28 May 2016

Capoeira and My New Shell

Freddy, a tortoise burned in a forest fire in Brazil, got a new shell by way of a 3D printer.
source: iflscience.com
I recently got a new name, "Tartaruga Marinha," "sea turtle," after two years of training at Capoeira Angola Quintal, and eight months after making a commitment to myself to take it seriously. Or as seriously as I could, given work and family obligations.

The story of Freddy and her new shell really resonates with me, because I feel as though Capoeira has given me, figuratively, a new carapace.

I came to Capoeira after a truck rear-ended my little car and left me with slipped disks in my neck and a shoulder that hurt all the time. My son had started training, and his teacher, Mestre Ombrinho, talked me into trying it, even though I doubted I could get very far.

My bad relationship with my own body reached much farther back than that car crash. As a little kid, I had exercise-induced asthma, but I didn't know that; all I knew was that when my sled reached the bottom of the snowy hill and I tried to run back up with the other kids, I'd be gasping and dragging, the last one up the hill every time. My only way to understand it was that I must be lazy or fat. Probably both.

I grew up and got medicated. For 29 years, I've taken twice-daily medication to keep my lungs clear, and a simple cold can send me into a spiral of breathing difficulties. I've had numerous asthma attacks severe enough to send me to the emergency room. I went backpacking and ran half marathons and a marathon and biked thousands of miles, between touring and commuting, and did a few triathlons, but still I considered my own body broken, traitorous, defeated. And then there were ten years of infertility, a whole other story but another experience that left me feeling alienated from and angry with my body.

When I started training, I'd watch the more experienced Capoeiristas and I'd constantly think, "I'll never be able to do that." I'd finish a class, and the next day my shoulder would hurt more, but then the day after that it would hurt less, and feel stronger and more flexible. So I kept going back.

As a child, I could do a cartwheel, but when I started doing Capoeira, I couldn't because of the weakness in my shoulder. But the instructors showed exercises that would build to an "Au," the Capoeira version of a cartwheel, and one day I found myself with my legs flying through the air.

Queda de rins is another signature Capoeira move that looks something like this:
source: Women in Capoeira
The goal is to balance on the arms, with both head and legs in the air. The first few hundred times I tried this, the pain and inflexibility and weakness in my shoulder left me nauseous with the effort. But recently, I managed to balance -- just briefly, but I managed it.

A few weeks ago, something strange shifted in my head. I watched one of the instructors demonstrate a move, and instead of rolling my eyes in frustration, I thought: "some day I'll be able to do that."

Recently, the instructor for the class I was in asked the students to try one-handed cartwheels. A couple of months ago, I'd have rolled my eyes and said, "No way." The other day, I tried it, managed a hop in the right direction, and laughed. Some day.