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I know why the caged bird sings: Broken ribs, breaking free

Yangon is a place of a multitude of paradoxes and surprises. It’s firey hot, but drowned like a sleeping cat in the cool downpour of daily rain. It’s traffic-ridden and concrete-grey, but spiked with patches of lusciously green leaves and neon-tinted animal-faced architectural marvels of pagodas. It’s underdeveloped, but my dollar stretches so far as to make me feel like urban royalty. I came to flex my yogini warrior prowess, but I arrived with a broken rib that kept me tucked away in a tower – a princess atop my high throne. I had learned through experience to travel with an open mind and a full heart, but somehow a severed torso never made it onto my agenda. I loved to feel free when traveling – to fly uninhibited, making local friends, taking long sight-seeing walks, and tasting my way through new lands. But one drizzly afternoon as I sat daintily paralyzed under a newly-discovered pavilion amidst a lily pad lake, I began to feel like a bird in flight with broken wings.

Broken wings that I had acquired from a gesture as benign as a goodbye hug. Broken wings that were mistakenly self-diagnosed as nervous anxiety on the car ride to the airport as I struggled, overwhelmed, unable to catch my choppy breath. Broken wings that I fluttered incessantly through my first stop to Thailand as I sightsaw my way through jagged streets, practiced yoga to my full expression, and was stretched/pulled/pried/stepped on during rough-love Thai massage. I journeyed without conscious inhibition, and paid for living at my habitual fast pace as I began to note with great fear that my rib cage was warped beyond normality on the plane ride to Yangon. I hugged myself tightly as we soared through the sky, noting the tender divot in my left costal cartilage that had grown more pronounced to the point of a CAPS LOCK SCREAM since my fateful goodbye. I cradled the tender bones of my side body, curiously noting their further inward contraction as the plane descended in altitude. I cushioned my sore spot to prevent the blow of the bumpy landing. As the plane slowed to a halt on the runway, the unknown mystery of my summer fell in plain sight from my window seat. I vowed to my feeble body to baby myself, regardless of what may lie on the other side of the airport doors.

Life without full flight at first felt unfamiliar, unwanted, and altogether undoable. My dramatic change in velocity was abrupt – from full speed ahead on my usual Boston clock to an unhurried pace in a city of strangers. My plans outside of my Yangon studio job were sparse upon arrival, and I was forced to sit in the uninterrupted presence of my injured self. My list of yoga poses to sequence, yoga classes to try, and touristy walks to take grew long, but my body’s protests – that gnawing twinge at my low ribs, the reminder of my promise to myself – prevented me from accomplishment. And so I acquiesced to my state as a healing warrior and a comfortably-poised princess for the time being.

My yoga practice had lost physical depth, but it had gained a theoretical edge as my focus shifted to teaching rather than doing, to feeling the gift of deep inhalation through the armor of my strengthening ribs rather than forcing my breath into bodily motion. My foodways had evolved from a counterfactual of hungrily journeying miles to see the full extent of the dining scene before making a well-researched selection to simply settling on convenience. And yet, my simple acceptance of my surroundings pushed my taste buds to cuisine that I may never have savored with greater mobility – Japanese green tea noodles and cucumber sushi, Singapore spiced stir-fry with turmeric tea, and of course the ease of the full menu of vegan delicacies within my own studio’s café. Moreover, my food choices transitioned from a stricter form of veganism to nourish the local social scene and global environment to a relaxed plant-based diet with the primary purpose of nourishing my own mending body. I felt within my brittle bones the medicinal properties of an omnivore’s vegetarian diet that included mindfully sourced animal products. To my fussy body, the pure, cool and creamy locally-made cardamom yogurt went down like bliss, and brought me into true coexistence with my present world.

My cracking ribs were a breakthrough, an out-of-body experience, a shedding of the cage of my physical body, and a longing to be forever freed from the attachment of human physicality. Yet as my ribs slowly healed, I returned to this earth form from my near-death experience, repositioned in a new karmic perspective. And as I sat in the pavilion amidst the lily pads, staring longingly at the water for a few fleetingly momentous moments that seemed to be eternity, an existential crisis played out in my mind. Suddenly, Sartre was a children’s poet, his work so easily digested. I was prisoner to my own freedoms, trapped only by this fleshed vessel of matter and aching to be fully liberated. I had never felt so indecisive about my own future that lay open before me like a pristine blank slate. I was so free that tainting it with foreshadowed text and beginning to lay out the jigsaw puzzles of my future pained the aesthetic in me. All I knew was the princess throne upon which I sat in that pavilion, the gift of shelter from rainy season that its tilted roof brought, and the wondrous marvel of breath that flowed like a river in and out of my uncaged lungs at that present moment. The material scenery of the Burmese lily pads would undoubtedly change, but my breath would forever be constant, an anchor back to this temporary feeble and royal life. My unimpeded breath was the sanctity of the human form. It was a blessing to cherish through the depths of every inch of my full, functioning body when full flight made its welcomed arrival once more.

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