Some 25 years ago I was very keen on yoga. I was partial to Iyengar yoga, which features asanas, or poses, requiring strength, stamina and discipline, particularly in the standing asanas. But I was that sort of guy in those days – lithe, flexible, strong.
At dawn on a Saturday I would run a few miles to and into the rain forest at the head of Manoa Valley in Honolulu, strip, dive into the water fall pool, and run back home; or cycle to Diamond Head, run to the top, harass the Mainland tourists by shouting Aloha! to them as they wheezed, sweating up the interminable steps to the top. Then perhaps I would enjoy an hour of ocean paddling in my kayak off Waikiki Beach. In the late morning I would go to the yoga studio, and practice 2 or 3 hours under the guidance of a stern instructor. And after that, I sometimes enjoyed beginner-level trampolining with an expert friend, the woman of my dreams (but she belonged to somebody else, so all I could do was dream…). So, as I said: I was lithe, flexible, strong. Vain, too.
Ten years later I was humbled by serious back pain that eventually put me into a wheel chair. I tried to work through the pain because that is always what I had done. But that arrogance made my injuries worse. My right leg shrivelled a bit and I had constant pain in my leg and back. There was no yoga, or running or paddling that I could do to cure myself.
One day we were in wandering in Sonoma, north of San Francisco, and came across Spirits in Stone, a shop specializing in Zimbabwe Shona stone carvings. The pieces were gorgeous- I loved the rock- but also somewhat stylized, like the artists had found a particular line that would sell and so made pieces to conform. I had seen the same thing happen with Inuit soapstone carvings in the 1970’s and at that time had collected some odd pieces that had not sold in the co-op at Repulse Bay.
In the corner of the store was a dusty and unwanted stone piece on the floor, being sold relatively cheaply. It seemed that nobody wanted Stretching Boy (by Newman Chikuni). My heart went out to the serpentine child – he was doing what I could not do any longer because of my back pain- flexing his body in a graceful asana. I envied him, I envied him. So, we bought the piece, to give the unwanted chap a good home and to inspire me.
In the end I had a small micro-surgery procedure that restored to me some of my painless flexibility. Stretching Boy stretches out still in our front room, smiling serenely in the sunlight. I sometimes stretch with him, although I no longer can assume most of the Iyengar poses – but I can still put the palms of my hands on the floor between my feet, with my legs straight. So, I no longer envy him as I used to. And he is no longer unwanted.