Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Foundations


May you have a strong foundation when the winds of changes shift  ~ Forever Young, Bob Dylan 

I’ve been taking Rocket yoga for more than a year now. 

Three times a week, I go to the same class with the same teacher. She mixes it up, and we fly and invert and lock and lift. I rarely miss a class, so I figure I’ve practiced Rocket more than 100 times. 

How is it, then, that I’ve only recently realized that at every practice, we move through a foundational sequence before we take off?  

Am I the only one who didn’t know we were putting on the undergarments of our practice before getting dressed for the rest? 

Like most young girls, I was taught my first foundation lesson at an early age: to always wear nice underwear in case I’m in an accident and wind up in the hospital. 

Foundations can last a lifetime, and that’s why every day, I’ve got on pretty underwear under there. And I think that’s also why we are working on a foundation at Rocket. It’s not just for that day’s practice, but for the rest of our practicing days. 

How is it that I’m just catching on to this? 

We do each pose for five breaths in a particular order, building one on the other, each new posture getting another five breaths and only adding the whistles and bells after completing both sides. 

Maybe it’s taken me this long to realize what’s going on at the beginning because I’m so busy focusing on the middle. I’m waiting for what I think are the fun parts, like the handstands and the arm balances and the rest. 

But here, at Rocket, and seemingly unbeknownst to me until now, we’ve apparently been threading together the foundation of a practice with patience and persistence. 

It’s as if the practice is one long Home Economics project, with the instructor the head seamstress, putting down the pattern and laying out the big pieces first, teaching us to stitch together the larger parts before adding on the beautiful buttons, the fancy pockets, the sparkling sequins. 

It’s methodical. It’s challenging. And like with the creation of any lasting foundation, I think it’s making me stronger. 

I remember being in a sewing class in seventh grade, and let’s just say it wasn’t a place I excelled. There really was never any kind of foundation laid out in the class, nothing to build upon. We were just given a pattern and sent out to sea without a captain. I gave a shirt and a skirt my best efforts. 

The instructor would walk around, looking down on those of us seated and sewing. Those around me seemed to do fine, but I’d be adrift, jamming the machine and ripping out the seams I’d just sewn. My mother rescued me, finishing my projects on the sly at home. 

There is a foundation very specific to Ashtanga, the instructor says each time. We’ll do each pose, and when we add a new one, we’ll hold it for five breaths. Then, we’ll add the binds and the balances. 

Maybe she announced this on Day One, I’m not sure. But, it seems that for several days a week and for most weeks this year, I’ve been getting dressed layer by layer without knowing it. 

It’s only now that I see there’s even been a pattern every week at every practice, each pose like a piece of fabric, each movement the placement of the pieces, with all the effort and sweat securing the seams in place. 

We thread together the Sun As and Sun Bs and the Warrior Is and IIs. We reach into Triangles and Reverse Triangles and Extended Side Angles, and seamlessly move into High Lunges and Reverse Extended Side Angles. We make sure the right and left sides match by repeating the same sequence on each. 

And when we have completed this basic foundation, we reinforce its stitching, moving through it again, this time adding the trappings like Bound Half Moon, Bird of Paradise and Reverse Bird and more. 

The other night, the practice room was packed, and it was hot. The instructor climbed up on the windowsill and braced herself inside its frame, looking down on us like Spiderman. 

Think of me up here as your captain so I can help guide you! she exclaimed. Let’s double dip, she announced, referring to our yoga push ups. Be honest. This is your chance to get stronger. 

This all struck me as perfectly normal, with her in the window as captain and me at sea among the other yogis. 

I’m here to build my foundation, so I listen to the captain and double dip as best I can. 

And I think it’s working. My dips are feeling stronger. 

Of course, it could just be the new underwear I bought to practice yoga. A fellow yogi had pointed them out in the store. 

I picked up a pair and said, If you see me flying in class, you’ll know they’re working.

After that, I returned to buy some more. And, of course, I got some pretty colors, because any foundation is worth maintaining, especially if it helps me fly.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Nose Dive


From the time I was little, I was taught to stand up straight and sit up straight.  

Even in my little girl ballet classes, when we folded forward, we had to hold the fold so straight that even the teacher’s lipstick case would not roll off our backs. 

Summers would find me at camp, seated with my bunkmates on benches instead of on chairs at each meal. I remember part way through one summer, the counselor looking at all of us hunched there and exclaiming, You all started out sitting up so straight, and now look at you! We rose to better attention and, for the rest of the summer, made a conscious effort to sit up straight. 

And, yes, a la Marcia and Jan Brady, I even spent several months with my sister going to what was called Charm School, where we walked around balancing a book on our heads. 

Today, there are studies about the positive effects of a positive posture. Posture can be what it takes to fake it ‘til you make it on any given day because how we carry ourselves is how we care for ourselves.  

After all, what’s being lifted when we hold ourselves up is our hearts, so there’s really no better reason to not be slouching around. 

So now, with ballet and camp and charm school in the past, I turn to yoga to straighten up.  

At yoga, there’s lots of talk about the heart and, before we even start, we are called to the top of our mats and told to stand up straight. We pull in our bellies and push down our shoulders. We reach up, lift up, and look up.  

And it’s no matter how hunched over I might have been before or for how long because the practice gives me the chance to stand up straight again and again, and that only feels good. 

It’s taken me a long time to fall in love with any of the heart opening poses, where we lift or puff out our chests. But, now, I even like leaning back, so my heart flows up and over and almost overboard. 

I’ve taken some classes where this intuitive link between movement and the heart is emphasized. For me, these classes seem to help close the gap between the young girl who knew to always sit up straight and the older one who, at times, can forget to walk tall. 

In these classes, it’s slow going and hard working. We reach and stretch and pull ourselves into postures, and we are reminded to have our hearts like Sphinx, the pose where, even low to the ground, the shoulders are back and the chest is lifted. 

Round and round we go, following our hearts to the front of the mat and then to the back, stopping each time to open and lift to one side or the other.  

And more recently, we’ve done something called Toppling Tree, where we go through a series of balances on one foot only to wind up with the other high in the air behind us, our bodies in a nose dive with our chests lifted and leading the way to the mat. 

And, surprisingly, it’s there in that nose dive that all my caution disappears. I come to stillness while soaring towards the mat as my arms and shoulders pull back and my chest presses forward in this one big tilt led by the heart. 

By the time we get to the part where we put our hands on our hips and turn out our toes to lean back, I find I can lift my heart high enough and lean back far enough to get a full on look at the wall behind me. And, I wonder if I’m overboard enough to put my hands down for Wheel, or if my heart is just telling me I can.  

And when it’s time for the ending backbends, mine come easily and without any usual stiffness. 

If movement and the heart are linked, then I guess I can liken caring for my heart the way I would walking with a cupful of coffee and no cover. I’d have to tread lightly so as not to spill. 

And that’s a pretty daunting analogy, because I’ve always been a big spiller. 

Regardless, in this class, it’s like I’m filled to the brim but able to move without a lid. I think that’s how I wound up so happy in the nose dive. 

At the end of class, we are asked to sit up straight with our hands at our hearts. And without further ado or the usual closing, the instructor says only: You all will have sweet dreams tonight. 

And this simple announcement actually comes true. That night, I close my eyes to a dream where I’m practicing the same circular motions in the same roundabout flow, my heart lifted by the movements for another chance to stand up straight again and again, even in my sleep.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Catch Me!


"Upside down. Who's to say what's impossible and can't be found?" ~ Jack Johnson
 
I was in a very hot yoga practice, and we were more than halfway through. The day had only half begun, I was only half-caffeinated, and we were in Eagle Pose. 

For some reason, I’ve been having trouble keeping my balance in Eagle. I try to find a point in front of me to clear my mind, so I don’t even have to think about balancing, but that only makes me think about it all the more, and over I go. 

This day in Eagle, my mind is already moving quickly ahead. Usually, we do Eagle on both sides, right and then left, and then right and left again. Sometimes, after the second time around, we move into bound Warrior III and then into Standing Split.

And then I know what’s coming next. In fact, my mind is already there while I am wrapping myself up in Eagle. At that point, for those of us who want to, we get to pop into handstand or, at least, to try.
 

Before practice, I usually attempt a few handstands. I’ve been working on these forever, and now I’m working on them without the wall. And I can never tell when they’re going to show up.  

At best, they’ve been sporadic guests. They arrived this past summer, but then left for the fall. They were home for the holidays, but then left again. I’ve been doing my best to get them to move back in for good. 

And they hate the heat. It’s especially tough to find them in the middle of a hot practice. 

Usually, I have to see things to put them to memory, and I’ve used a lot of visualization to find handstand. In general, I think this is how I learn and process most things. I’ve been doodling since I was little, from pictures in my mind to pictures on the paper. 

Sometimes in handstand, I picture myself being pulled in and up, as I was in a recent workshop. I had been upside down when I saw two feet step under my nose before two hands wrapped themselves around my lower belly and pressed.  

This assist automatically lifted and straightened me beyond where I was. And, when I came down and saw it was the instructor, I told him not only was I surprised not to recognize his feet that I’d been watching for the better part of an hour but, even more so, I was surprised that I had any room left for more lift or straightening.

It also helps to picture my friend who wrote to me while on vacation about the freedom she felt when practicing handstands on a yoga deck. She said all that space outside a crowded studio freed her mind to allow her body to easily achieve handstand. 

And since then, on my way upside down, I visualize lots of space all around and even above, and I imagine my feet reaching upwards beyond the ceiling towards the sky and into the clouds, and this seems to help my whole body follow. 

I also picture my shoulder girdle, which I used to think was between my shoulders and across my back but actually now realize surrounds each shoulder. Going up, I picture my shoulders encased in something strong, so they can stack above my wrists and provide a sturdy base for my torso. 

So, really, there’s an entire artist’s rendering going on in my mind when I go upside down and sometimes even long before I invert.

This day, the paintbrushes start flying in Eagle. And when it comes time to try a few handstands, my palette is already prepared.  

I hop up on my good side. My right leg in the air, I push off lightly with my left and picture my hips stacking, waiting for the feeling that lets me know I have it, that lets me know it’s okay for my left leg to meet my right.  

And, finally, I make the connection, upside down.

But that lightness, that stillness, that space where I pull in my belly for my feet to reach the clouds, eludes me, and I feel my feet start drawing outside the lines, moving further over my hips to the wrong side of the room. 

And in this quiet and hot room, where the only sound is the breath, I distinguish myself without warning, calling out the instructor’s name followed by a plea:

CATCH ME! 

But I never felt his catch because somehow, I catch myself. Somehow, and I don’t know how, I get myself straightened out. 

It seems my panic cleared my mind so my body could do its work.  

The instructor later told me I did it by grabbing the floor with my fingertips and pulling in my core. I had no idea. I couldn’t picture it! 

All I know is that the preparation that started in Eagle that day had blocked my view, making it difficult to see the whole picture. And, in the end, I was somehow able to save myself on instinct. 

This instructor impresses on the class to let go of our stories when we arrive on the mat. We’re not supposed to predetermine the practice. We’re just supposed to be, and we do this through the breath. 

But this day, it takes my panic to make me present, which isn’t exactly the game plan. Even so, learning that I can save myself when I think I need someone to catch me isn’t too bad a takeaway. 

Still, I am leaving the light on for those handstands.  

It’s like they’re not mine, I told this same instructor days earlier. It’s like each time, I’m wondering if they’re going to show up. 

Maybe my mental artwork is more on display than I think, because he just looked at me with a smile and, without words, pointed to his head, making the perfect picture for the next time I go upside down.

 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Adventure

My son, Ben, skydiving in Australia

“So come out of your cave walking on your hands and see the world from upside down.” ~ The Cave, Mumford and Sons

The other night, I was at yoga, laying out my mat, unwinding it from its bag and doing the same from my day. I prefer a spot against the wall, where I can try a few handstands without going overboard. I walk along my mat and talk with those nearby, enjoying the switch from my work day to my yoga night, chatting and pacing and popping into handstands. 

And I wonder, where else, really, would this seem normal? 

Aside from my Instagram friend who sneaks photos in her office attire when no one’s around, putting up pictures of handstands by a file cabinet or backbends atop a conference table, I’m not sure I know anywhere else I could chat while upside down without anyone wondering what’s wrong with me. 

I’ve come to realize that I feel the most like myself when I’m at yoga. It’s nice here, more than nice. There is a freedom once I park my car and walk to the studio, as if I am leaving one life and showing up at another.  

And this transition has been a huge adventure for someone like me, someone who doesn’t love change and who takes comfort in sameness. 

It’s not that I’m not who I am outside of yoga. It’s pretty hard to be anyone else, anyway. It’s just that on my mat, I feel the closest to me and to the girl I was so long ago.  

On my mat, it just is what it is, a phrase I usually hate to hear. It’s the phrase I come up against when no amount of justifying or explaining can make things how I’d rather they be. It’s the phrase that speaks the truth, and that’s what I get on my mat. 

It is what it is on the mat because it’s pretty bare there, and so am I. Even what I wear is bare, my shoulders, sometimes my midriff and even my feet. Once there, I put up my hair, which for me is a fairly personal thing. Off my mat and outside the house, my hair is always down and done. 

The yogi seated to my right looks up at me as if we’d been in conversation and exclaims, Wouldn’t that be amazing? 

What? I ask, realizing that she thinks I’ve overheard the yogi on her other side. 

To have the kind of job that can take you anywhere? she answers. Where you get to go anywhere?  

No! I say immediately back. I’m a homebody, I admit from my mat, coming down from a handstand against the comfort of the wall. I don’t want to go all over the place! Coming here is my big adventure! 

But then I sit down to ask this young girl where her job takes her and find that she has just returned from months studying dolphins in Australia. And from my perch on my mat, I am indeed amazed.  

My yogi friends are big adventurers. To me, it seems they are scared of nothing. I love to hear what they do and where they’ve been. They are young and brave and adventurous, and I’m doing my best to learn from them.   

I am on the road back from something, an adventure that had been chaotic and challenging. I had been young and brave and adventurous then, and I think that’s what helped me through. It’s just that I thought the objective was to find peace and safety, kind of like the spot against the wall where I can’t fall over if I go upside down.  

The classes I take are pretty powerful, and maybe that’s why I’ve met so many adventurous people, those that run and bike and ski and more, those that are not necessarily looking for peace or safety. And when I wonder what I’m doing here among them, I think back to when I was young and brave and adventurous, too. 

Maybe I am trying to find that girl again.

One yogi friend runs to yoga, takes the class and runs home. She was there throughout her pregnancy and was always one of the few who could hold the backbends through all the counts. Another yogi is an avid skier who just spent a recent afternoon on a trampoline. And there’s the man who completed 20 years in the military who hopes to teach as part of Yoga for Wounded Warriors.  

My son’s a yogi, and he’s jumped out of an airplane. Yet another yogi biked to the beach, more than 100 miles away, to raise money for Autism. Still another friend hails from across the globe, having spent the past year teaching yoga in the States and just this week returns to her country for yet another brave beginning. 

And how can I not mention the young woman who spent many years as a platform diver, studied in faraway places and is recovering from a knee injury received while cliff diving. She is forever my example of grace and strength and determination as she maintains her practice, her work and her indomitable spirit while healing.  

Homework!
That night’s practice is intense, and I am glad to reach the end when it’s time for inversions. As before, I pop into a handstand, secured by the wall behind me.  

After balancing a bit, I lower my legs and stand up for a breather. I face the wall, thinking about how much I like this part of the practice, with the room dark, the music playing and everyone upside down. 

A tap on my shoulder catches me by surprise, and someone’s hands spin me out of my reverie. It is the instructor, making me face front, away from the wall.  

It’s just so seamless at this point, she says. No more wall for you. Hope you don’t mind and hope you had fun there, because you’re done with that.  

She stands there and, under unspoken instructions, I place my palms on the mat and lift my legs into a handstand away from the wall. Each time I wobble, I feel the instructor point my core back to where it should be, so I can be upside down but still stable. 

And just like that, I am set on a course for a new adventure, joining the ranks of those around me and getting that much closer to the girl who had been there once before.

Monday, January 6, 2014

My Son


“Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful boy …” ~ John Lennon 

I’ve learned that we never stop growing up, but I have a son who I keep thinking is all grown up.

Or, so it seems to me. 

I guess I think he is all grown up because it’s hard for me to find anything that I can still do for him or that he needs me still to do. As a young adult, he lives on his own in another city and has a job and supports himself. 

When he was little, I’d pack his lunch, hold his hand, buy his clothes, play endless catch, sit on the sporting sidelines, keep him dry in the rain, and tuck him in at night. 

Now, he does all that and more on his own, and I’m certainly not the one tucking him in at night. 

When he was born, I felt an immediate kinship, as if on the inside, he was me and I was him, a symbiosis from day one. And it’s like he knew this, too. As a baby, I would hold him and pat his back, and his little hand would pat my back right back as if to say, I know, Ma. 

As a single mom raising this boy, I learned so much about myself. I found myself in this boy who would color and draw and then oil his baseball glove and break it in each night under his mattress; who would lay his head on my shoulder and then put on his hockey gear and skates; who would tell me he loved me but make me promise to lay low on the soccer sidelines; who would give me play-by-plays of tennis matches but ask me to wait in the car at practice; who would blast his music but still listen to mine. 

As he grew up, I had to learn how to make space to respect his, so we could remain simpatico, so I could still come along for the ride that is his life. 

It did not surprise me that soon after I took up yoga, he did, too. First, in college, to fulfill some credits, and then more so as he started to work. 

And now, when I visit him or he comes home, it’s what we do. 

The other day, we placed our mats alongside each other to practice at a new studio. Here, the instructor blasted the music at an extra high volume each time we held a pose or worked a handstand. And each time, it would be one of my favorite tunes from way back when, and my son would look over at me and grin and nod, I know, Ma. 

And even though he is what I consider all grown up, he doesn’t mind my reaching out to pat him in the middle of the practice and, sometimes, he even pats me right back. 

We do yoga. We get juice. We go to lunch. We even shop. He holds my hand as he walks me around the city from here to there throughout the day. And, later, I hear from his sister that he loves when I visit, because he says I can just fold right into whatever it is they do.  

And I’m grateful for this. For the closeness and for the space that makes for it. 
 
And I am surprised to see myself again now, in this grown up young man. We have pictures from these recent days, when I can see myself in him. I am somehow appearing in this young man who looks like his dad and his uncle, and not just in pictures but in how we think and in what we say, sometimes in the same words and at the same time. 

And when our practice is over, we sit up and, together, we say Namaste. And I am filled up with such gratefulness to have practiced with my boy, feeling so blessed that he is there, that I am still able to pat his back and get one back. 

The next day, he invites me to an appointment. We are to meet there, but it’s raining, and he texts me that he’ll pick me up with the umbrella, and I realize that this day, he’s the one keeping me dry in the rain. 

Before this trip, my son was home for a visit. He was looking around at several things from years past and said that some of it made him feel bad. As with everyone who grows up, there are things left behind that would rather be forgotten. I know this is true of me; how can it not be true for him? 

In yoga, one of the things we are taught is that it’s okay to let go, that we don’t have to hang onto everything that brought us to where we are now. 

So I make a promise that on his next trip home, we will purge the old stuff and lighten the load. 

It made me think back to the end of a practice, months earlier. I had turned my mat to the wall, facing a new direction by the end of class. It was hot. I was wrung out. The practice had done its magic before the instructor added some of his own. 

Letting go is not a loss, the instructor said, his words like a wand sweeping across the room. I felt him grant me the same permission I wanted to grant my son.  

It’s not a lessening. Letting go, he said, actually makes room for abundance. 

This winter, my son went snowboarding, an annual activity that kind of scares me. On some such trips, I ask him to please just send a signal that he’s breathing. I figure that makes for space because I don’t need a phone call; instead, just a short text will do. 

This time, the message reads: Alive and well and it comes with a picture. He is in a headstand atop a snowy mountain, sending a signal loud and clear. 

He might as well have just sent the words, I know, Ma.

Monday, December 16, 2013

False Starts


Sometimes, we only think we know where we should be. 

The other night, for whatever reason, I was not supposed to be at yoga.
 
I don’t know why, and I never will, but I was not supposed to be there.

That’s not to say I didn’t try. Believe me, I did!

In yoga, we’re told to trust the process. I’ve heard this saying lots of times, but it’s only recently that I’ve begun to understand its meaning. I think it means that we are exactly where we are supposed to be at the time we are there, even if we think we should be elsewhere.

And the other night, I got the chance to trust this process.

For whatever reason, my best efforts to get to yoga landed me right back where I started. I don’t know why, and I never will; but, in the end, I think I have to trust that I was just not supposed to be there.

I came home from work and did whatever it is I do when I come home. Per my usual, at 7 pm, I changed into my yoga clothes and left the house.

I am an early bird by nature. I have a hard time being late, and to be on time and not early actually takes an effort on my part.

Usually, I have an easy drive to yoga, a miraculously easy time finding parking, and I always wind up on my mat at the start of class.

On this beautiful winter night, the sky was clear, the stars were out, and the moon followed me on my drive downtown. It hung low in the sky with a yellowish tinge and served as a backdrop to a pretty strange night of yoga that never was.

I landed in a great parking spot, but the meter was broken. Two other yogis were trying to pay as well. No luck for any of us.

I hopped back in the car, made an illegal, non-yogic U-turn and parked in another spot across the street behind yet another yogi. This time, the meter worked.

Class was starting in 10 minutes, and the line was out the door. At this studio, signing up online does not guarantee a spot, and I chatted with the yogi who had parked in front of me while we inched slowly forward. This part always takes patience. It’s where the practice really begins!

We were close enough to the entrance to hear the instructor start the class. And then, to my surprise, we were turned away. The room was full, there were no more spots.

On the walk back to our cars, my parking buddy confided that she had a backup plan. I begged her to tell me. I was all set to practice with no place to go.

I don’t know if you are as crazy as I am, she replied.

I assured her I was absolutely crazy without a doubt, and she told me about a class starting in 20 minutes across town.

So, off we went on a second try.

The moon was framed in my car’s front window, and it kept me company as I drove further downtown to a perfect spot right in front of this next studio.

My name was put on a wait list below that of my new yoga pal’s. This class was full, too. After intense discussions between the instructor and the front desk, it was determined that there was only one spot left.

It’s gotta be hers, I said. After all, this was her back up plan.

No, it’s gotta be hers, she said, I don’t want bad karma! I told her to come!

Two yogis being too nice.

The front desk assured us that her name was legitimately before mine on the wait list, so in she went, and home I went.

It had been two hours since I had set out for yoga. Driving home, I was reminded of another time I was all dressed up for yoga with no place to go.

It was the previous fall, and I was leaving for an early morning class when I locked myself out of the house without realizing I had access to the spare keys in my garage.

Fortunately, I had my phone and my coffee and called for someone with a spare. I sat down in the dark with the morning moon for company and missed my class, thinking I was stuck on the front stoop.

Later that same night, I told my friend the story, that I had sat outside that morning with access to my keys the whole time without knowing and without going.

This friend has a beautiful Jamaican accent and calls me Han. It was early evening, and the moon had yet to show its face.

Han, he said, you were not supposed to be at yoga this morning. He’s not a yogi, but he knew to trust the process. He simply shook his head in response and smiled knowingly.

There is a reason why, he said, but we don’t get to know it.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Embrace


 

It's impossible to be alone at yoga, even if you walk in feeling that way.


It was a weekend morning, and I was getting myself together for yoga. 

On Saturdays and Sundays, I actually shower, wash my hair and put on a little make up before going to yoga. Sounds strange to do so before working out, but this morning routine is what wakes me up.  

I was like this in college, too, even when just studying. I would wake up, shower, dress and sit among my friends who would all be in their sweats. 

My son calls me the Cal Ripken of getting ready for the day. 

I arrive at the studio and wait for the class to start. I lay out my mat in my favorite spot, and slowly the others start to trickle in. 

I love seeing everyone, and a few people come over to chat and catch up. Some are young adults, the ages of my children, some are closer to my age and many are in between. Yoga has introduced me to so many new people. I did not know that practicing would make me part of any kind of community. 

I have never considered myself a joiner. I’ve always had lots of people around me, but I never was a committee type person, nor did I belong to one particular group over another. Growing up, I had friends in and among all sorts of groups.  

That being said, I would not call myself a loner either, but I do admit to a certain aversion to being pigeon holed in any way. 

Our class begins, and the flow slowly builds as does the energy. The instructor allows for progressions of each pose, and this gives us a chance to do our own things. And that works for me because even as part of a group, there remains a part of me that can be more comfortable on my own. 

Before yoga, I had found myself laying low. My trust levels had pretty much shrunk the size of my community, and I was content in this manner for a long time.  

After my children went to college, I ventured out and got a job. Working made me suddenly part of a very large and global community, and I’ve come to know so many of my colleagues well. It’s been a surprise to find that being connected with so many others is what I like most about my job.  

Then, I found yoga and became part of yet another community. 

Some days, I can feel myself falling back into my old ways, raising the guard gates and hunkering down a bit. And those are the days when I make sure to keep my office door open, and when I make sure to get myself to yoga. 

And so it is that I find myself practicing among others, individuals on our mats, doing our own things but doing them all together. We follow the same instructions but progress differently. We move in the same motions but do so in different styles and with different degrees of grace. 

Still, we are all one unit, and the appeal of the group’s energy sweeps me along with the others. 

I get into my own zone as I move through the poses, but lately, near the end, I’ve been looking around. On this day, we are given a few moments of self practice. I do a few handstands followed by a few seated, forward folds and, in between each, I look around. 

It’s strange, but at this point, I identify with each and every person there, those I know and those I don’t.  It’s just impossible to be on guard when moving like this, and it’s as if the efforts to balance and twist and rise and fold have exposed us all to each other. I recognize everyone, and I feel suddenly tied to these kindred spirits. And although I know we all stepped in for different reasons, it’s as if those reasons are now all the same as we are to each other. 

I wonder if the people in this room know that the motion of their movements provide me with an embrace of energy that feels as safe and sound as someone’s arms around me. 

At the end of the practice, we lay down, and I settle into the protective power of this group’s silence. 

Several moments later, the instructor has us roll to the right and rise to a tall, seated position with our hands draped over our knees. We are told to be grateful for our bodies, for the clarity of our minds and for being able to practice. 

Eyes closed, I inhale deeply with the others. 

The class exhales on the same beat, sharing its breath in one hushed but audible whisper.  

In one quick whoosh, it's as if I am part of some big secret shared by everyone in the room. And I am suddenly and surprisingly so very moved. 

The guard gates have lowered, and I am flooded with immense gratitude for everyone around me. For their very presence has helped me find something I had not even known I was missing.