Om, My God, You Guys

Express Yourself

It begins with me scraping at the Veritaffle maker, desperate to cure my hangover with a hearty meal. It then proceeds with the (re)discovery that all the laundry machines are taken, a procrastination session at Lamont, and a good 30 minutes of choosing between “Girls,” “Game of Thrones,” and “Mad Men.” My name for this slew of customs? “Harvard Sunday.” Now don’t get me wrong. For the past two years, this day of rituals has proven itself reliable and comfortable. But when the start of junior year rolled around, I decided it was time to spice things up with a new addition: afternoon student yoga in Winthrop’s Junior Common Room.

Bikram, Hatha, Vinyasa. You name it, and chances are I’ve tried it. After all, I did do my first sun salutation all the way back in the seventh grade when my school offered yoga in conjunction with hip-hop dance as an alternative to sports or fifth-period P.E. class. I’m still not sure who decided Missy Elliot and Tibetan meditation chimes would pair well, but my friends and I were willing to do anything to avoid picking up a field hockey stick or softball.

With the seeds for a successful tree pose officially planted, yoga soon became engrained in both my muscles and general lifestyle. Nowadays, I can confidently attest to liking Warrior Two stance more than Warrior One and guarantee that my feet will get cold three minutes into Shavasana, the final corpse position intended to induce deep relaxation. Like many other practitioners, I believe the activity to be a personal journey of self-exploration. I’ve come to learn my body’s physical limits in terms of balance and flexibility while engaging with more psychological elements such as self-awareness, patience, and control.

And yet, up until a month ago, I had always done yoga in a gym or studio. So when I arrived to class a few minutes early this past Sunday to the sound of two seniors improvising and rehearsing on Winthrop’s baby grand pianos, I had the startling realization that my one hour of introspection would begin exactly where my peers’ one hour of musical expression had left off. By sharing a common space, my practice—which had always been one of turning inward for harmony—suddenly became the continuation of another sort of practice, one that moved outward for the very same thing.

The surprise I felt upon having yoga and art juxtaposed forced me to acknowledge just how compartmentalized and stagnant both aspects of my life had become. While I thought that a few back bends and hip-opening stretches would infuse my robotic schedule with new vigor and energy, the truth was I had turned these motions into their own mere routine. Sunday yoga had become equated with just another time slot that didn’t extend past the boundaries of 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. In failing to challenge myself, I no longer experienced the revelations and wonders that awkwardness, discomfort, and novelty so often bring about.  And if I had stunted my own process of self-exploration, could it be that I had also isolated my artistic self-expression to several hours in the Carpenter Center and reduced my creativity to predetermined mechanics?

“Yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word “Yuj,” which means to yoke or to join. Every so often, we forget to synch our minds with our bodies and environments. In the critical moment when the actor begins to recite memorized lines rather than convey emotion, when the painter’s hand loses intention and precision, when the yoga practitioner does her 100th forward lunge like her 100th rather than her first, we shut off the circuit that unifies self-exploration with what is essentially its Siamese twin, self-expression.

—Columnist Jennifer T. Soong can be reached at jsoong@college.harvard.edu.

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