Monday, December 27, 2010

A little meditation on... shit

I have so much to say about my life today that I actually need to post twice on the same day! Well, maybe this makes up for the fact that I did not post on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

There is a nice little locally-owned coffee-shop on the ground floor of my apartment complex. It's a very pleasant thing to have, especially at this time of year: I get to have my espresso without having to venture out into the cold weather. As a matter of fact, I am actually sitting in the coffee-shop right now writing this post.  I like to come here on days when I don't have to teach, and spend entire afternoons blogging, reading and writing.

The coffee-shop also has bathrooms right next to it in the hallway. Which is a great convenience. But sometimes, accidents happen. A couple of hours ago, I needed to go to the bathroom. I stepped in the bathroom, closed the door behind me, and, lo and behold, the toilet was clogged up with human excrement! (I'm not good with euphemisms, as you can see...) Thankfully (and somewhat mysteriously), the smell wasn't exactly over-powering (note to self: not all shit is equally stinky). I was able to stop my gag reflex before it even barely started forming at the pit of my stomach. Keeping my head turned away from the direction of the excrement, I pushed down on the flushing lever, hoping to exorcise this demon of stink (even though it really wasn't that stinky). That didn't help; in fact, it almost made the problem worst, because the water level in the toilet rose, threatening to spill its unsavory contents beyond its confines (of course; the toilet was clogged up. What was I thinking?!).

At that point, I decided that enough was enough; surely I had performed my civic duty by enduring the not-so-stinky stinkiness and attempting to flush the shit down. So I went back to the coffee-shop, told the barista what I saw, and asked if I could use the ladies bathroom. She very kindly agreed.

So what has all of this to do with yoga? After all, this is supposed to be a blog about yoga. Well, on a purely physical level, I am really convinced that doing deep backbends strengthens or allows one to more easily access the deep muscles needed to suppress the gag reflex. I don't know the exact anatomical reason for this, I just feel it. Secondly, on a more existential level, I think the practice helps one to be a little more present when shit hits the fan (no pun intended), so that one is not mastered by one's most immediate visceral reactions, and is at least in a position to try to do something  to help the situation. Well, actually, I'll make a little confession here: After I stepped out of the bathroom, I remembered that there was a plunger right next to the toilet. If I had been more present, I would have been able to suppress my gag reflex even more, and use the plunger to take even more productive (again, no pun intended) action. But of course, I did not: I basically fled the scene.

All of this imbues me with even more respect for janitors and toilet cleaners in general: How can they face the same shit everyday? Well, okay, they actually face different shit everyday, but you get my drift. Perhaps toilet cleaning is also a form of yoga practice: Maybe being able to stare human excrement in the face without gagging/puking is just as, if not more difficult than doing kapotasana? Hmm...

Which brings me to another thought. Why do we find human excrement so uniquely repulsive? It might be because it is stinky, but that can't be the whole reason: As I mentioned above, not all excrement is equally stinky. I suspect that if by some miracle, all the excrement in the world were to suddenly cease to be stinky one day, we would probably still experience the same level of repulsion as we do today. And, what makes this repulsiveness even less explicable is the fact that it is produced by the human body. So we are basically repulsed by something that is produced naturally by the body.

Well, I have to interrupt this train of thought now, because I suddenly need to go to the bathroom again. Uh oh...     


  1. GROSS!!!! What a post to come back into my blog reading with! ha ha!! I love that you think yoga helps with the gag reflex. That's absolutely hysterical. I would have gagged for sure.

    I've had jobs where I've had to deal with a lot of disgusting bodily fluids, and it never gets better. Rubber gloves help. (by the way, these jobs were working as a residential supervisor on a college dorm when I was 21 and also at a school for disabled kids who needed a lot of physical help). College puke and poopy diapers on a 15 year old were somehow managed in my lifetime. I'm not sure I could do it now.

    NO WAY would I have used that plunger. You did the right thing. Run.

  2. Wow (I don't know if this is the appropriate expression, but I can't think of anything else), I don't know if I would be able to do any of the things you did (dealing with college puke and poopy diapers). I guess I've been somewhat fortunate, in that I've never had to work jobs that dealt with such... shit. Then again, if I have kids one day, I'll inevitably have to deal with the poopy diapers :-)

  3. Dear Nobel
    Nurses have to also be able to "take the shit."

    And speaking of the philosophical side of excrement, did you read the philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt's book "on bullshit"? it is a good read.


  4. Yes, Arturo, nurses do have to "take the shit." Hadn't thought about that.

    I have read segments of Frankfurt's book. It's a good read. I think he's a good writer and thinker who sheds light on many contemporary issues.

  5. Nobel - this most recent post of yours solidifies my characterization of you as the Woody Allen of Singapore! You are hilarious! I picture you sitting with your little cup of espresso; reading, writing, and sipping your beverage and then encountering the shit in the toilet!

    I love your yoga connection to the experience because we know a good yoga practice cleanses the body and one of the ways it does that is through the promotion of regular and frequent elimination. My speculation is that the person who clogged the toilet did not eliminate frequently enough, hence the clogging problem.

    On a more pleasant note. . . I introduced my 15-year-old grandson, Austin, to yoga yesterday and he loved it! We did about an hour of yoga together. So, not only did I do some extra yoga, but it was a wonderful way to bond with my beautiful grandson.

    He said that he felt very peaceful the rest of the day! He was also surprised by how much strength was required to do some of the poses. He is an athlete: football and baseball, and of course it was impossible for him to do many of the poses his 60-year-old grandmother can do! But it was a truly lovely experience!

  6. Cathrine, hahaha! Thank you for thinking of me as the Woody Allen of Singapore. I am probably flattering myself here, but maybe I am what Woody Allen would be like if he practiced yoga... Oops, I hope that doesn't mean I'm going to be married to my adopted daughter one day...

    Yes, the person who clogged the toilet was probably going through some tough shit (pun totally intended)...

    I'm really happy that Austin enjoyed doing yoga. It's really great to introduce even one more person (especially a young person) to yoga.