This piece was chosen for the Irish Writer’s Centre’s Breaking Ground Programme and performed in the IWC.
The photo above, “Praying Feet”, shows my own feet and yoga mat
I unfurl the yoga mat for the first time that day. It is soft and spongy and the deep burgundy-pink of beetroot stains. To me it smells faintly of jasmine and petroleum. I lay my hands flat on its slightly sticky surface, fingers widely spaced, and move into cat–cow, Marjaryasana Bidalasana, stretching my neck out high on the cat. Air moves into my lungs, into my very bronchioles, and I feel the muscles of my chest begin to stretch out like the wings of a bird.
I stumble on the low lunge. I always do. High Lunge, Tree Pose, Vrikshasana, Dancer, Natarajasana –and most of the Standing Warriors – are off-limits to me. But whether alone or on the beach, it does not bother me.
The only times it did were in classes, in Yogahub or the Yoga Studio in Phibsboro. I remember the women with their Lululemon tank tops, the tiny smiles on their faces whenever they saw me stumble, a survival-of-the-fittest pride in themselves as they held their contorted limbs out behind them, wilfully suppressing the alien body’s tremors. These were the same women who could be seen waiting outside for the early morning hot yoga classes, carrying their Chilly’s water bottles, ready to break into a sweat and learn poses to re-enact on the beach the next month in Bali – alongside photos of plant-based smoothie bowls for Insta leverage.
I struggle to accept that this heavily diluted, white-hybrid thing that has emerged in the West is, in fact, just like me – appreciated by white people for its exoticized appeal, divorced entirely from its root.
So much of myself and my body is uninhabitable, contested territory. On the yoga mat, I am just a soul, muscle, bone and breath.
There are so few spaces in which I can safely exist, away from the transfiguring stares of society. The pain of such compounded Otherness is overwhelming.
I know no language but that of the Coloniser.
Even though I am a singer, I do not have the vocal flexibility to hum my father’s favourite song, ‘Khabi Khabi’, nor any of the songs of my heritage. I cannot evoke an oral historical tradition like the sean-nós singers of Ireland. I have no history.
I have never seen anyone who looks like me, all of me, on television.
When I was a child, I refused to wear my splints. I wouldn’t do any of the leg exercises I was told to do by the nice lady at Cerebral Palsy Ireland. I didn’t want to be seen as anything but ‘normal’.
While the other children were doing PE outside in the playground, I preferred to stay alone in the classroom, finding solace in books. In them, I did not have to confront the limitations of clumsy, clunky flesh that would not work to my will. I did not have to face the disappointment of never being able to soar like the wind just by using my legs, to jump or climb a mountain.
I felt that my body was broken, an unfit vehicle for the size of my spirit. It could not possibly carry me through life, so I found my wings within a life of thoughts, rather than of sensations.
And then that, too, failed me. Through adolescence and young adulthood, it was all-too easy to access a fragmented universe of suffering.
Broken body, broken mind, broken spirit, dislocated from existence.
Perhaps the thing that started me back to wholeness, to reclaiming my body-being, was the sea.
I approached it first like a timid lover, wary of being annihilated by the power of the Other, swept up and lost in its depths or crushed to powdery shell. It took a while to learn to catch my breath after the shock of slamming into ice but, once immersed, I felt like a new-born baby: weightless, buoyant and effortlessly free. Here, in the water, my body could do whatever I wanted it to; I could walk; I could jump; I could almost run.
After the sea, it was sex. Raw, all-embracing sex that made me feel that my body could indeed climb mountains and fall from the precipice of them, floating back down to the land, thrumming with electricity.
And after sex, it was singing and the voice – roaring myself into being, roaring myself free – whether at protests with disabled and non-disabled comrades; or with my multicultural choir, singing in forty different languages, not truly understanding the words, but understanding everything that mattered.
My body was just a body like all others, unique in form and functionality.
And I practised being one with it every day, every morning, on the yoga mat.
She does not understand the word
Will never know its origin
But right now, in this moment,
She is the word,
The whole word
Stretching to heaven