(Ok guys, just a heads up. I’m starting this at ten pm after a busy buy kind of crazy day, and while I’m not tired exactly, I might be in that so tired I don’t even feeling stage, which usually lends itself to some crazy stuff. So, you know, this might be a little bit bumpy or incoherent or really, really boring. I don’t even know what’s going to happen. Just so we are clear.)
A couple of months ago, I was feeling really down on myself for not being more physically active, and Mike asked me if there was anything he could do to support me in my goal of just getting up and moving more. Not one to let an opportunity like that slide, I asked if we could attend yoga weekly and go for a hike once a month and Mike, not being one who makes offers in vain, agreed, and so we’ve been attending yoga classes weekly since January.
The yoga class is an all level class held in the neighborhood across the river from us, in a studio above a tavern, overlooking a railyard to the west, a plane test field to the south and a series of brick buildings and little courtyards to the north. The sky always seem grey and thick with water on Saturday mornings, and the air is always chilly, but J, our yoga instructor, welcomes us with lit candles, soothing music and an almost surreal attitude of welcoming calm.
I’ve done yoga off and on for years, and while I’m not good at it in any sense of the world, I know the poses well enough to follow. J begins in starting off focusing on our breathing, settling into ourselves and dedicating our practice to someone or something outside of ourself to whom we feel grateful. Initially, that felt a little bit hokey, but I do like gratitude a lot, and I’ve started to really look forward to this part of yoga- the time to settle into the rhythm of my own breathing and quiet down that chattering part of my brain that composes to-do lists like there was some kind of Olympic Medal in to-do listing at stake, and to see who raises to the surface of my awareness, who I owe a debt of gratitude to, whose strength or kindness or grace I have been leaning on, knowingly or not. Usually it’s mom mom or my omma or my cousin Jessica or my Aunt Jeanine, but sometimes it’s Mike and sometimes its a client and sometimes it’s something just kind of general and hard to put into words, like “that color in the sky the other day” or “the dj who played that amazing song on the way home last night” or “people who are really, really patient with people I have no patience for”. Anyway, whatever or whoever it is, that process of quieting myself down to see them is powerful.
J leads us through the poses. He is a big believer in making yoga sneaky-hard. I start out spending forever on breathing and sort of relax into it, then all of the sudden, without me even knowing about how we got there, we are doing crazy balance and strength poses that seem to defy both gravity and my own innate lack of athleticism. At this point, whoever I have dedicated that day’s practice to becomes incredibly relevant. I picture my grandmother’s eyes twinkle as she sort of laughingly encourages me on, and I see my bad ass cousin’s calm and expectant face, and I hear my mom’s words urging me on, and I picture that beautiful color that didn’t quit, and I don’t want to let them down, any of them, even if I now hate yoga. It becomes very very important to me to offer this up to them, even though the people in my life are filled with grace and, where I to just collapse in an exhausted huddle, they’d encourage me to drink some water, calm my breathing down, and try again next time.
So sometimes I soldier through and sometimes I modify what I’m doing and sometimes I just hang out in child’s pose. But the entire time, nothing feels wasted. Nothing feels like quitting or disappointment. I return to my breathing. I return to my breathing again.
There are times in yoga when simply the change in perspective is enough. Just the fact that my body is doing something so far from what my body is used to doing is a kind of pleasure, a kind of play or makebelieve. Sometimes a pose involves a stretch or a movement or a way of balance that feels inside of me like wind or water or music, and I cherish that, cherish that glimpse of what it would be like to live in my own body more.
Sometimes the room is filled with the sound of labored breathing, exhalations that sound like gratitude and pleas all at once, and that is a sustaining thing too- to hear that honest bodily response to effort and difficulty, the doubt implicit even as the next breath is drawn. Sometimes we chant the chakras together, and even though I can never really do half of them, I love the way the sound opens us all up, aligns us to each other. I love the sensation of being in tune with everyone in the room, for this moment. I love the echoes inside of me.
At the end, when we lay on the floor and J covers us with blankets and walks quietly among us, the most amazing, communal silence covers us too, and we exist in it. This period of time always feels like an eternity that doesn’t last long enough, and when we come out of it it always feels to me like waking from a dream. Like slipping back into my regular every day self, who runs things efficiently but doesn’t spend enough time contemplating her breathing, enough time synchronizing with the beautiful vowels exhaled by the world all around her.