looked right at me.
“Alright Amal,” she said, her voice so soothing that I began to wonder if she was also a part-time shrink. “Next, do the Shashawasanapaka pose.” Or at least I think that was what she said. The names of these poses are extremely bizarre.
The next day, I spent my Sunday on the couch with ice on my bum.
It’s A Lot Like Life
Sure, there are all those well-known obvious benefits of Yoga. It increases your muscle strength and tones them, which in turns protects them from easy injury. For some people, it even teaches them how to calm the nerves, and God knows we need that these days.
But that Mysore class I went to also taught me something else. By the end of the session I found out that most of the other students were instructors themselves, which explained their much superior capabilities compared to mine. Although being amongst them made me push myself that much harder, it also brought into question the matter of comparing oneself to others.
Like a lot of other things in life, we tend to sometimes look to the sides and become consumed with being at par with other people. Perhaps I was doing well by my own standards, but watching that other girl put her head under her legs gave me unnecessary pressure that perhaps what I was doing was not good enough. And so in Yoga, as well as in life, it is pointless to measure yourself against others, and you should always focus on improving yourself by your own personal standards.
It was hot. It was Godblazing hot. I had been standing there for more than an hour, determined to nail my spot as close as possible to the stage. I wanted to see everything. Earlier on at the entrance, security was tighter than Ricky Martin’s leather pants. They took away the drinks and snacks. I was bound to stand there for the next few more hours, among the throng of humans, all sweaty and hyped-up and anxious.
So what do you say about a concert that is Coldplay, in all their pasty, almost middle-aged rockstar glory?
They wanted to put on a show, and boy was it worth all those ticket struggles and travels and leg cramps. It was worth all that and more.
Because for a lot of us, Coldplay isn’t just four dudes in a band, is it? I hate crowds. I hate sweaty, wild crowds. I hate lining up. But then the lights in the stadium went off and then there was a flicker, and then I heard a familiar riff of my favorite song, and then there he was, running across the stage in the middle of laser beams and kaleidoscope of lights.
Chris Martin, the guy who wrote anthems of my adult-angsts and anxieties. When I was in college I would spend every rainy, wintry mornings sipping a cup of tea by the window watching the cars drive by, with his songs played in the background. I listened to ‘Sparks’ when I had no idea what love was, once a many naïve moons ago. And yet during my most recent heartbreak, I must’ve listened to their album, ‘Ghost Stories’, on repeat for days on end.
Seeing them there, in the flesh, was an immediate high. I was standing close enough to see their faces, and I thought how strange it was that he seemed from a different planet – a different lifestyle, a different world, a different race, a completely different person than me – and yet he wrote songs that seemed to share my sentiment over things. And that the person next to me, a stranger from another country, and then another, and another, and the rest of the thousands of people at that stadium must have related to these melodies and lyrics the same way for them to be there too.
It was fascinating.
It was a show that required high energy and gave back a lot more. The fireworks, the confetti, the colorful balloons, the laser lights, the amazing guitar riffs. There was always an injection of pick-me-up anthems, songs about looking at the positive side of things.
And right when you thought you’re in an over-the-top show, Chris begins ‘Yellow’, and then an acoustic ‘Everglow’, and then a slow ‘Always In My Head’, a song he wrote for Gwyneth about still thinking of somebody who has long left. They all bring you back to whatever state of mind you were in, in the past when you were listening to these songs with your earphones.
And then it ended. I was almost dehydrated from the sweating and confiscated water I brought. They took a bow and they disappeared backstage. The lights went off and then when it turned on again, the stadium looked normal. Regular. As though nothing special had happened before. It was like that magical roller coaster high ride that lasted only for a fraction of time and now it has disappeared completely.
I walked all the way back home in the stillness of the night, still humming my favorite tunes, until I fell asleep much later.