I decided to send a short essay about the writing of the yoga series to the Iyengar newsletter. Here it is, below.
I am a yoga student and a writer. These are both activities that occupy me for some part of every day, but despite efforts to connect them, until this past December, I was unable to do it. I would look forlornly out of the studio window at the waving palm trees and think that surely this, as much as any of the other activities that took up my day, could be the subject for poetry, but nothing emerged from the hazy slate of my mind, as stubbornly unproductive as an unplugged computer or a cracked crystal ball.
This pattern continued, the two poles of my life occupying their own, utterly separate spheres, until my teacher, Denise Thibault, taught several classes in a row based on Mr. Iyengar’s Emotional Stability Sequence, which had an immediate, profound effect on me.
I should say that I originally began doing yoga about two decades or more ago to help me deal with my fractured neurology. My family exhibits a spectacular array of neurological conditions, from Tourette Syndrome and OCD to bipolar disorder, ADHD, learning disabilities, and depression. My own little share of this neurological bonanza is occupied by GAD, generalized anxiety disorder, a disability that kept me from driving till late in my 40s and otherwise hampered my physical as well as mental well-being.
Regular yoga, along with cognitive behavioral therapy and mild medication, had quelled the worst effects of this disorder. Though I still don’t drive on freeways, my life proceeds on a much smoother, less fearful course than ever before, and my physical health is excellent.
But this particular series, even foreshortened as it was into 1 ½ hour classes, had a definite effect, inducing a further calm and sense of well-being I had only rarely experienced. I was suffused with gratitude and energy, a warm feeling, as though I was standing before a blazing bonfire, enough to fuel a poem.
That afternoon, a fortuitous summons beckoned: an online journal in which I had several times published, Qarrtsiluni, was planning an issue on the theme of health. Maybe I could write a poem about yoga for this issue? That is what began a flurry of writing the like of which I had never before experienced.
I looked up the particulars of the sequence, which contains 15 asanas, many of them variations on shoulder stand, and stared at the diagrams for a while. Then I wrote “Salamba Sirsasana—Headstand,” which I submitted to the journal, where it was accepted but has not yet appeared. The itch did not abate. I was not finished with this project.
The poems poured out over a two month period so that by the end, I was producing several a week, a feat unheard of in my snail-paced past. I followed up on the events in my blog, Shadow Knows (http:// robbi-shadowknows.blogspot.com), where my few followers checked in daily for the latest updates, revisions, and ruminations on the series.
The lines, the images flowed effortlessly, emerging from the same fount that fuels the asanas themselves. I felt as Keats described himself: like an explorer facing an immense and long-sought sea. It was as though it had been there all the time, waiting for me to turn a corner one day, when it would be revealed, all at once.
I hope to publish this series as a collection, but that will require the aid of an able artist who can accompany the poems with fluid renderings of the asanas’ shape for those unfamiliar with yoga. On my blog, I used photographs from the Internet, but I want something less detailed and realistic for the book.
It is with this in mind that I turn to you, the Iyengar community, hoping that someone wants to join me in this endeavor. I cannot promises riches—poetry is not lucrative—but I think that with the help of these drawings, the series will attract some attention that can benefit the artist as well the writer. And most of all, I will be able to thank Mr. Iyengar by giving him this collection to thank him for the gift he has given to me and to all of us.
Since I cannot offer you “Headstand,” as it is already due to be published elsewhere, here is another one of the series—“Uttanasana—Standing Forward Bend.”
Uttanasana—Standing Forward Bend
Diving down and down
toward the distant floor,
I approach the knees’
locked gates, peering
into the darkened space
between, almost at my
the heels, the ropy
tendons, I belly forward.
Chest presses thighs,
buttocks rising and rising.
I am an explorer,
entering the ancient city,
descending into another world.