Aug '08 Practice

Rediscovering One's Roots

by Zainab Zakari

Anyone can appreciate a reminder of his or her resilience, that he or she is living life on his or her own terms. Yet, when we find ourselves in a series of unplanned turns, it can feel as though the life we so carefully try to master is no longer in our control. I recently finished a significant chapter in my own: graduate school. A month after graduation and no permanent job in sight, I was scattered, flitting from project to project, none appealing enough for me to commit long term. The order of operations I’d envisioned—finish school, find a fulfilling career and then pay off my debts—was slipping through my fingers. I couldn’t focus, and my usual stress therapy—a vigorous Vinyasa practice—couldn’t keep the doubts at bay for long. Then I worried that my yoga practice would suffer along with my career plans.

When I moved to New York City six years ago, I had work and an apartment secured. I approached my fitness with the same determination I’d brought to my career search and apartment hunt—I would not do it without getting concrete results. My regimen swayed toward cardio-intensive and dynamic sports like tennis, running, soccer and kickboxing. Then I took a yoga class in my gym. An Ashtanga practitioner taught a slightly modified Primary series, and he had quirky ways of getting people to hold strengthening and balancing poses like Lolasana and Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana. “You do. You do. Do!” he’d command, louder with each word.

The yoga class was challenging and its repetition was addictive. I returned to practice every week because I craved the intensity of my heartbeat as it reverberated within my chest in Adho Mukha Svanasana, through my arms and legs in Chaturanga Dandasana and down to the blood vessels in my toes and fingers in Padangusthasana. Poses like Sarvangasana and Karna Pidasana were especially powerful, and the last made me breathless. I giggled the first time my eyes peeked through the “V” of my thighs as they framed my ears. Then I realized I’d folded my 5’7”-frame into a ball less than half that size using a combination of breath, flexibility and strength. The giggle turned to awe.

It was the awe I remembered years later. Eventually my teacher moved away, and my yoga journey took me to Vinyasa flow. That practice guided me through a career change, a year of soul searching and, most recently, an intense year-long master’s program. I was surprised when in the weeks following my graduation, I felt unmoored, even as I flowed from pose to pose in classes. The mindfulness in my practice was missing. I recalled the steadiness I’d found in the gym class those years ago. Perhaps if I returned to my Ashtanga roots, I could find the quiet strength and calm again.

I feared the reunion. It had been years since the last Ashtanga class. Would I remember the sequence? Would I be able to keep up? Would I injure myself? I walked into the asana room an older, more experienced yogi, but I couldn’t help but fear the class would be more frustrating than soothing. Then something happened. The instructions that had gone over my head six years before made sense. I had a better command over the instruments: my mind and body. By the time we reached Sirsasana, a nemesis in my early yoga practice, I could hold my legs up through Sirsasana B and Urdhva Dandasana. The most inspiring moment, however, came when the instructor assisted me through Prasarita Padottanasana C—a pose I’d resigned myself to never fully achieving. As the instructor gently pressed my arms overhead, she told me to stick out my pinkie. Stick out my pinkie? I wondered. Then my baby digits slid across the floor’s cool surface. I didn’t realize how close my clasped hands had been to the floor.

My body’s wisdom and strength surprised me in that first class, and I walked out with a lighter, more confident step, ready to tackle the items on my life’s to-do list. I returned for class the next week and the week after and the week after. In a period when my plans could change within minutes, I sought the two hours of singular focus to remind me that I could always find my center, recharge and draw strength and discipline from within. I discovered that while I enjoy freedom and fluidity in an unstructured life or, say, a Vinyasa Flow class, I also value the occasional grounding and structure to keep me rooted.
Here’s to rediscovering one’s roots to help one move forward. Om shanti, shanti, shanti.

Zainab Zakari began her yoga journey in 2002. In her professional life, she traveled from the editorial offices in a book-publishing company to airy rooms in yoga studios as a manager and teacher before turning to writing. She recently completed a Master’s degree in Journalism at Columbia University and is a freelance journalist in New York City. Her work has appeared in Zink magazine.

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