July 15, 2011

My Yoga Practice Goes Italian. ~ Zoe Schiffer

Photo: Chris Yunker

On the surface, Italy and yoga have little in common. Some would say, even, that the passionate and sexy country I am currently residing in is almost in opposition with the spiritual and introspective practice of yoga – although Lululemon has been making a valiant effort to find equality on the sexy front of things.

Regardless, until this summer I had always stoically agreed with author Elizabeth Gilbert, who wisely said doing backbends or inversions after eating an entire pizza by oneself, and maybe some gelato, seems slightly counter-intuitive, and that the practice of yoga does not fit all to well in the country of Italy.

For two weeks now, however, my pseudo-older sister and I have been living in an apartment in Florence, trying our best to marry the worlds of yoga and Italian culture and food that have long since captivated both of our hearts. As a chef, she has found it imperative that we not sacrifice our culinary experience while here in Italy. And as a college student, I have found it equally important that we do not sacrifice aperitivo (pre-meal drink) time. (Which, yes, I do call out every evening at around 6:30 or 7 in my best loud opera voice so as to alert as many people as possible within our near vicinity just what time it is).

This time of day usually finds Ashley contorted into some pretzel shaped cube, zenning out in the Florentine sunshine which leaks through the green shutters and illuminates the hardwood floor in a daily poetic reminder of how lucky we are to be where we are. But I digress. Dutifully, my dear Gypsy Chef unpretzels herself and walks to the fridge to select the appropriate mixture of ice and prosecco and whatever else she is inspired to add to the glass that will commence our night. One aperitivo a casa, we sadly shed the sports bras and underwear which have become the uniform at “the nest,” (as the apartment is called), change, then trip down the 6 flights of cold stone steps to the humid street below.

Out the door, round the winding apartment-lined side streets, passed the Piazza della Signoria, which is conveniently close to our house. Then, ah, Artisanal Gelateria, the restaurant we chose, with its four small tables and three dish options (pizza margherita, pizza napoletana, or pizza marinara), already has a line outside the door. We wait, knowing that what is coming is well worth it.

The next morning I wake to the soft sound of chanting coming from the living room stereo. Morning practice must commence, and as I roll out of bed and onto my mat, I take a sidelong look at my friend who has contorted herself into another pretzel-cube at the front of her mat, and is softly attempting to guide me into it as well.

Legs crossed into lotus, back flat against the floor, then lotus legs up overhead and butt supported by hands then simply balance on your shoulders and what?! I fall out, knowing full well I will be coached back in until I get it right (piu o meno). We practice for an hour, then sit in quiet meditation and give thanks to all the gifts we have in our lives. Ham-sa. Breathe in, hold, breathe out, hold. I honor the guru within.

So the debate goes on, can yoga and Italy coexist in happy, mutual support, or do we need to choose one?

The answer, I have personally decided, is that for one who is not inclined to give their life fully over to the practice of spirituality, but still desires to splash around the edges and occasionally jump in, it is a perfect union. The experiment continues, however, until the 18th so…


Zoe Schiffer grew up in the lush southern coast of California, where she began writing and reading voraciously at an early age. Her love of traveling has brought her all over the world, and it is a passion she still obtains, though currently tethered down in the Washington area by Seattle University, where she is in her second year. A student of yoga, she takes her practice on the road as often as possible, always trying to gain new experience (and writing material) through travel and adventure.

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