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Yoga in the City: Counteracting Push and Shove

by Natalie Peart

June 4, 2012

I love movement and there is plenty of it in a city like New York, which is always bustling at a racetrack pace. Coming up on my third year as a New York City resident, I have developed a series of physical coping mechanisms for living in an area where stepping out onto a crosswalk makes me feel like I'm playing roulette with the grim reaper.

Yoga is the main medium in which I check in with mind and body, infused, as it is, with movements that make me feel good and motions where my body feels right at home.

The urban dweller is surrounded by extraordinary amounts of noise, brushing past and being pushed by other people, and I believe that the body and mind harbor these every day stresses. It is nice to counteract the hard living with deep stretching and headstands, or standing to do a forward bend when I have been sitting at my office desk for an extended period of time.

I first came to yoga seven years ago in my freshman year of college when I was looking for a new form of exercise. Never being one for machines, I preferred exercise where all of my being is being utilized. I was used to flinging myself about in gymnastics or in ballet class, feeling every muscle as I executed a grand plié. Yoga, with all of its twists, bends and focus on meditation, seemed like another avenue in which I could process the day, contemplate or forget the things that were bothering me and honor whatever celebratory moment I had experienced.

In most yoga classes, there is a lot of talk about ego – namely, leaving our egos at the door – which I feel is almost nearly impossible for quiet type "A" personalities like myself who come to class each week. I was fixated on mastering every pose and the more difficult asanas (postures) gave me something to strive for.

My type "A" tendencies are colored with a bit of quirk. While my practice developed physically, it also became a concoction of the aspects of yoga that I liked best. I did not abide by a singular yogic philosophy, which varies depending on the school of thought to which one ascribes. As with most things in my life, I picked what aspects of yoga that I liked best and what I thought was right for me.

Growing up Catholic, yoga was like a new religion, but one that I could not fully feel a part of without being slightly irreverent. Chanting in Sanskrit in the beginning of class would make me want to mischievously meet eyes with someone and mouth do you know what the hell we're saying? Or I would find myself tickling the sole of the foot of the person next to me as we lay on our backs in a reclined extended hand-to-big-toe pose.

I do not aspire to do every pose perfectly. I hold back when necessary and push myself when I feel like it. I practice deep breathing on the subway. I make a point to slow down when I feel myself rushing through the streets. I might do a triangle pose at my office. I tell my female co-workers that a teacher of mine boasted that the triangle pose was better than taking a Percocet for menstrual cramps – I'm still testing that hypothesis.

Yoga has served as a way for me and my body to converse; to know what it feels like to treat myself well and attempt to carry it out of yoga class and into daily life. This is less about ego, and more about cultivating kindness, especially learning to be kind to myself in the midst of raucous city life.

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Natalie Peart is a feminist, writer, movement enthusiast and women's health advocate. Her writing has appeared in TOM TOM Magazine: A Magazine for Female Drummers, National Women's Health Network, and Brooklyn the Borough.

Also see "Yoga Frontiers: Women Shape Practices in Exceptional Ways" by Molly M. Ginty in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

See "Water Born: Swimming Along in Competition and Life" by Gwen Deely in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.


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