My latest yoga muse is an outdoor art installation, LACMA’s Urban Light, a collection of old streetlights, that have been arranged into an urban forest. Juxtaposed with this forest is hint of a natural one – the row of palm trees rising behind it. I go there often to write, to get new ideas, and recently, to pose!
Thinking about Urban Light’s juxtaposition of erect structures, both man made (lamps)and natural(palms), I reflected on my own spine. How much of it is indeed “manmade” or within my control to shape and how much of our architecture is set in the stone of nature’s blueprint? Every member of my paternal family suffers from pronounced scoliosis, and mine is a double “S” curve with the thoracic at 28 degrees. Last time I saw my grandmother, she showed me where her doctor injects botox into her neck so she can turn her head. I am the only one who thinks this could have been different.
After 15 years of yoga, myriad healing methods, and determination to break myself from the binds of congenital scoliosis, my body is finally shifting into alignment. (Any haters (non-believers) out there can kiss my *ass – I’ve got X-rays.) Nature vs. Nurture is an age-old question that is evolving into Nature AND Nurture. We should neither assume that change is a lost cause and give up on our bodies. Nor should we force them to become something else entirely based on an external ideal. Realigning one’s core is f*cking arduous and ugly, but it is the most gratifying thing I have every done.
For the longest, I practiced yoga ignoring my scoliosis, thinking that if I practiced the way those other upright yogis practiced, I would eventually have their posture. Wrong. I did not see significant changes in my spine until about 10 years into my practice, when I took a square look at its weaknesses (this is the ugly part) and started to address those specifically with more restorative yoga and Pilates, rather than the power yoga my ego pushed for. Once again, the answer lies in finding the union(yoga) of both nature and nurture, and where their juxtapositions are productive. They must work together honestly.
Yogis say anyone who can do mountain can do handstand. Well, having worked with a slumpy mountain forever and making little headway, I’ve flipped my strategy and started training my posture upside down. I’m still weaning my handstand off of walls. I know it’s not about the fear any more, hey, I’m wearing a leotard and climbing on sh*t I was told not to touch in the middle of Los Angeles! Frankly, when it comes to handstand, I’m working with a handicap of having one hip and one shoulder higher than the other, i.e. different length legs and arms. At this point, my half handstand feels as solid as those street lamps and I’m ready to play with it. Having the street lamps on both sides gave be the feeling of working away from a wall, but the security of having it within toes reach in either direction. This afforded me the time while upside down to tweak my wonky hip and shoulder, and then then work each vertebrae away from the S and stack them into a column. Still not perfect, but oh so sustainable! The more time the body spends doing something, the more it accepts it as the status quo.
These photo shoot was intended to capture my growth period on the cusp of handstand and conquering better posture, with my latest muse for uprightness, Urban Light. One one day, when I’m a grandma, rather than showing my grandchildren where doctors inject my neck, I will be showing them how to do handstands.