Open Wide

There’s this yoga pose that pops up almost every practice, irrespective of the school embraced: the warrior pose. You have to warm up to it, so it’s not quite at the beginning of the practice. Your muscles should be ready to sustain you. Your joints should open you to the world. And your mind? Your mind should probably be quiet enough to revel in the openness of your heart.

When I started doing yoga, I took Iyengar lessons. I had not actively chosen it. I had had no clue about yoga in general, let alone the different styles and their attendant philosophies. It was a lucky accident, though, because I enjoyed being introduced to the practice through the rigorous attention to the intricacies of each pose. Iyengar emphasizes the correct way to do the poses, and my order-loving heart thrummed at that.

In consequence, we were spending the 1.5-hour long classes on maybe two or three poses, so it wasn’t until at least the middle of the term that we even encountered warrior. My teacher could not have been more suited to Iyengar: she was strict, demanding, and short on praise. Life-long student that I am, I enjoyed the former, and chased the latter. There are so many details to the full-body warrior: legs apart just so, pelvis parallel to the floor and facing sideways, feet angled just right to circumscribe the projection of your centre of gravity, toes spread to provide a good foundation, front knee bent and pushing outward, so as not to bear weight. And we haven’t even gotten north of the waist. What counts most when it comes to the upper body? One word: openness.

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There was some confusion in my mind: how do we reconcile (such a grad school question!) the pacifist nature of yoga with the centrality of the warrior pose? Yes, I could have researched it. But I was doing research for work, and yoga was for living. I was trying to compartmentalize.

It was not until many years later, in a Flow or Ashtanga class, that my teacher at the time, a soft-spoken, perpetually smiling, pony-tail-wearing man in his forties, who liked to start the classes with a mini-lecture that would direct the practice, talked about the warrior pose at length. Why does the warrior need such openness? Why do we open the heart in this pose? (This wasn’t catechism, so he answered his own questions.) It’s quite straight-forward, really: to receive,  to show ourselves we’re unafraid, that we’re strong in ourselves, that we replenish from the inside, and so we can take what the world is bringing our way. (I might be paraphrasing, modifying, or otherwise embellishing the teacher’s speech.)

Warrior pose means deliberate vulnerability. Not strength, not a show of force, not menace. This is what I take from it now. Now that I have not done yoga in so long, except to stretch after running. Now that I’ve got some distance from regular practice, my mind just found its way there, because I was thinking of something completely different. Vulnerability. Intentional, determined, persistent.

I have decided vulnerability is the only way I can find to live with intent nowadays. Because projecting strength and poise and expertise is exhausting. I remember going to academic conferences, and talking to my friends there or just in the hallways at work (university, college, you name it) and talking about fatigue as if it were the weather. I’m tired of feeling exhausted. There you have it.

So in a way, Creative Critique now—so many years after theorizing it in my dissertation—is about thinking on how to be vulnerable. And I don’t want to qualify it. It’s not about how I can be vulnerable. It’s not about being vulnerable in Toronto or in Canada or in Romania or in April 2016. It’s not about being vulnerable in response to something, or against something, or as a subversive act in a society that demands so many knowledges of us.

Rather, I’d like to find and look at and marvel at and offer up for admiration—not investigation, not dissection—and for exploration and for curiosity and for wonder examples of intentional, determined, persistent vulnerability.

Today, I stumbled onto Juliana Spahr’s poem “My White Feminism” and if I were still teaching literature, I would love to pair it with Gabby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath. Because there’s a conversation to be had between Spahr’s

My White Feminism as nothing but bothers and annoys.

Is it that the feminists of that generation got gender forced on them, crotch shot by crotch

shot?

Is that where I can find some sympathy for them?

And

Juliet Palante, the young protagonist of Rivera’s novel who goes from, in the Preface, writing a letter to a famous fictional white feminist, author of the book Raging Flower, asking:

Can a badass white lady like you make room for me? Should I stand next to you and take that space? Or do I need to just push you out of the way? Claim it myself now so that one day we’ll be able to share this earth, this block, these deep breaths?

To answering her own question in the Epilogue:

I started a letter to myself.

Dear Juliet,

Repeat after me:

You are a bruja. 

You are a warrior.

You are a feminist.

You are a beautiful brown babe.

Surround yourself with other beautiful brown and black and indigenous and morena and Chicana, native, Indian, mixed race, Asian, gringa, boriqua babes.

Let them uplift you.

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