Yoga Christmas, With Sloth

It’s December, which means that it’s the time of the year where I totally feel like a fat, lazy, bland slob.

I’ve been eating too much chocolate, too many cookies. And not working out at all.

I’m reminded of my undergrad lit teacher, quoting Sloth, one of the seven deadly sins, in Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus: “Hey ho, I am Sloth.”

This line is supposed to be said in a lackadaisical manner, in the midst of a big sigh, and perhaps while lounging and eating chocolate. (Who brings this stuff into the house? It’s everywhere!) And perhaps, in contemporary fashion, while watching, on TV:

a. Survivor (Ah well, Tyson won. Snore.)
b. NHL Hockey (Hey ho, go Avs. Yawn.)
c. A nature show (The icecaps are melting? Ooh, that’s unfortunate.) Or maybe a car show. (Fixing up them old cars, how shiny are they? Takes a big bite of chocolate.)

‘Tis the season for human hibernation.

I guess I don’t like eating my way through the entire Hershey’s and Ghirardelli catalog, because this past week I joined Breathe Studio, which combines spin classes and yoga.

I took my first class on Thursday. Let me just say: I suck at yoga. I’m the worst yoga tryer in American history.

All the other limber folks were bending and folding like Gumby dolls, and me—well, let’s just say the my middle name isn’t Limber. It’s Joseph.

And let me just say: when I bend over the try to touch my toes, I get to a place just under my kneecaps, and that’s all I got.

But hey (ho)! At least I got some exercise in, and got those creaky joints to bend and flex to their rather limited, um, limits. I embraced my history of sloth, and began to beat it down(ward) like a (bad) dog.

At the end of the yoga session, lying flat on my back—in Savasana, I am told—I was breathing deep as light from Colfax Avenue flashed and slid across the ceiling in shards and circles, squares and trapezoids. The gold and silver bands filled me with a sense of ease and joy, and there was no slothfulness in me at all, anymore.

Here’s a lovely poem by Nate Klug that incorporates beauty and yoga—and a bicycle.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

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Cold, With Swan

I just finished up teaching a class on Mary Oliver, who is one of a handful of poets who make a living from writing. Her work is spare, simple, and melodic. Like another handful of poets, I’d say that she’s as much a philosopher as a poet, and therefore her work is primarily natural and spiritual. She asks lots of big questions, and isn’t too concerned about the answers, almost like a contemporary American monk might.

Whatever a contemporary American monk might be–I’ll leave that definition up to you.

I admire her poems and I appreciate them, but I’m not totally in love with all of her work. I don’t mean that in a negative way. She’s an amazing writer. And perhaps the lessons she embraces are the ones I need to embrace, too, and I’m reticent about doing so. Who knows?

End of self-analysis session.

Many of her poems involve walks through a natural landscape–most often around the environs of Provincetown. She draws inspiration and a deep sense of communion from those woods and sandy dunes, much like I draw inspiration from the landscape where mountain biking takes me. She asks questions, much like the questions that occur to me when I’m riding.

As she writes: “What is it you plan to do with your one precious life?” in “The Summer Day.

Maybe that makes me a mountain-biking monk-philosopher. (Make sure your robe doesn’t get caught in the chain.)

Here’s a good example of a quintessential Oliver poem–ending with more questions than answers.

THE SWAN

Across the wide waters
something comes
floating—a slim
and delicate

ship, filled
with white flowers—
and it moves
on its miraculous muscles

as though time didn’t exist,
as though bringing such gifts
to the dry shore
was a happiness

almost beyond bearing.
And now it turns its dark eyes,
it rearranges
the clouds of its wings,

it trails
an elaborate webbed foot,
the color of charcoal.
Soon it will be here.

Oh, what shall I do
when that poppy-colored beak
rests in my hand?
Said Mrs. Blake of the poet:

I miss my husband’s company—
he is so often
in paradise.
Of course! the path to heaven

doesn’t lie down in flat miles.
It’s in the imagination
with which you perceive
this world,

and the gestures
with which you honor it.
Oh, what will I do, what will I say, when those
white wings
touch the shore?

Postscript: It’s been brutally cold here in Colorado–today’s high will be around 10 degrees–and my bike is in pieces. I need a new front shock. (Maybe Santa will bring me one?) The few times I’ve gotten in the saddle recently, I’ve been sticking to the roads.

Here’s an image from a recent ride, taken before the freeze set in.

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And a pic from later that day:

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Surviving the Cold

Finally it seems as if winter is here, and while I’m a bit bummed about the frigid air outside and the brutally dry air inside, I’m a bit relieved. After all, this summer seemed, well, apocalyptic in its heat, and in the fires that raged all over the state.

Riding can still be had–snow is still lacking–but it’d be a pretty damn cold outing. (Just thinking of this makes my feet twinge with imaginary frostbite.)

This also makes me recall a great poem by Mark Strand. Like many of Strand’s poems, there’s a dreamlike quality that lightens the poem, even though its eventual resting place can be seen as something a bit grim. (After all, what is colder than the eternal, sepulchral bed?)

Lines for Winter
for Ros Krauss

Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.

These lines remind me of the famous dictum of Rilke–“You must change your life”–and yet what Strand argues for is not change, but a determined forging ahead. Perhaps Strand is actually echoing Frost’s line, “I have miles to go before I sleep.” But there is something of Rilke here, I think, in the command of “tell yourself… that you love what you are” even if what you are is fluid, protean, ever-changing.

Strand’s movement is metaphorical in the same way that biking is metaphorical, too–sometimes you just can’t turn back, and the only way out of the woods is forward. The tune your bones play is the exertion of keeping on (to borrow Bob Dylan’s phrase).

And there it is again. The lesson I keep uncovering over and over: endure!

Now for some images of a recent awesome–and cold–ride.

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Downtown Denver, from the top of Green Mountain.

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My riding buddy Ed, after climbing to the top.