I’m a skeptic. I came to yoga as a self-punishing marathon runner who needed to stretch the muscles I hammered across five boroughs of asphalt and concrete. No hocus pocus blah-di-blah for me. I tuned out messages I feared were spiritual with the aggressiveness of a radio jammer blocking wifi signals.
Evidently my resistance was not as strong as I had arrogantly presumed. Somehow, things my teachers said in class imperceptibly penetrated my skull. And so it was that amid anguish and terror on the night the man I love collapsed, essential yoga skills for life kicked in. I remembered to breathe while dialing 911, to observe, to be specific, to show love, and to express immense gratitude. Danger enveloped us like a fog that wouldn’t lift. I couldn’t make it to class. But I breathed. I cat-cowed on hospital bed rails and wobbled on one leg through those long waits for hospital elevators. He recovered. I nae-naed (isn’t that an asana?) past the nurse’s station and out the hospital doors. And eventually came back to class.
I learned that yoga is not the caricature of trendy spandex-clad human pretzels zoned out in la-la-land. Yoga is a modality to navigate life. It has given me the means to be bemused rather than annoyed or devastated by unwelcome intrusions. I love the unfathomable depth of every asana. I could work on every pose for the rest of my life. Warrier One is beastly hard, but it makes me smile and recall a storybook love from my childhood, Dr. Doolittle’s pushmi-pullyu, the two-headed gazelle-unicorn cross that could move in all directions simultaneously.
Bread and Yoga’s message is that yoga is not about instantly striking the abstract paradigm of a pose. Instead, it’s the journey to it through a thousand subtle thoughts and adjustments, and an immersion in a practice that goes on for a lifetime. In this way, yoga is a metaphor for knowledge-seeking. A lot of my life is spent in and with books. It troubles me that real learning has been corrupted by the notion that true eureka moments come as easily as clicking a mouse for the top ten Google hits. Yoga reinforces my commitment to learning in a different, deeper, longer way.
I love that all my teachers and classes are so different and each wonderful in unique ways. But a unifying commonality in all the Bread and Yoga classes is humor and coping with the myriad ways that urban living trespasses private intentions and desires. A few snapshots to share:
– An evening class with Joseph. It’s so rare for me to be able to end the day in peace with a yoga class. Joseph tells us to take a comfortable seat and says, “We’ll begin with the chant of…” HONK!! HONK!! HONK!! He laughs. I think, “Great! It’s the sound of a Toyota saying om.”
– A morning class with Rian. He walks in looking like a traveling salesman but his briefcase turns out to be a harmonium. He opens it and as class begins to his mellifluous chords, a child erupts in a full throttle tantrum in the lobby. Rian says, “Listen to that child and think, `can we make this workable?’” This has become my go-to memory and method for meeting every difficult encounter since.
– Lisa’s class, always so wonderful, even though it’s physically very challenging. But rest is the hardest for me. Lisa is guiding us into savasana, resting, emptying the mind of noise and clutter, visualizing a light. Suddenly, a little girl shrieks joyfully from the bathroom between the yoga room and the children’s art studio: “I’m wearing my Super Girl panties today!” My lips part in a smile and I try really hard not to laugh out loud, grasping my sides as my body shakes in silent giggles. Bear sees that I’m a corpse with an unquiet mind and a twitching body. He trots over and kisses me. The best savasana ever!
– It’s the end of Nancy’s class. My husband’s first class. We’ve done a gazillion “marching mudras.” I ask him what he thinks of yoga. He says, “I’m ready for the scribble workshop.” He buys a ten-class card.
It has taken me years to understand some of the things my teachers say. But I’ve learned that the message isn’t religious, it’s about awareness. So, I can be a skeptic and pursue science and practice yoga too. I’m a birdwatcher. Spring migration is on. I hear and then see a brilliant male red-wing blackbird at eye level on a reed not more than two feet from me. I breathe. He breathes. I straighten in tadasana. He puffs out his red and yellow wing feathers like epaulettes. We breathe and watch each other. Finally, I get it. Or at least I experience an interpretation of something Lisa has been saying for years: “Be alive beyond the edges of your skin.” The bird, the air, the salt marsh, me. We’re all made of atoms and molecules.
March 15, 2016
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