Greg and I are on a new kick. We are intent on going to a yoga class together once a week at noon. Today was our second time holding to our commitment. It is not easy to break up the day in this way. The temptation is great and the habit ingrained to plow through, keep working, not stop, get as much done as possible between drop-off and pick-up. Excuses are plentiful – deadlines looming, vacation coming, etc.
If you told me that just one hour of yoga a week would change my life and I hadn’t experienced the truth of it for myself, I’d send you straight over to Beyond the Map to read Bella’s eloquent post against self-help. But I have experienced it, and I know this: yoga is my cure, my care. It is the answer to everything.
At the beginning of today’s class, as we sat for a few minutes, just breathing and noticing and arriving, I pictured a whirlpool, how the water continues to spin even without any outside disturbance or influence. Sometimes in a moment of feeling particularly indecisive, the word “vortex” has best captured my sensation of going around and around and not getting anywhere, literally feeling like I’ve been sucked in to a black hole that only moves further and deeper into and unto itself. Sometimes in a moment of feeling stuck, almost literally paralyzed, unable to move forward, the word “eddy” conjures a visual suitable to the sensation of getting nowhere. There are also the times when the eddy is welcomed respite from the rushing river, and it’s okay to hang out getting nowhere.
Today, I felt that swirling as I sat on my mat in the warm studio, a morning’s worth of motion still moving in my body and my mind. Even as I sat still, the energy encircled me.
The yoga practice itself was steadying. By the end of the hour, I could feel that something had deepened, or that I had literally gained access deeper into my body. Instead of swirling, I had dropped beneath the busy surface of the water, sinking into myself like a small, heavy weight, a fishing lure. Even the surface was quieter and slower-moving, too. In Sanscrit, yoga means “union” precisely because it unifies the body, mind, and spirit. It is meditation in motion. It saves me every time. I almost take yoga so for granted that it doesn’t occur to me to write about it here, but today’s class reminded me of how transforming it is.
I took my first yoga class at Equinox on Amsterdam and 76th Street in 1995. The teacher was a 6’2″ African-American trainer with velvety skin and beautiful, perfectly contoured muscles. I think the class was called “Power Yoga.” I will always remember how his voice echoed in the studio throughout the class: “In-HALE, ex-HALE, in-HALE, ex-HALE…” I was living in an overheated bedroom in a neglected brownstone on 78th Street. Maybe three feet across the airshaft that separated my room from the neighboring building lived a Dominican family, whose sounds and smells wafted over night and day. I was 21, working full-time. I was lonely and lost. That class was my lifeline.
Over the years, my most regular yoga practice has been during and after my pregnancies. The sense of purposefulness I experienced was so definable, so tangible. Yoga gave me time to connect with my growing belly, stormy hormonal shifts, fears and elations. Some classes, I would find myself crying, letting down, letting go in a pose that allowed me to really experience whatever was going on – the spiritual intensity of carrying another life inside of my body, the bone-deep fatigue, the overwhelm. Mostly, I was lucky to have teachers who allowed this to happen, who created safe and nurturing environments for just this kind of release. I will never forget my last class before Pearl came – just a few minutes into it, I got myself set up in savasana, blanket and eye pillow, bolsters and all, and slept. She was born four days later.
Post-natal yoga with Aviva was pure bliss – especially because it signaled that I was feeling “normal” enough to leave the house with her. I will never forget her lying on a blanket beneath my wide-spread legs, just looking up, all eye contact and presence. And post-natal with Pearl brought a new friend into my life and gave me just the tiniest bit of structure. Funny, I keep thinking Pearl is in her first year and that this was just last summer. In fact, she is going to turn two next month. I know time itself doesn’t change pace; we do. But there’s no doubt that without intention and attention these days, life feels fast.
The car and I are one. When the car goes fast, I go fast. These words, from Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace is Every Step, have been echoing in my head often lately. In a dream last week, somebody told me that being in my presence was the opposite of calming. I woke up feeling upset and wondering if this was true. As a child, I loved to talk, loved to share, loved to write and read. But over the years, words and speed have often gone together for me. Words and fast-ness. Noise and motion.
Learning to be quiet – not in a shutting down sense, but as a form of self love – has not been easy, is not easy. Same with slowing. I drink coffee and make lists, I produce and accomplish. Girl, I can go fast. I can race around and crash and burn. But the fast car is not loving. It is stressful. It is missing the scenery. It competes and compares. It is dangerous.
I wrote this poem almost ten years ago, shortly after my Aunt Nancy died in a plane crash. Funny thing about writing, about getting quiet, about slowing down. It means opening to whatever might come, and welcoming it in. I don’t quite know why this poem comes back to me today. I certainly didn’t see it coming when I sat down to write about practicing yoga with Greg. But here it is:
Dates marking human time.
Absences in the darknesses
where people flew.
Zen rock gardens —
rake the sand, sweep the porch.
Look at the rocks, how they only move
when acted upon.
See how the dry leaves gather together,
how the light stays on the tree,
fades from sky,
see how the sky itself drains,
how the blue of it seeps back
to brighten the waters
and how the waters steal the land and sky.
See the Japanese maple, simple, blooming.
And the weeping willow, the cherry, pine —
She no longer visits these gardens.
She used to dance on those rocks.
The shore is a ghost.
Planes long gone still rumble and
shake the little house.
Light long dead years later shines.
I do know this, though, and it is enough: It has something to do with being quiet and holding the vast space that quiet contains, which Nancy did naturally and beautifully as she brought her healing work to so many people, including me. Come to think of it, that was in 1995, in her Tribeca loft, the very same year I began to discover yoga, began to listen to the lure, began to pay attention to the knowledge and wisdom available in the body, in stillness, in silence. Inside.
P.S. Then there’s yoga at home, which takes on new dimensions (like snacks if you happen to be in table pose):