Monday, December 2, 2013

Breaking planks

Here is a fun thing to try. Get into the plank position (on your toes and hands, not forearms). Ask your friend to grab your ankles, and place his or her toes on your upper back, coming into plank position. A stack of planks.
My intermediate yoga training wrapped up the other day, and we finished it off with some partner yoga, including the stacked planks. It was fun. My partner claimed she thought she would "crush me" by coming into plank on my back, but she didn't. I guess I look like a brittle little twig or something. It was just fun, and I'm actually a pretty tough twig.
Anyway, we came to one partner yoga pose that unsettled me a bit. I won't go into the details of the pose, except to say that it involved kicking up into handstand in the middle of the room (with spotters), and then being moved into a deep back bend over another person's body. When I first saw the demo I decided I would sit out the pose, and a number of other people said the same thing. It looked intense. Handstand is a weird scary thing for me. But then I started spotting for other people and eventually I decided to try it. It was intense, but it was also fun, and not as hard as I thought. Before long, everyone in the class tried it, even though it seemed like no one wanted to at first.
This brought me right back. Have you ever broken a plank of wood, you know, in a karate chop fashion? Well, let me tell you a little story about Wen-Do, circa 1994. Yes, my private ((second-wave) feminist) girls school decided we grade nines needed some self-defense tips in those dark days of the pre-cellphone era. We learned all about how to use keys as weapons, toting a whistle on your backpack, the "grab-twist-and-pull" manoeuvre (use your imagination if you dare), and the giggles-inducing "Wen-Do Fist" (hiya hiya!!!).
At the end of the training we were given the opportunity to participate in a confidence building exercise: the breaking of the wood planks. The cinder blocks were set up, a stack of planks were produced, and we gathered in a large circle on the floor. First came the usual suspects, the confident and sporty ones. Half planks flew as the young women demonstrated their strength and resolve. Then some of the quieter and less-athletic girls tried it, and everyone broke their little pine plank, keeping the halves as souvenirs I suppose. Finally there were just a few of us left, the ones who were always chosen last for sports teams. And eventually they went too, eliciting large cheers from the group as even the quietest and least likely among us broke her plank.
Except me. Nope, I never broke a plank. I didn't even try, even after my similarly introverted and un-athletic friends broke rank to destroy their planks. I was so utterly convinced that I couldn't possibly be strong enough to do it, so terrified of the humiliation of failure, that I didn't even try. Which of course, was humiliation itself.
Looking back this seems so absurd. It is true that gym class utterly failed me, convincing me that I was an un-athletic weakling. But it is amazing to me the depth of my belief in this fiction. I guess it is something for this brittle-seeming strong twig to keep in mind in these windy days of transition. HIYA!!!