Monday, June 18, 2012

Something You Don't Know About Me

Here's something, and it's even yoga-related: I was a professional field archaeologist for six years. I have a Master's Degree in historical archaeology.

I loved doing field work, enjoyed the physical nature of it, getting my hands dirty and being outside. I couldn't imagine working in an office. But here's a dirty little secret...archaeology is physically rigorous, relying as much on shovels and brute strength as trowels and dental picks. Back in the 80s and 90s, it was a 'man's world'. Few women worked in the field and we were expected to keep up. It was tough.

There's a high rate of burn-out amongst professional field archaeologists. After a number of years digging, most people eventually move on to less strenuous management or lab positions - or leave the profession altogether.

I was excavating a19th century alleyway in downtown Washington D.C. (where the conference centre is now) when a back injury derailed my career. I took an extended leave and the doctors recommended 'bed rest'. In reality, I spent a lot of time walking around my neighbourhood and skulking around nearby malls.

I was sauntering around the Best Buy one day when I found 'Yoga For Beginners' in a discount bin. I remembered one of my colleagues mentioning that yoga had healed her mother's back. I took the video home and tried it out the next morning. I *hated* it. The following morning, I did it again (and hated it some more). And the next morning too.

I'm not sure when I stopped hating yoga, but I do remember how difficult the poses were. I loathed all of them, but downward dog particularly vexed me because I couldn't straighten my legs or get my heels to the floor. Virabhadrasana II hurt my knees and I couldn't even fathom doing Virabhadrasana I. My hamstrings were so tight, I couldn't touch the floor in Prasarita Padottanasana - I had to put my hands on a coffee table. I couldn't do child's pose at all.

I consider my current yoga practice somewhat of a miracle, given where I came from and the damage I had done to my body by the age of 25. My back was a mess, I had repetitive strain in both arms, Morton's Neuromas in both feet, bad knees...

And yet, every so often I think back on those archaeology years (and my now worthless-to-me degree) and I really miss it. It was fun telling people I was an archaeologist (often more fun talking about it than doing the actual!).

I'm still fascinated by history and archaeology, but I wouldn't trade my life now for anything!

By the way, that pile of books are all written by my professors and teachers. I met or studied with every one of those amazing scholars. I feel deeply fortunate to have had that experience.

(This post is part of the June photo project)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Brianna Nash said...

While the back problems definitely seems to be a downer for this profession, the interest level is certainly way up. I have always loved learning about archeological digs and the history that is behind them. I took an anthropology class and was amazed at what I learned. I didn't pursue that route for a career but the thought was definitely back there in my mind. I would love to go on at least one dig in my life just to say "hey I was on 'such and such' dig". At least, out of the darkness of back problems, you found a life that makes you happy. :) Go you!


Kaivalya said...

@Brianna A fellow, former archaeologist reminded me of something else about working on sites: the grinding boredom of digging for hours and hours and hours. Sure, you find stuff, but after the first pot sherd or projectile point, the thrill fades. What I truly miss (probably like any old job) is the people and the comraderie. I was about to say 'working outdoors too' but that was only awesome about two months out of the year...