Monday, April 11, 2016

Women, Academia, Sport: On Academia, Yoga, and the Practice of Beginning Again

“If you fall out, you are human. If you fall out and get back in, you are a yogi.”

It’s 10am. The studio is unusually hot today—high humidity, the windows are already streaming. The noise of the world outside seems distant in the faux tropics of the heated room. I have a full day of revisions ahead of me, but as I unfurl my mat, all I need to be is Kate, radically myself in this moment, a moving, breathing participant in the now. I usually practice yoga in the evenings, when I feel more awake and more myself, but lately I have been caught up in a continual whirlwind of revisions—for articles and for my dissertation—that has thrown me out of whack mentally and has sent my anxiety levels soaring. So, I decide to switch it up a bit and see what happens when I make the conscious decision to begin my day with centering and presence.

Yoga—while certainly not a cure-all remedy, has some concrete applications beyond the mat. It is first and foremost a practice, one that teaches you presence, as well as the honour and dignity of beginning again. If you have ever practiced yoga, you know all too well the lingering frustration when on Tuesday you were able to fully kick back into standing bow, but today you can’t even find your balance in tree. But you try, and try again, stretching your muscles and fascia to their present ability, making room for the new, flushing out the old. In experimenting with the now of your body, yoga offers you a chance to laugh at yourself, to enjoy the foibles of the human body as it moves, sometimes clumsily, sometimes gracefully. In this way, it is a nice counterbalance to the “perfect mind” syndrome that plagues academia. When you play with balance and respect your body’s capabilities in the moment, falling out and beginning again restores dignity and lightness to the body and mind, and encourages you to be empathetic with yourself in the process.

As academics, and, more generally, as people in the saturated milieu in which we live, yoga is an available antidote to the constant demands for active production and perfection. While dropping the day’s worries and focusing on the breath seems like a luxury, for me, it has become a basic human need. With so much pressure to “get things right” in my professional life, yoga has taught me invaluable lessons of balance and process. It is a space and time where you can fall out and get back in—under the intensity of heat, the sweat and breath of neighbouring bodies, the closeness of the experience can be overwhelming. There is also something intensely human to be felt, however, in the pure pleasure of movement and breath.

Yoga is consciousness in motion. It is about synching the flows of the body with the natural rhythms of the breath, the life force, prana. As a doctorate student who studies the projective poetics of Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, and the Black Mountain crowd, this aspect of uniting the breath and body in movement is especially poignant. The projective poetic mode advocates for the immediate connection between lines of verse and the breath and movement of the body through space. 

According to Olson, proprioception, “sensibility within the organism / by movement of its own tissues,” extends beyond aesthetics to become a poethic, a practice of living and creating rooted in the immediacy of the body in motion. “Proprioception” comes from the Latin proprius meaning “one’s own,” or what is proper to the self; in this way, it identifies a radically personal and subjective means of relating to the world through the body. At its core, it is about bodily awareness: of being aware of the parts of the moving body as they are extended in space, in relation with other objects in this spatial field. It is a term that certainly applies to yoga, but also to academia. 

The act of publishing and sharing ideas, of receiving critique and revising accordingly, are all practices of awareness—not of the body, per se, but of ideas, which are always extensions of the body and markers of its growth. When we send out ideas for review, we are experimenting with our ideas in space—identifying their extensions and limitations, but most importantly, realizing their capacity for growth and change. This both humbles and opens the self as much as falling out of Eagle pose and getting right back in, with a new awareness of where you are at in the present.

Yoga is about experimentation. There are many parallels to draw between repeating asanas, experimenting with movement not for the pursuit of perfection but for progress, and academic revision, the reorienting and shifting of ideas to adapt to newly discovered contexts and ideas. I think we sometimes forget that academia, like yoga, is a practice. When we revise our ideas, when we consider other viewpoints and angles and incorporate them in our own work, we are being present and mindful. We are also confirming the humanity of the work, the organic community of people coming together in pursuit of knowledge not as dogma but as practice. 

Because what is academia, the pursuit of knowledge, if not the art of beginning again?

So, as I roll out my mat in this balmy room, I don’t know what the next hour and a half holds for me and my practice. I also don’t know what the result of my hundred visions and revisions beyond the mat will amount to. All I know is that I can be present and patient with what emerges; if I lose grasp of my breath, I can get it back again.


If you make mistakes, you are an academic. If you revise and resubmit, you are human. 
Kate Siklosi lives in Toronto and is a PhD Candidate in English at York University. Her research interests centre upon the intersections of Canadian and American avant-garde poetry and poetics, post-structuralism, and spatial theory. She is currently co-editor of Pivot: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies and Thought.

1 comment:

  1. lovely Kate! I got my graduate class in pedagogy to go to yoga class in order to encourage exactly this kind of attitude -- some days all you can do is stay in the room, and that's ok. Life lessons from Bikram.

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