Saturday, June 09, 2007

Stretching Myself

I have been opening up to new adventures, and looking for ways of connecting--and expanding my social life. After years of being involved in my synagogue, I've drifted away, but I haven't really replaced that spiritual home with something else. I do go to Arlington Street Church--Unitarian/Universalist Church on Sundays, but I'm still longing for a Jewish connection, too. It looks like I'll continue to be a hybrid, when it comes to my spiritual life!

Fifteen years ago, when I lived at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health (a yoga ashram, which is now, sans guru, a retreat center) I called myself a Reform HinJew. Today, I'm not sure exactly what, or who, I am......

You can read about my latest adventures in the following column, which I wrote for Bay Windows (www.baywindows.com)

Holding the posture
I hung suspended, draped over my partner’s back in a modified firemen’s carry, trying to breathe. He was bent forward, supporting my weight, and as he straightened his legs, I rose higher, my arms splayed out for balance. Arrayed around the room, other men were paired up, doing the same thing, with various degrees of assurance.
How had I gotten myself into this situation? What was I, a reasonably sane man of 50, doing hanging out, literally, in this yoga class?

I’d decided to consciously push my limits, to get out of my everyday rut, by signing up for a special yoga workshop at Easton Mountain, a retreat center for gay men in the foothills of the Adirondacks, in upstate New York. I’d been to Easton before, but never for a program quite like this — three days of yoga in the nude, with 60 men I’d never met.
Initially, driving west toward the retreat center, I wondered how I’d fit in the group. A decade earlier, in the 90s, I’d been in fine yoga shape. I’d even lived at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, a yoga ashram out in the Berkshires, complete with an Indian guru, back in 1992 and 93, and then returned for yoga-teacher training a year later. But in recent years, my natural laziness, along with a sense of inertia, had set in, and my practice faded from a vigorous sequence to mild stretching at the gym. Soon my primary yoga posture became the couch potato pose as I lay back and practiced mastery of my television’s remote control.

Arriving at Easton, I watched the other participants troop in. It was obvious, even clothed, that there was a range of ages and fitness levels in the group, from the 20s to about 60, from toned, lean yogis to somewhat overweight “bears,” and everything in between.

Gradually, on the first Saturday morning of the workshop, we’d gotten undressed — some of us shyly, others fully at ease. (I was one of the shy ones). Soon I was focused primarily on the yoga itself, trying to breathe and open up my tight hamstrings, than on some of the admittedly “hot bodies” nearby as we sweated through a series of asanas (postures) on our yoga mats.

Later on that first afternoon, hanging out on my partner’s back, I felt blood rush to my head. I asked my partner to “put me down now,” anxious to be released from the fireman’s carry. We went on to practice assisted headstands, handstands and a series of “flying postures” that left me sweaty, gasping and grateful to land back on terra firma in one piece.

Just as I stretched my body during the weekend, I also stretched my mind. I’ve always been drawn to the toned and buff; though typically, those men have rarely been drawn to me. Over the course of three days, I met several men who were like me — middle aged, somewhat hairy and not especially muscular. As I got to know those men, I found my attention wandering from the most conventionally handsome, the ones who could potentially fuel my fantasies and self-esteem, to others who I could share myself with, and who I could talk to.

One man, whom I’ll call Jay, stood out. I’d met him early in the weekend. A nice guy, a doctor, who was raising two young children. Initially, I wasn’t impressed; he was just another decent, boring guy. Later, I was stationed near him during our afternoon yoga session. I watched him work on his mat, a short, slightly stocky man who was clearly dedicated to his yoga practice. After class, as we talked, I learned more about him. He’d survived a difficult childhood, had immigrated to the U.S. as a young boy, leaving much of his family behind, and had come out in his 20’s.

Several years ago, he’d decided he would no longer wait to share his love with others. Instead, he adopted two young girls and was now raising them, giving them the secure childhood he’d never had. On that last night of the retreat, we talked for hours. I shared some of my struggles — of living with depression in my young adult years, of changing my name and becoming a writer. He held me close and we passed the time, talking, far past midnight.

The next morning, the whole group came back together to do yoga one last time, and to say goodbye. Looking around the room, I wasn’t focused on bodies, but on the faces of the men I’d come to know in such a short time. As I scanned the room, I saw lots to appreciate. My gaze rested on Jay’s face as he stood across the space from me. His brown eyes glowed with warmth.

Maybe, finally, I’m learning to slow down and notice beauty that radiates from within. Growing older doesn’t have to be about tightening up and shutting down; it can mean opening up to new adventures, like my time at Easton Mountain.

1 Comments:

Blogger I. said...

Great post. I just popped into your blog to see what you're up to and was sad to read that you've drifted from TBZ. I hope you find what you are looking for.

9:17 AM  

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