Friday, February 19, 2010

What I Learn From the Olympics

I have been watching the Olympics since Munich 1972. My father, a surgeon, used to come home from the hospital at night and pull a chair very close to the TV. He'd usually have a paper napkin and four Pecan Sandies on his knee. The volume would be low, the lights off. Sometimes I would wander in, barefoot and in my nightgown, and sit on the floor beside him. We'd watch together in silence. That is, until the Munich Games. We watched and cheered for Mark Spitz and Olga Korbut. And we listened to Jim McKay's reports as Black September took the Israeli wrestling team hostage and ultimately killed them.

Despite the tragedy, I have been a huge Olympic fan -- both Summer and Winter -- ever since. I will watch every event, no matter what the sport, because I get four years worth of inspiration from those 16 days of competition. Talk about practice. Olympic athletes practice thousands of hours for a moment four years in the future. They show up even when injured -- although I would be quite happy never to hear about the pain of Lindsay Vonn's shin bruise again -- her smoky eyeshadow and professional-looking mascara don't say agony to me -- then again, I don't think I could WALK that downhill course, much less hurtle down it wearing a white catsuit -- and smoky eyes are beyond me.

Then there's figure skating. Evan Lysacek is said to be the hardest working man on figure skates. Those in the know say he had a "very tight warm-up" last night. But when he took the ice for his long program, his muscle memory took over, and all those hours of practice paid off. That was mildly inspiring to me. But the guy who breaks my heart every time is Johnny Weir.

Maybe it's because I want us to wear pink pajamas and hang out together watching a Celebrity Rehab marathon. But I have friends with whom I can share tawdry television. Not one of them can do a triple axel. What I love about Johnny is his absolute commitment to being himself. Last night, before he took the ice, he was quoted as saying, "I'm an Olympian. I'm a very good athlete. I think people forget that sometimes because of my personality." (I've had more than a few of those moments myself.) Then he skated a clean program (except for that bizarre stall mid-spin). He told a story on the ice, and made me forget about points and jumps and quads. He's had his share of public humiliation -- including being left off the national team after a disastrous skate at the U.S. Championships. He fought his way back by showing up to the ice, and doing what he had to do.

What does this have to do with my yoga practice? I wrote a scathing anti-competitive yoga post earlier in the week, after all. Ultimately, the figure skating coverage reminded me that nobody feels great all the time. I'd venture to say elite athletes rarely, if ever, feel 100%. Strong spirits show up anyway.

This morning as my taxi pulled up outside Pure -- six minutes before class -- I could feel the ghost of a migraine making its presence known. I was suddenly dizzy and queasy and tempted to turn around and go home. But I love Sherman's class. It's one of my favorite things in life at the moment. Unfortunately, the only available (okay, acceptable) spot was front and center. You know it's going to be a long ninety minutes when your very first high plank makes you moan out loud. Every time I stood up my head felt like a drunken gyroscope. I took an embarrassing number of water breaks. Even so, when the option came for tripod headstand -- I prepared to take my inverted dissectible frog position and my legs floated off the ground, seemingly on their own. So even on a crappy day, a small step forward. It's time to start sending my feet to the ceiling. I've been watching others take the pose, and suspect I may have an easier time lifting my feet from a wide second position to meet in the middle, rather than sending them straight up through the midline. I know that once I can persuade my knees to move, I'll get it. At the moment, I'm stuck like a gnat in an amber necklace. I think, when I finally manage to fully express the pose, I will explode with joy. I should probably do it at Pure, where they clean the mats between classes.

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