Sunday, December 18, 2016

Beginner's Body

"Let us return to old times, and that will be progress."--  Guissepe Verdi

"Everybody's got a plan until they get punched in the face."-- Mike Tyson

Seven weeks out from surgery and, like a fetus at the same number of weeks from conception, my practice is just beginning to resemble something like what it will eventually be.  At this point it is still forbidden for me to bear any weight on my arms but I can now begin reaching behind my back.  This means I can do all of the fundamental, or standing postures, and most primary series postures.  No suryanamaskara, vinyasas, purvatonnasana, bhujapidasana, or kukutasana.  For finishing I do three Jane Fonda bridges, viparita karani, and the lotus posture sequence.

Odd as it may sound to some, getting the SLAP lesion in my left shoulder fixed surgically was thrilling in several ways.  At a most base level, the prospect of finally getting to take Percocet with complete impunity was sweet.  On the other end of the spectrum (but still also at a most base level) I looked forward to the acute pain (as opposed to the chronic pain of the injury itself, which had been steadily eroding my emotional well-being).  I have been a masochist for as long as I remember and even now my standard physiological response to sharp, intense pain is to giggle.  It wasn't all drugs and whips and chains, though.  I was also thrilled to get this issue fixed, once and for all.  Although my shoulder is still really tender even as of this writing, I remain giddy at the prospect of getting lasting relief.  Finally, on a more intellectual level, I looked forward to the challenge of seeing if I could walk the talk so many yoga teachers do regarding non-attachment to practice and postures.  It is obviously very easy to tell people not to fret over their injuries when you are whole yourself.  It's probably at least as easy to tell yourself, while you are pontificating to your student, that if the roles were reversed you'd be fine.

And how did I fare in dealing with post-surgery restrictions?  I'd give myself a solid C+.  For the first two weeks after the operation it was easy to stay calm and unattached to practicing because the pain was still quite intense.  Practice simply wasn't an option.  During the next weeks I started to become restless about having my arm in a sling.  When the sling came off there was a new pain which again countered any restlessness.  The time in the sling had shortened and weakened the bicep such that even letting my arm hang down by my side loosely felt intensely stretchy.  The attachments and hang-ups over lost ground, as it were, came in earnest once I began physical therapy and once I started to fiddle around with asana.

First, the pain in my shoulder has hanged on longer than I expected.  One Pandora's box of questions: "Did this surgery even work?  Will it ever get better?  This is not really any different than before the operation.  Will I get to do tic-tocs ever again? Advanced A? Kapotasana, even?  And Jesus Christ, I'm fat.  What the fuck?"  Even though both my surgeon and my physical therapist and all the discussion threads with which I've consulted confirm that the persistence of pain at this stage is normal, I still doubt and worry.

Second, the back side of my body had closed up significantly in just four weeks of rest.  The pinching in my hamstrings when I did trikonasana B for the first time was really alarming.  Memories flooded back.  I remembered how I'd always hated that posture.  Same for paschimatonasana.  I wish I could say it was interesting to re-experience the opening of the body, particularly the back side of the body, that most beginners go through; that I had been able to sit there up in the cockpit of my Mind observing, taking measurements, making notes.  It wasn't the case for me, unfortunately.  I just found it unpleasant.

Now that it's been a week or so of doing some standing postures and forward bends, and that's all coming back, I'm antsy and eager for more.  Without suryanamaskara or vinyasa the practice feels so incomplete.  I also want to roll up my sleeves and begin helping my students again too.  Several of them need help on postures that would require more elbow grease than I am able to give.  My work now, it seems, is remain more in my head than in my body for the time being.  That is to say that instead of dwelling on what my body feels I must continue to trust what my mind knows-- that healing is happening and in somewhere between six months to a year I will be back in the saddle again completely.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Waiting at Miss Kat's house, or, A War Story Traded

Tonight is different.  You have finally put your foot down.  Typically on these runs into Coconut Grove you wait in the car.  To be clear, this is not the Grove of CocoWalk and Ransom Everglades, it's the other one--  the one in which even now,  just weeks ago, one of your best friend's elementary school students was almost hit by a stray bullet in a broad daylight shoot out.  This wait has always been nerve-wracking.  Five to fifteen minutes slumped down in the front seat, doing your best to remain inconspicuous, would seem interminable.  At least there was cover of night.  But now, in the new car you purchased a few weeks ago it seems impossible to remain inconspicuous and the wait has gone from nerve-wracking to terrifying.  So you put your foot down, and Jeffrey has acceded to let you come inside and wait in the living room.

With Jeffrey you drive up to Miss Kat's house, where your guy Michael Love rents a room.  You haven't dealt with Michael Love directly yourself very much.  He seems unremarkable, talks with an unhurried drawl.  He is country, no doubt.  The exchange of money and drugs is something you are kept out of, which may be just as well, so tonight when you go to Miss Kat's house you will wait in the living room while Jeffrey and Michael Love will sneak off to Michael's room.

The house itself reminds you very much of home, of Key West.  It is shotgun house, typical of those made by Bahamanian immigrants who came to South Florida towards the end of the nineteenth century.  The front balcony seems unstable, the exterior paint on all sides is peeling.  When you step inside the first thing you notice is the walls of living room, which are covered with family pictures spanning decades.  Those few spaces not covered by a framed picture reveal unpainted Dade county pine.  Through birth, death, love, strife, first steps of a child, high school graduations, military service... all of it-- this house has been passed down and down and down.  The residue of generations is palpable.

One picture in particular catches your eye.  A high school cheerleader, replete with pom-poms smiles brightly and proudly into the camera.  Her hair is relaxed, and her skirt goes down to just below her knees.  You estimate that this was taken some time in the late 50's; not before Rosa Parks but before Dr. King's speech and before Selma.  You stay transfixed by this and the other pictures, contemplating a time that seems to be fading fast from our collective memory but from which we are not as far removed as we'd like to believe.

Your reverie is disturbed by a stirring behind you.  Out of the room adjacent to the living room appears an older woman, dressed in nightclothes.  She snarfles and coughs loudly and productively.  A double take reveals that she is, in fact, the cheerleader from the picture that struck you so.  It is Miss Kat.  She is gracious and welcoming, and invites you to wait with her in her room. 

Patting the mattress with her hand, Miss Kat bids you to come and have a seat on her bed.  When you do, you notice an old chef's knife protruding from under the pillow.  "What's up with that knife, Miss Kat?" you ask.  "Man, my boyfriend been fuckin' with me.  But if he try to come up in here tonight, I'ma cut that motherfucker.  Believe that."  You do, and you can't help cringing when Miss Kat starts coughing again, easily bringing up a good tablespoon of phlegm which she promptly spits out the open jalousie window.  "Damn, Miss Kat, you don't sound so good.  You all
"Yeah, yeah, I just had this cold for a little while now, I'll be ok."
"You should rest and drink orange juice.  You know, for vitamin C."

This is the cue Miss Kat has been waiting for.  Her hands dart under the bed and she produces a plate which holds a razor, a quartered straw, and about a gram and a half of cocaine.  "I got your vitamin C right here," she says.  At this point in the game, you've seen your share of things but this still manages to astonish and delight you.  You express genuine gratitude for her largesse as she arranges some of the pile of blow into two thick long lines.  When you take the plate your astonishment and delight doubles as you take a closer look at the line you're about to hit:  soft, oily, smelling faintly of gasoline.  It iridesces pink and blue.  In short, the quality is superb.  Some cognitive dissonance arises, as you have come to understand that one shouldn't get powder cocaine from places like the Grove.  Everybody knows that anything from here is stepped on repeatedly and only a sucker would get anything but heroin from this neighborhood.

Miss Kat goes first, inhaling her line with practiced aplomb.  Sharing a straw to be placed up your nose with this obviously sick woman isn't even an afterthought-- it is no thought at all.  After you hit, you sit and chat for a few more minutes about nothing, really.  And then Jeffrey comes out of Michael Love's room with the heroin you really came for anyway and that's that.

You never see Miss Kat again.  You haven't seen Michael Love in at least seventeen years, nor are you particularly inclined to see him either.  Jeffrey wanders in and out of your life, but you've cut him loose too.

The power of memory persists, though, giving all of these broken souls a quantum existence.  They are gone, but they are not.  You hope never to see them again, but they remain in your heart and mind, contributing to who you have become.  For this you are grateful, and you hope earnestly that wherever they are they have ceased suffering.  You love them.