“For decades, I hated my body. I didn’t understand how it worked. It seemed to be actively conspiring against my happiness, existing in total disconnect from my mind.”
Neal Pollack is not only a talented storyteller covering the seedy underbelly of the yoga murder beat, or even an egghead(stand)ed three-time Jeopardy! champion who gave us an awesome interview about his yoga/Alex experience. Nope, he’s actually more than any of that. He’s a dad, a husband, a dude living in the world, doing his regular yoga practice and loving his body, or “bag-of-meat with a semi-developed consciousness” as Mr. Pollack puts it (he’s also a poet), but not before he hated it.
You see, Neal brought yoga into his life about ten years ago, and his journey led him through excitement, fascination, pushing hard, losing weight, getting fit, doing fancy poses, sustaining consequent injuries and subsequent lessons of impermanence, all building up to a realization that the body and mind are very much connected and that working on the vessel will improve the driver of the vessel and vice versa. He shares his experience in this vulnerable and candid piece in the latest issue of Dark Rye. We love it, not only because it’s written by a guy, but because it serves as a perfect reminder that all of our journeys and experiences are valid and that we need not hate our bodies, but be forever fascinated by them. After all, they’re ours for the long haul.
Plus, what’s the rush, anyway? We’re all going to the same place. Quoting his teacher Richard Freeman: “Some people think yoga will give them a perfect body. And if they practice it hard enough and with enough dedication, it will. That’s possible. But they’re still going to die. Then they’ll have a perfect dead body.”
After experiencing a cadaver lab as part of Richard Freeman’s extensive Ashtanga training, and seeing what we all look like inside (and dead), a moment of clarity arrived for NP:
For the first time, I saw my body as something actual rather than as an abstraction. I realized it was just as important as my mind. It was my vessel, the only mode of transport I have. If I was going to make any sense at all of the small corner of reality that I’ve been given, I was going to have to use my body, and become as fully aware of its processes as possible.
The body, rather than an impediment to happiness, is in fact a source of endless wonder. We’re put on Earth to directly understand reality. Our physical anatomy—every bone, joint, muscle, organ and cell—serves as a visceral conduit to that understanding. All my injuries, all my physical confusion, as well as all the satisfying stretches and calming balance poses, are part of life. They’re not here to be feared or avoided but rather embraced, thoroughly understood, and experienced in their very nature.
This touch of enlightenment is what some of us reach after practicing yoga for a little while (or a long while). It’s sort of what happens after you get the n00b-ness and extreme desire to do funky one-armed balances followed by frustration and despair that you’ll never be able to do them out of your system.
Thank you to Neal Pollack, for putting into words, in his usual charming and irreverent fashion, what many of us have bouncing around in our brains, our bodies, our muscles, bones and cells.
We invite you to read the entire article and take a gander at Neal being happy in his own Incredible Hulk t-shirt-cladded body.