06 April, 2011

Parsvottonasana in North Station

That title might sound pretentious; really, i hope it doesn't. Parsvottonasana is just a more colorful way to say pyramid pose....

I spent a fair share of time waiting in 2010 - in metro stations, train stations, bus stations, airports - more than seventeen cities in seven countries. Lately i've seen the ones closer to home; as i more actively seek cultural enrichment, Amtrak's Downeaster from Portland to Boston becomes a familiar ride. 

Last weekend i trekked south to attend the MIT European Short Film Festival (i'll write about a couple films which stood out, elsewhere). After a whirlwind day and night working from a cafe in the North End, watching films sometimes emotionally challenging, and catching the last trains from Cambridge to a friend's couch in Malden, i stood weary and bleary in North Station. Just to rub it in, the Downeaster was delayed by a freight train stuck on the tracks. The train scheduled for turnaround departure at 11:10 wouldn't arrive until almost noon. 

Now, North Station is decidedly a commuter terminal. The ratio of seating to passenger numbers is fairly low, and there are no electrical outlets, few amenities for long-term waiting. I half considered buying a magazine, but something told me to detox, not to ingest more psychic baggage. Thus it was i stripped to jeans, tee, and socks and began doing yoga in the middle of the station. 

In the past month i've been attending a yoga class. Yoga is one of those things so rewarding, yet sometimes difficult to get into without a community of practice - and the more i practice, the more it is the practice itself i come to enjoy. After a few years of dabbling, yoga to me is no longer about the physical benefits of flexibility, strength, or stress relief, no longer a means to an end; it is about the mindful union of breath and movement, a meditation bringing spirit and body to one. What one achieves in the practice neither exceeds nor fails to meet expectations; expectations are the biggest obstacle to finding your true limits. 

As i eased through warrior two and into triangle and reverse triangle poses, i could feel awkward gazes turn towards me. I could feel the gaze of people thinking about their own bodies - "i could never do that. i wonder how he does it?" and the quick glances of others taking studiously little notice. Those thoughts arose and flowed away like autumn leaves carried by a stream, and i found the sensation of being watched drive me, in both physical and spiritual aspects, deeper into the poses. In class my eyes wander, comparing my form to others'; here, in the train station, attentiveness to the pose drowned out that sense of being watched, as in difficult poses when the instructor's voice enjoins, "our breath is louder than our thoughts." Deep in practice, i didn't notice an MBTA security police woman watching until she spoke. "You can't do that in here." 

I did my best to peaceably inquire why, and she said, "because someone might trip over you when you're doing those push-ups." I brokered a solution: sticking to standing poses. 

As i resumed practicing, a little voice grumbled on about how Americans are such sheeple just sitting their lost in their iPods, how our litigious society has absolutely no tolerance for personal risk when another party could be held remotely responsible, how North Station ought to have proper waiting amenities, a day check for baggage, and on and on. The same little voice that's always telling me i'll never be what i hope to be, always reminding me of shortcomings, beating my body up for what it simply can't do. 


One foot in front of the other, about a foot-length apart. Hands on the hips, or in reverse namaste, behind the back. Bend forward from the waist, reaching your chest - not your forehead - toward your knees. "Pyramid pose is our gratitude pose," the instructor says, and i wobble in assent. "As we bow forward we give thanks for all the good people in our lives. We thank our bodies for what they allow us to do." We give thanks for delayed trains and reasonable security officers. 

We give thanks for what our bodies allow us to do. 

Whenever i get discouraged now, that has become my mantra. It's a simple way of remembering that one has a conscious choice whether or not to let the good in life outweigh the bad. Pyramid pose is more than a profound challenge to one's sense of physical balance. It's a very good way to wait for a train.