Body Sociology • 31 January 2007

This morning between mysore practice and the rest of my life, I sat in and observed a good old vinyasa yoga class led by a young teacher—someone whose gift for setting the tone of a room is no small thing. It’s good education to watch 90 minutes of ineffability, I reason. (Like watching those few remaining profs who learned to teach when lectures were considered art, before intellectuals rationalized away their gentility and became instead professionals and experts.)

This teacher doesn’t even know that his vibe is all art and easiness and cool—I suppose since he doesn’t know what it’s like not to be around himself. It’s refreshing when you don’t have to surf the gap between a teacher’s (or anyone’s) manufactured/intended way of being and the vibe they actually give off to a room. (The first time I watched him teach, I lost mental track of part of it because I kept participating… slipping into a shallow meditation. Contrary to a meditator’s project of guiding awareness away from thinking, I struggled to stay analytical.)

Four late arrivals to the class—visitors from New York—turned out to be dancers from the Stephen Petronio Company. (Just the other day, someone bought me tickets to their very show!)

They were startling humans, in their consciously artful movement, and their subtler, less intentional ways of occupying space. The latter, a kind of somatic idiolect they shared in common, was probably just an artifact of their intense company life. (Be a while with people who hold, and express, themselves a certain way, and your movement will come into similar shapes and rhythms.)

We had an astanga moment in class, when they requested demonstration of transitional motions for picking up your body on your hands and swinging it up and behind to a handstand or pushup. Strangely, the dancers, who must be beyond the beyond in what bodies will do, loved this and found it mystifying. One said: “Now can you please articulate that???” (With the body, yes; with language, not so well.)

Alhough a motion I consider natural is bizarre to them, I feel like there’s an increasing affinity between what I do and what they—as distinctly “modern” dancers—do. (Yoga’s not dance. This is not confusing.)

In the past, dancers have done pilates, weights and god knows what outside of rehearsal in order to sharpen themselves. But to fill in the gaps, all these these dancing women do is go to flow class. That’s it. I know nothing about dance (they told me this means I’ll be their favorite kind of audience… apparently their work is best appreciated on an unrefined palate? Or without expectations? ). But, in my ignorance of the art, I wonder if choreographers will draw more for vinyasa bodies than for ballet bodies in the future. Moreover, as everybody’s modern body hexis takes shape, how much will the stereotypes of vinyasa movement move seep in to convention?

We already know about the lead-with-the-chest thing, dear god. I can see a dancers’ epidemic of snapped anterior intercostals and crazy cervical curvatures, and the rest of us with chests so chronically “open hearted” that we nearly go chipping our shoulderblades on one another. More happily, whereas ballet needs pilates to perfect forms like the Charlie chaplin foot position, which can set my whole sacrum on edge, if Iyengar stardards travel far enough that stance will become as rare as the I-can’t-breathe abdomen-suck of the tight ass Reagan years (for which step aerobics was the perfect expression).

I’m not sure what it will take to float our heads back over our shoulders, from the neck-punishing cro-magnon thrust that the PC has wrought and that I’m stuck in at this second. Apple “Inc.” should spend some time on that one.