Sunday, November 27, 2005

Flex & Flexibility

Earlier this week I finally did it…I went to C.G. road and for 130 rupees, I bought a basketball. At St. Xavier’s High School, a 10 minute walk from the house, I found a court and invited some of the other NRIs to play. The rims were rusty and netless, but as beautiful as friends in a foreign land. And to our surprise, some locals came to join in! Now, everyone we’d asked had told us that no one plays basketball in Ahmedabad, but suddenly people were showing up from all sides to get in a game. We couldn’t even command the full court, since some hardcore barefoot guys started playing on the other half, and it seemed unwise to challenge them. I learned that this herd of cricket-denouncing misfits plays every day at the school, and I’ve already been back three times this week, ecstatic to be getting some outdoor exercise with my favorite sport. While they’re not exactly the Globetrotters, and lanes and traffic rules don’t apply on the court any more than they do on the street, the competition isn’t that bad. And the comic relief is worth all the unnecessary hacking (when I’m back, I’ll be yelling “ARAY!” to call foul).

Also this week, I began my yoga classes. The instructor comes to the house every morning at 7:45 am, and for an hour, I fumblingly attempt to balance my body’s natural clumsiness. Now, here’s where the contrast hit me hard. On the basketball court, I was outrunning and outjumping everyone. By the end of the second game, my new local friends were begging me to dunk for them and to play for their team in some tournament this December. A group of fairly athletic guys were openly admiring my skills. And yet, every morning, a petite young yoga teacher shows up at the door and utterly humiliates my physical abilities. She effortlessly turns her limbs to rubber, and stifles laughter every time my “tree pose” goes “timber.”

Yesterday, she even saw fit to make the following comment, which you should never say to a guy, unless you happen to be a bigger guy: “your muscles are quite weak.” Apparently yoga teachers don’t care much for the male ego. And while she’s small enough that I could pick her up and toss her into a basket if I wanted, she was right…I am weak, in muscles I never knew I had. Muscles I don’t use every day, neglected ones, rusty as the rims at St. Xavier’s. Muscles that refuse to move now, wondering where I’ve been all these years.

I’ve started to realize that my entire concept of physical fitness needs an overhaul. I’ve always considered myself athletic, and done fairly well in most sports. While I never had bulging biceps or perfect pecks, I used to work out often in college, and was probably more muscular than your average skinny Jain boy. I even took pride in having a six-pack stomach (of course, that’s easy enough to have when you’re so thin your skin is like a layer of saran wrap on your muscles, but I never admitted that until now).

When times got busier in med school, and the gym became a low priority, I always promised myself one day I’d get back into weightlifting and try to regain the pounds I’d lost since I stopped working out. However, doing so would be a continual uphill battle against my genes, my diet, and my lifestyle, which all work to keep me the lanky person you know and love. And I’m forced to wonder, what have I been working toward? To adhere to some abstract western standard of what the male figure should be, when I can’t even stretch my hamstrings to 45 degrees? The message is clear: it’s time to throw in the gym towel, and to fall back on the yoga mat. Time to breathe with rhythm, and to retrain my body towards a new ideal of fitness.

I guess I’ll never be the strong silent type, but I’ll settle for quietly stretchy. And though I’ll never flex huge muscles, I realize it’s unproductive to be working isolated body parts in an attempt to adhere to rigid standards of social appearance. In such matters, one needs to be flexible.

In other news, my mom arrived on Thursday morning, and it’s wonderful to see her again, even though she immediately made me clean my room and comb my hair, and concluded with an encore of reorganizing my closet. I don’t know where anything is anymore, and I feel more at home than ever.

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