2017 - the year when even yoga struggled

A YEAR ago, almost to the day, a friend I’ll call Beryl settled on her ambition for 2017.

She’s a teacher. She’s not given to hyperbole or hysteria.

When people put together dinner party lists Beryl’s always there as the sensible one who won’t end up in a gutter, blotto, wailing about not being 23 anymore. She’s the one who brings the perfect salad, or the just-so trifle, and who never leaves a friend’s dinner party without cleaning the kitchen, taking out the garbage, and even sorting bottles and cans into the recycling bin.

Beryl’s dependable. If she says she’ll meet you at 5.30 in the morning for a run she’ll be there, always, even if her leg’s in a cast or she’s running a fever.

“A commitment’s a commitment,” she said one time when we met in a carpark at 5.30am and she was wearing an eye patch after a gardening incident too weird to go into (something about a stick, a spider web, some turps, a dark shed – in other words, very un-Beryl).

“If I say I’ll be here I’ll be here, and if I’m not, well, you know,” she said.

“What, you’ll be dead?” I said.

“Well, either that or unconscious, or something terrible,” she said.

“Good to know,” I said.

Anyway, a year ago Beryl announced that 2017 was the year she would commit to yoga. And in typical Beryl fashion that commitment came with a goal.

“My aim is to do the downward dog with my heels flat to the ground,” she said, before a demonstration of how far she had to go. Her arms were nice and straight, her back was flat, her backside was in line with her shoulders and her legs were not shaking, but her heels were centimetres from the ground.

“It’s hard. I’ve been trying for months but I’m as flexible as a house brick,” she said.

Now some people aim high at this time of year when they’re settling on new year’s resolutions.

Quit smoking. Quit drinking. Quit binge-watching crap television series. Exercise at least three times a week. Spend more time with friends. Take up a hobby more serious than collecting pub coasters with the word “Beer” on them.

Quit smoking. Quit drinking. Quit binge-watching crap television series. Exercise at least three times a week. Spend more time with friends. Take up a hobby more serious than collecting pub coasters with the word “Beer” on them.

But Beryl, as I’ve mentioned, is one of those sensible people who goes for the vaguely achievable.

“If I can just do the downward dog without falling over or groaning I’ll be pleased, but heels flat to the ground is the goal,” she said.

It’s been a big year, 2017.

Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un and Rodrigo Duterte have slammed any romantic notions some of us might have had about human progress and the advance of civilisation back to earth with a thud.

There’s something about big, powerful men boasting about killing other people, or being able to kill other people without consequence, or sexually assaulting women, or laughing about the annihilation of millions, or appearing in too many photographs shirtless, that has you doubting whether we really have progressed very far from 1215, despite mobile phones and Facebook.

It’s the year when we’ve sadly achieved what politicians have always urged us to achieve after terrorist attacks – we’ve gone on with our lives.

Around the world thousands of people have died in terrorist attacks ranging from barely-reported single-person deaths following suicide attacks in countries like Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria, to the killing of more than 300 people in a mosque in November in Egypt’s worst terrorist incident, and the London Bridge, Manchester and Westminster attacks in England that left more than 30 people dead, including Australians. And life has gone on.

There have been many bright spots in 2017, even on those days where it’s felt like we’re only a Donald Trump tweet away from possible nuclear armageddon, or a Kim Jong-un ego trip from some other kind of military meltdown.

Australia has provided more proof of comedian John Oliver’s assessment that we’re not only home to Russell Crowe, but we are the Russell Crowe of countries.

How else to explain the world’s dumbest constitutional crisis?

Only in Australia could a pile of politicians solemnly swear they were Australian only to find, one by one, that they actually weren’t.

Only in Australia could the party leader who notoriously threatened to kill a couple of fluffy dogs for being in the country illegally, end up out of parliament himself – if too briefly – because he was actually a New Zealander.

Only in Australia could pollies turn their sloppy paperwork into a political bun-fight without apologising to the millions of Australians routinely threatened with severe penalties if they stuff up on the paperwork for their welfare benefits or tax returns.

And only in Australia could normal, sensible Australians – more than 80 per cent of us – turn a potential disaster like the politically-contrived same sex marriage postal survey into a triumph for democracy, at a time when democracy itself seems under challenge in too many parts of the world.

My friend Beryl tried to do a downward dog with her heels on the ground on Thursday, to show the fruits of a year’s worth of yoga classes.

“So close,” I said, as she grunted and strained to push her heels to the ground while her legs stubbornly refused to cede another millimetre of flexibility.

She’ll keep trying.

And I’ll try to achieve my achievable goals in 2018 – planting out an area of my back garden, resuming a project of taking a substantial walk in each of this state’s national parks, and reading more.

As Beryl said when she’d grunted her way to a standing position on Thursday morning, her heels-fully-down-downward-dog still a goal, “There’s always next year.”

This story Downward dog days first appeared on Newcastle Herald.