I’m now at a point where I am (proud?) to announce that while I can balance in the middle of the room in a handstand for a few moments once I’ve been assisted, I still can’t kick up.
I went to a new teacher today, who after giving me a spot up, exclaimed in surprise, “You’re very strong up here. Just give it more momentum.” She didn’t offer a spot when we went back for our next handstand, and after she came over to watch me pathetically kicking, I explained, “Handstand is my White Whale.”
“Ah, it’s your albatross.” Now, at a first glance, I guess this sounds like a mixed metaphor, or maybe my yoga teacher wasn’t an English major or a Brearley girl and just didn’t realize the difference, but as an English major and a Brearley girl, I feel compelled to over-analyze this apparent mix-up and assume that the poet (aka yogaworks teacher) deliberately made her word selection to convey an important message.
So I started to think: What are the differences and similarities between Moby Dick and the Albatross? Both are the catalyst for endless, hopeless maritime misadventures. Both lead the protagonist on a quest. Both ultimately hold the protagonist as an emotional and physical prisoner. In both cases, the sea creature in question replaces religion for the protagonist.
But the differences seem more important. For example, Moby Dick attacked Captain Ahab, inciting him to seek irrational revenge. The Albatross was just flying through the sky minding its own business when the Ancient Mariner shot it down for the sake of sheer gratuitous cruelty. Ahab won’t stop hunting for Moby Dick, but has a choice. the Ancient Mariner can’t stop wandering because he’s being punished for his act of irrational self-sabotage. Moby Dick is elusive, but the Albatross is hung around the Ancient Mariner’s neck. He just needs to find a way to unshackle himself.
In looking over that last paragraph, it still seems more appealing to view handstand as a White Whale…after all, it’s not like I view my inability to kick my feet into the the air as punishment for something. However, after deeper consideration, the Albatross makes sense. Thinking of handstand as some abnormally large sperm whale that might show up or might not and might kill me or might not shoves handstand into the realm of magical thinking (which is already filled with unrealistic goals like cleaning my room, getting enough sleep and steady employment.) Thinking of it as the Albatross implies that it’s always going to be with me, and I’m not going to get to go home until I figure out a way to deal with it. It also puts the responsibility back on me, because I’m the one that shot the bird in the first place.
The other nice thing about the Albatross metaphor is that with Moby Dick, if I find him, all I get is revenge and triumph. If I can repent for my sin of killing the albatross, I get freedom. (We’ll ignore the fact that what the Ancient Mariner really gets is the right to die…although maybe if there is an afterlife, it’s just like being upside-down…) More to the point, the Albatross is an impingement to personal spirituality (Instead of the cross/the albatross…etc.) Shirking the burden of the Albatross also necessitates a constant awareness and practice, while Moby Dick just has be found. (Being honest, as messy as my room is, I would never find him.)
To that end, after class, the teacher came to talk to me about my albatross. She gave me some exercises to do for my weak psoas muscle that might enable me to get the momentum I need to kick. They don’t look super fun or easy, but I think they are probably more manageable than watching your fellow sailors die of dehydration before getting kicked off the boat and wandering the ocean in state of eternal damnation. Although if next week is a bad as this week, I might get to experience that, anyway…