My body a largess. My body a country. My body a season in a city.
I had lost my faith after the untimely death of my uncle in 2012. Since then, I had wandered the lanes of the world, looking for a body to house my faith in. In 2020, as more calamities struck the world as a whole and to us all as individuals, locked in the smallest two-bedroom flat I’d ever lived in, I started looking for faith again. I looked through the debris of forgotten recipes of food from my homeland, the detritus of words heaped atop more words in the form of unread books, in vacant pages of empty notebooks, I tried looking for it in a patient practice of staying up till five on weekend mornings, taking in the essence of the earth in its chamomile colors.
They all helped, but they all failed too.
When I tried reading something, I was too bewildered by the gorgeousness of the words. When I tried cooking my mother’s recipes, I was too nostalgic. When I tried staying up till early morning, I was too overwhelmed by nature and its enormous quiet. I lumbered around, looking for the appropriate way in which to soothe the inner storm. The lull in the entire existence needed to be calmed and I continue looking for ways to do it.
One morning day, while preparing a to-do list for the day, I found myself spinning out sentences that captured the essence of what it meant to be in the fourth week (imagine!) of lockdown. One sentence led to a paragraph, a paragraph to a page, and soon I had poured my worries out on to the page. And just like the good old days I felt light at the end of it.
It was writing words, and not reading them, that added wind to my sails. But this wind too would soon dry up. And I would be hunkering around, looking for something to stretch out into, somewhere to fold and caress my mind.
Chatting with friends on a WhatsApp group after a few sleepless nights, I found myself being convinced to join a Zoom wellness class. It was a five-days-a-week, 40-minute regimen where I’d workout with a bunch of people I’d never seen before, while being supervised by a teacher I’ll probably never see in real life.
At first, I was cagey, restraining myself from even keeping the front camera on. For the first two classes, I patiently listened to and followed the instructions of the teacher. We’d start with a neck stretch while squatted on the floor. My feet curled on the yoga matt, I tried to understand this new language. Inhale, then turn your neck slowly right, exhale. Repeat. It felt so new and enthralling. I was moving, feeling, learning to flex muscles in my body I had made no register of in 30 years. The wrist turns, clockwise and then anti-clockwise made me learn the importance of learning and unlearning.
Every day as I sat in front of my laptop, gazing at my reflection intently, the teacher showed us all how to move and shape our body into the circles of our wishes. It was elating. My muscles were slowly beginning to sing with me. She would say things like, “don’t worry, belly out exhale, tummy in, back curled, inhale,” and had me joyous.
I had never known; my body would listen to me this way. It needed the guidance and gentle nudge of expectation. You had to be there, every day, at the same time and preferably the same spot. And the body would yield. It was not something I had expected out of my lazy self and body. Soon, it struck me, this was something that I could do with my writing as well.
I started sitting down to write. Every day for an hour. A different hour each day. Sometimes it would be a golden morning hour, others it would be the purple dusk hour of the lame summer evenings. Then there were the sleepless weekend mornings when I would sit in our crammed balcony with a pencil and a notebook.
I would instruct my mind and body. “Think of the deep blue of your dreams. Write about it for half an hour.” And the words would arrive. Amateurish and bulbous. Uncannily shaped, mostly. But they almost always did. I felt moving towards joy from that spot of pleasure.
On other days I would sit at my desk, lower back crammed into muscle spasms, thinking, “What about that pilgrimage you took with your family in 2002? You were nine then, write about it.” I felt the words drying, coughing out in bursts and spits, coagulated, rusty and muddied. I wrested them out still. Keeping my distracted self, further distracted and for long enough, so that I had completed 40 minutes of a workout, or an hour of writing.
It was strange, and awkward and heavy and luminous — all at once. The first couple of months were moonshine, splendid and honeymoon-ish. Then crept in the boredom, muscle memory, and the ignominy of retention.
Like every evening, I would sit down at 6:30pm on the yoga matt, curling on the insides, and stare blankly at the Zoom screen. My teacher’s instructions flowing like a river I had no intention of dipping in. My body, an aching rivulet in the lockdown, protesting in its stillness. I would just not be able to move. Nothing yielded, no shape, no spinal breaths, no number of instructions to flex and point the toes, made anything happen. Something went off. The twang of laziness and despondency would cast its gloom over me, and I would steadily lay flat on the matt, Shavasana, and silently leave the meeting.
Those evenings were the heaviest. I was paying for these classes and in the umbrage of working out five days a week, eating and drinking all that I could lay my hands on for seven days a week. My body in its plaintive, nervous energy, told me it couldn’t do more than just be on that day and I listened, understanding the limitations of being a human being.
Then there were the days of goofy turpitude. On cardio days, I showcased my funk on the front camera. It was unnecessary, the amount of moving around those calories demanded in order to be burned. But I did them. Unable to perform most of the exercises to perfection, I would keep trying, and by extension, failing. I kept myself entertained by playing silly tricks. I made a time lapse video of my 40-minute workout, on other occasions, I played the recent Fleet Foxes album in the background, so my body could relax and warm up to those vibes. It was engaging and catapulted me to the status of some kind of a yoga guru in my own head.
When I sat down to write on such evenings, the words would jumble up. Playing on the page like it was recess time for them. If I were a writer who kept a spreadsheet of the number of words, I wrote every day, I’d be acing that tick. But the words didn’t really mean much but made my notebooks pile up. My boyfriend smarmily remarked one day, ‘you shouldn’t be wasting pages’.
His one hour, six-days-a-week work outs were perfect like a lot of other aspects about his life. He would do hard core, intense, self-taught cardio and Pilates. Let’s face it, my workouts were a child’s play before his, so I had to struggle keep myself motivated lest I fall behind. The days my body would support me, I would intensify my workouts, doubling down on the squats, doing two-minute planks and deeper lunges. But this would happen only once in perhaps a fortnight. I had to make myself understand, our bodies and what we practice with them are different. We can’t all sing to the same tunes. That’s why, I needed these Zoom classes to be able to finally start working out and my boyfriend had been doing his for over a decade now.
I came to understand the same thing in the practice of my writing. It needn’t make sense every day. On some days it was enough to merely show up. Pandemic or not, your body and your mind both needed rest. On some days it was good to goof around, not do the exercises to perfection, not perfect every paragraph on the page. Wasting time and sometimes pages, and ink with it, was a part of the deal. That’s how I would be able to round myself up. To shape my words and body into a fuller, wholesome, and a more real deal. The idea of perfection suits some, and for some it is merely a waylaid abstract notion.
As I write these words, it’s been more than two weeks that I have not worked out. I wanted to try something else. I joined a new power yoga class and left in the first 20 minutes. I have not been writing too regularly either. Through this bleak midwinter I feel a pervading sense of loss in the air. Anyone who has written will vouch for the fact that the writing is hardest on such days. Some loves are tough. You don’t get to choose what and who loves you back. You write when you can, you work out when you can.
These are ways of housing faith, prayers of two different kinds that I discovered in these eight years. Words as prayers, writing as an ablution. Your body is a temple, my teacher told me on the phone one day, as I waded through the grey waters of anxiety. You have to give it time, she said. I learn to give my body time; I learn to practice patience with my words. I will write again; I will turn and pivot into the warrior pose again. Till then, we will all sail through these unsettling waters, one deep breath at a time.
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