By Anna Shakun
I remember it was my final year at architectural school, and I was finishing my master’s thesis. After another long day at the drafting board, I stood in the shower still drawing in my mind, chasing the illusive vision of one perfect design. Suddenly, feeling the hot water on my skin made me realize how far away I was from where I stood. My body could have been on another continent, I was so detached from it. Indeed, it had been months since I last felt present. I was on a mission, abusing and neglecting my body, using it more as a vehicle to get from point A to point B.
I did not change anything right away, but the realization of that night made me more aware about myself. When I started practicing yoga, it was the feeling of being alert and present that kept me going, the feeling of being comfortable in my own skin.
I remember another time, at a job interview, when I mentioned that besides doing architecture I also teach yoga. My interviewer raised her eyebrows. “Yoga and architecture, what a strange combination,” she exclaimed. In fact, it is unusual for us architects to be interested in subjects not directly related to our profession. Architecture is a very monogamous occupation: it possesses you completely. It fully claims your time, your love, your ambitions, and your body. And yet the more I progress in yoga and architecture, the more I find how relevant they are to one another, the more one influences how I practice the other.
Every time I unroll my mat, I find my breath and listen. I apply myself, doing the best I can with what I have today. I try to stay in relationship with what I do, one breath at a time, trusting the process no matter how distant my goal may be.
It is the tectonics in architecture and alignment in yoga that interest me. By applying the right amount of strength and stress one can create an effect of lightness and ease. I learn to hold all the pieces of the puzzle together and make it look whole, just enough so it is beautiful.
I work with physical matter: the codes, the structure, the anatomy; I apply the rules, to make it work right. I strive for physical perfection, but at the end, if I am successful, the form and space that come from my effort evoke something beyond the physical.
I learn navigating in the problematic world. In my yoga practice, accepting limitations of my body enables me to step beyond my boundaries eventually, invite transformation and growth. I think all architects can relate to that: respecting program and budget constraints, being able to see limitations of the existing condition as opportunities inspires our real creativity.
In the end, it is the ability to pause, take a breath and make sense of who I am in this world that draws me back to my mat and helps me find time for yoga in the busy work schedule. I am fortunate to be able to share my passion with my fellow architects at Centerbrook. We have been practicing yoga every week for three years now.
Anna Shakun graduated from the Moscow Architectural Institute and earned her Masters at the University of Illinois in Champaign Urbana. She joined Centerbrook Architects in Essex, Connecticut, where she has worked on academic and residential projects, in 2012.