I do yoga. Don’t laugh. At a studio with the word ‘balance’ on its banner. Stop laughing. My yogic beginnings are humble and certainly predestined, by Life.
I drove past a weather-beaten sandwich sign five or six times a week for over a year. It looked lonely but stable; perched on the sidewalk in front of a stately old house divided into apartment units. Plastic letters spelled out Yoga Classes.
Spring 2010 had landed me in weeks of physical therapy for what started as a shoulder issue. But as the song goes, ‘the shoulder is connected to the neck bones’, and that’s where the whole problem was. One month of biweekly appointments nestled in a computerized traction system and I could turn a doorknob and sometimes the ignition key without a wince. The prospect of lifting that arm over my head any time soon was idealistic. I was on the lookout for an apparatus and pharmaceutical-free cure.
Slow traffic one morning behind the convoy of logging trucks heading east to a paper mill required me to stop directly in front of that sign. I chuckled reading the oxymoron. A life in balance was everything mine wasn’t. But as idling seconds ticked away, humorous skepticism pushed to one side of my thoughts leaving space to consider the potential. Traffic moved and a decision was made. I would try this yoga thing out.
Late evening, I Googled the name of the studio. The home page listed six classes through the week. My schedule allowed one option, Friday morning at 8:30. I penciled ‘yoga’ on the kitchen calendar.
Friday’s sunshine and green tea chased with half a pot of java produced motivation to arrive early. I peeled running crops from the corner of a drawer and grabbed an identity free t-shirt. I wanted to avoid any symbols suggesting I had a personality. One glance at the mirror confirmed it: I had no aspiration to bend into a pretzel shape that or any day.
What am I thinking?
I backed out the driveway waiting for my hyperactive gut to dump into my bladder and compel me to pull forward. Thoughts thumped at both temples.
Do they have yoga mats? Should I mention my arthritic neck, my grating knees, my locking jaw? Will the teacher notice I can’t lift my right arm? Can you do yoga with glasses?
Reasons to turn back home multiplied, but Life propelled the car and I drove the two miles. Turning onto the side street I saw cars parked at the back of the huge house. Clearly this lot was reserved for residents. I drove past and started to sweat.
Should I park there? What if someone comes home and I took their spot? If there isn’t even a place to park they must not really want anyone to come.
Half a block further, one illegal U-turn, and I resolved to purchase a yoga video and wake seven days out of seven to an individualized practice. I could find a shoulder cure on my own.
Life steered and I pulled to the curb searching for a No Parking sign. None found, so I stopped and got out, then wrapped myself in the persona of a nine-year old. I looked both ways, crossed the street, and followed the sidewalk all the way around to the front of the house missing every crack. Facing front, there were three possible entrances.
This is crazy. It’s like Let’s Make A Deal!
I had the costume on, but which door? I stepped onto the creaking porch and made my way toward the middle one. Life made the right choice.
Crossing the threshold onto a hardwood floor I noticed a slight buckle under my feet. Two front rooms formed a t-shaped studio in this massive old place. Morning light filtered through every window covered with yards of muslin cinched in the middle with a ribbon. It was warm, it was quiet. And I was really early.
“Good morning.” Two words bounced across the sunshine and off the walls.
“Good morning.” Out came my automated voice, octaves higher than normal.
Think she can tell I’m a yoga virgin?
“Welcome!” With legs up to my bellybutton, this exceptionally young woman could no doubt bend in half forward or backward, on a dime. I felt short and stiff.
Her face was covered in smile. I mimicked the gesture, “I’m Patty,” and reached out my hand holding the two damp fivers crushed in my palm. The nine-year-old impulse to rip off my glasses and launch into a backbend was overwhelming.
“I parked along the curb across the street. I hope that’s okay?”
“Oh yea, you should be fine.”
Did she say should? Does she mean the cars there aren’t usually ticketed most Friday mornings? But sometimes they are ticketed? I can’t afford a ticket.
She introduced a few studio ground rules, pointed out the door to the bathroom in the hallway and opened a wall cupboard stuffed with brown mats, foam blocks, thick blankets, and coiled straps. An image of medieval torture chambers wedged into my already crowded head. I pulled out a mat and unrolled it on the floor toward a comfortable looking corner where I would be out of the way and with luck, out of her sight.
The door creaked opened. Another woman stepped inside. She wore tight fitting crops and a lovely top, robin’s egg blue. She carried her own mat and didn’t wear glasses. I sat down on my borrowed brown one and felt I was waiting for the dentist’s chair during Sunday Mass; praying for something good to happen, but expecting the need to perform penance for prior transgressions first. They chattered friendly sounds. The teacher handed me a clipboard holding a blank form and a pen. I felt more comfortable with my head down.
I recorded the basics- name, email and yes, my age. I wrote ‘herniated disc’ on the line printed for special considerations and casually added that I was a runner when the weather was good. That’s over-fifty lingo for ‘I-am-always-in-some-kind-of pain.’ She was young and would only read the running part. By the time I checked boxes and filled in all the blanks, two other women had joined the class. They unrolled their mats, stretched, and sat silent basking in the rays of morning sun.
My memory of the next hour is vague. I was certainly there moment to moment, bending, reaching, and twisting. A steady voice offered gentle instructions every breath of the way. Once I tipped upside down self-consciousness waned while chronic competitiveness pushed from the bottoms of my arthritic toes to the ends of my hair which should have been pulled back so I could see. I vowed to practice every pose at home demonstrating rapid improvement to my new teacher the next Friday.
Class ended with all hands giving thanks. I rolled up the mat, returned it to the cupboard, and wondered if I should have asked to clean it first. The others filed out still quiet, still smiling. I expected they had already drifted toward Nirvana.
“Thank you very much.”
“You did great! Was this your first time doing yoga?”
A smile and a nod. I fumbled for my glasses on the windowsill.
“Well, I hope you liked it.”
“I did. Thank you.”
“Hope to see you again.” Our eyes met. She meant it.
Seven years later I feel like one of the founding mats at the studio. Life has continued to change my world since that unlikely day. Inside that space I discover strength and possibilities both in stillness and shared chuckles whenever we reach back trying to find our toes. The acceptance, the kindness, the giving is ever-present. Many more classes are offered now, each lead by a gifted teacher. Together we bend, twist, reach, and breathe. Together we look inward so we are better people outward. Most days I roll up a balanced life inside my mat and head home to anything but. No matter, I honor the Life in me and the Life in every person there.