The Body: Essence and Duality
This is a collaborative piece.
Graphic Art : Araki Koman
Text : Madhav Dutt
In the past five years, nay, even the past three years, my body has undergone immense change. I’ve had a varying relationship with it: there’s been hate, love, shock, surprise and excitement, not to mention a striving, constant striving. If there’s one thing I’m always reminded of, its that your body, like your hair, is subject to manipulation/change beyond recognition. I don’t just see this in myself, it’s apparent everywhere you look.
In my view, the primary reason gymnasiums are so popular and people is vanity. When you see your own image looking better, striated and aesthetic, there’s a sense of validation and ego-stoking that’s really unmatched. This is why, in pursuit of that ideal, we pump ourselves with refined, fairly processed packages of protein, creatine, and in some more extreme cases, anabolic steroids. When this image in this mirror takes over one’s psyche, the goal is muddled, and almost certainly unreachable.
“Health is wealth,” my grandmother always proclaims. 75 years old, with a demure, frail figure, my grandmother goes to work 7 days a week: the ‘health is wealth’ approach to fitness and your lifestyle seems far more sustainable. I try my level best to embody this approach.
My journey with fitness started properly in 10th grade of high school. Sitting in Dehradun, a hill-station nestled in a valley by the foothills of the Himalayas, I came to the realization that I’m not particularly brilliant at any sport, and that my interests lie in the intellectual/artistic realm. It was then that I decided to work out regularly.
I began with a tried and tested formula: a jump rope and a variety of bodyweight exercises. 500 skips interspersed with crunches, pushups, squats and the like. Spending 8 months of the year in an all-boys boarding school fueled my fitness enthusiasm exponentially. When I’d followed this routine for one whole term (semester), I found myself craving something different.
This is why, over the summer, I picked up the Insanity HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) program. Interval training broadly consists of taking your body through its paces with intense bursts of speedy movement (cardiovascular strain), coupled with brief breaks. It’s known to help the body burn excess fat.
A major step-up from anything I’d ever done before, the 40-minute video workouts left me in searing pain: it grilled not just your lungs and cardiovascular system, but your muscles and joints as well. Over those two months, there was barely a day I woke up without any soreness and pain. The pain was a sweet kind, though. I was learning, first hand, of the body’s incredible resilience and plasticity.
I finished Insanity and stood once again in front of the mirror: I looked like a smoothened, chiseled twig. There was minimal body fat, but I wasn’t even close to satisfied with what was left. I could see most muscles, but there wasn’t much muscle to look at. I craved size.
I went back to high school and picked up weight lifting, which, in hindsight, was simultaneously the best and worst thing I could have done. It destroyed most of my flexibility and functional fitness, but I began swelling. I’ve said this in the past and I’ll say it again— working out solely for aesthetics is missing the essence of it all. A regimen consisting solely of weightlifting will definitely make you look good. However, if you do it well enough, give it a couple years and you won’t be able to scratch your own back. If you’re dedicating an hour or more every day to improving your physical and mental self, there are many better, diverse activities to do.
Enter: Yoga. If we rewind to 7th grade, my first year in boarding school, that’s when my tryst with yoga began. I grew up on a healthy diet of Taekwondo, thanks to my parents. I entered Doon School still being able to do a full split, a flexible feat that freaked out most of my peers and seniors. “Kya neeche kuch nahi hai?” “Do you not have anything down there,” said a senior after he saw me split.
We had mandatory yoga classes as juniors, an obligation I found myself enjoying. I picked up the poses and the stories very quickly, imbibing an age old Vedic culture as a young student. Fast forward to today. I’ve found myself immersed in yoga once again, but with the benefit of some age. After a hard day at the gym (I lift weights regularly, see: vanity), I always make it a point to grab a yoga mat and find a peaceful corner of the gym.
My playlist fills me up with some beautiful soul and old-school hip hop. I gently turn myself upside down, head resting on the mat, legs dangling in the air, sometimes dancing to some 2Pac or Goldlink. A series of asanas I remember by heart now, and they engage the entire body, leaving every muscle contracted and expanded to it’s prime extent. Yoga to me is the true unison, when body meets soul and you suddenly see all as one, simultaneously becoming it. No matter how much time I spend getting wired and tensed up at the gymnasium, the yoga routine always releases all the muscular tension, sparing me the post-gym soreness most regulars can relate to. Yoga, like meditation, isn’t something anyone should instantly say no to. There’s a world of understanding and harmony out there merely waiting to be drank in and imbibed.
Madhav Dutt is a student in Duke University, North Carolina. He isn't sure which artistic medium he enjoys the most, so he's trying them all.
Araki Koman is a French illustrator and artist from Paris, currently living in London. Here's more of her work.