I begin by quoting my friend Bex's dad: 'Yogis have very young bodies, but very old faces'. And he is 88 and father to a Yoga teacher - he knows things.
Yesterday I set down in Balinese paradise (palm trees, sunshine, temples, bliss). And this morning I met old friends (Bex, Rosie, squeals, hugs, jumps up and down) and old friends' new babies (more squeals, more jumping up and down etc.).
I then twirled through a sweat-pouring 90 minute Vinyasa Flow (handstand, downdog, new arm balance, awesome), meditated and then, coconut kefir juice in hand, shook it shook it with my fellow middle class crop-top toting yogis to the electrifying boom boom beats of ecstatic dance.
This was a great day.
As I was moving to the reggae rhythm, shoes thrown off and hair flailing chaotically - I looked over to Bex, gorgeous goddess swaying to her own drum that she is, and realised that the last time I saw these girls was when we'd said goodbye at the bus stop in Jerusalem, far from this dancing paradise at the end of our last teaching tour in the West Bank. I remember the desert heat being as intense as the tropics; arid and unforgiving. I felt itchy inside my high-necked and, in my mind, very un-yoga teachery layers (already having been told off multiple times for my untameable and apparently unhide-able breasts). I remember that all I wanted to do was move and the realisation that I was not able to was stifling.
Under Bex's capable direction, we were there primarily to teach Yoga [peace, stretch, move, love] and AcroYoga [support, trust, fun]; to express a freedom through movement even where movement was so clearly and heart-tearingly limited [iron gates, high walls, guards, guns]. And we had to do it all without upsetting local customs (re: no lycra) or the IDF (re: not telling them why were really there – because Yoga, like everything in such a heated setting, was considered political) .
Being a tad handy with a spray can, I was allotted the task of painting a message on The Wall. For days I doodled on scraps, contemplating that ugly and ever-present grey scar as it followed us around to our teaching locations, winding like a noose around the communities we were there to visit. What in one word, was our message? With only 3 days left to go, spray cans, paint brushes and a foolhardy sense of bravado in tow, I was directed to a wall to sneak-tag: P L A Y.
Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love to play. Anywhere. All the time. Often in the least appropriate of environments. Only occasionally in appropriate ones, such as in my Yoga practice.
Ever heard the cue to loosen your jaw in Ardho Mukha Svanasana? Try tightening your jaw and smiling. Now stop it, you look like an idiot. And so what if you've never tried popping from Eka Pada Koundinyasana II to Eka Pada Koundinyasana I? What if you fell over, now how much fun would that be?
Life is not predictable. Life will not go as we think it should. Detach, exchange the grim for a grin, and try that pop again (not actually as hard as it sounds).
Play is an act of creativity and nourishes our practice. This mind-blowingly multi-dimensional thing we call Yoga should not be closed off by fear (either of our bodies, of others opinions, of doing it right?), but be an Opening To Joy. Our practice, whatever shape, style or temperature, is an ode to this amazing body of ours - it is beautiful, it is challenging - it is yours. You can do Yoga, in whatever form. That is an incredible, unknowable gift. So smile.
I stepped away from The Wall; this was it - this is what we were sharing; our playful, youthful spirited attitude.
The next day I came back to the hill above Bethlehem and blocked out my scrawl; sometimes, even for me, play is not the answer. I used my spray can in defiance, writing instead M O V E in bold blue and silver on the concrete. I saw this word as an invitation, an invocation, to all of us: to move because we can - because it will not always be this way, and because it isn't even now for so many.
I will end this post with how Bex's 88 year old dad often ends phone conversations with her: 'Do some yoga for me, would you?'. And smile.