i started practicing hot yoga with consistency when i first moved to madison almost four years ago. i kept my mat at the now-defunct kaivalya yoga, a second-story unfinished, lofted, urban commercial space on university avenue overlooking the campus part of the city. during my first year, i’d often spend more than twelve hours straight at the law school, between classes & studying, stopping always in the evenings to catch a class on my walk home.
oh, i craved the dry heat of the studio during that snowy winter. i loved the feeling of coming in there after a long day of desk-sitting, my cheeks still pink from the cold, tossing my belongings carelessly on a bench (i’ve yet to find a yoga studio in madison where theft is a thing), peeling off my many layers & unrolling my magic carpet next to the same people each night, some of whom would later become some of the best friends i’d ever had.
the teachers i went to rooted their classes firmly in the baptiste method, the skeletons of their sequences sturdy & predictable with ample room to customize & improvise if you were just itching to. yet it was the comfort of routine & the steady improvements, noticeable increases in my own strength, that kept me coming back each night for more: there was always something new to discover in a posture you thought you’d known like the back of your hand & the music each teacher played that year is still programmed into my bones.
i hear “maps” by the yeah yeah yeahs & i’m back in laura’s class: it’s followed by “first train home” (imogen heap), which takes me back alongside my katie. her blond hair was long then & she practiced variations i’d never seen before, encouraged me to try them. she too would become one of my teachers. i think of susan & i still don’t understand it – how a tiny nonconformist badass like her, covered in vibrant & beautiful tattoos with ever-changing hair color, always cut close to her head, was perfectly content to blast billboard top 40s for an hour straight each evening. she was onto something, though. after all, whose heart rate wouldn’t elevate for adam levine? there, feel that rhythm under your palm after you pair his voice with some chattarungas. now picture him in side crow with that ink. mmm.
anyway, back to those girls i met: years later i’d sit around my coffee table with them, a cup of spiked cider in my shaky hands & unload the source of a fear that gripped me as someone i loved fled deeper down a dark rabbit hole. we joked that everyone who sought comfort in yoga was inherently messed up. each of us had lost someone to something evil: a freak infection, a drug addiction, a mental illness. they assured me that the worst would soon pass, nothing’s permanent. but the unspoken link between us all was a subconscious understanding that when you run out of anything — money, objects & youth are some good examples — you still have yourself & your practice… that time for meditation, moving or otherwise, that space where you go to be free of things that don’t matter but tend to run your life anyway.
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i lost my job last week. it was always supposed to be temporary & i knew that from the start, but i guess i always thought i’d see it coming before it happened. i was stunned & saddened. anywhere i go, for work or for play, i make myself cozy: i make friends, love hard, share everything. this was no exception. it was a hard blow. while i worked there i traveled often for the job & taught at least three yoga classes a week. it was a struggle to maintain my own practice with regularity. toward the end i had started to figure it out: i’d practice at home almost nightly right before bed, often loosely based on sequences i’d planned to teach my students so i’d know how much they were going to hate me when i made them sit in utkatasana for a couple minutes.
the first place i’d wanted to go after getting the news was my mat, but i felt too scattered for it just then. i dove back into it deeply the next day & it’s true: no matter the question, yoga’s the answer. it’s my space to figure things out – think of everything, or think of nothing. take long drinks of rest for sixty minutes or seize every opportunity for an arm balance, an inversion, a backbend.
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tonight at my studio, i landed in class with tori reynolds & ben rivet of go w/ the flow. for the past couple of months i’d wanted to go to this class but planned not to. it was too hard to be gone all day between work, the dog & teaching. i savored my free weekday evenings, which were few & far between. well, now i’m a little more flexible & it worked out.
what a class it was. ben layered sweet, thoughtful, music on piece by piece to suit the mood of the asanas tori guided us through. her cueing was on point: clear & minimal, equal parts pragmatic physical cues & cues meant to get at something deeper than the tangible – but nothing cheesy, trite, or overused about any of it. i liked it.
so there i was in her class after so much time away from that type of class. after years of baptiste, i’m still a sucker for the “power flow” moniker, but the power in the classes i gravitate toward now have more to do with the fierce hold of a powerful posture than they do with how many chattarungas we take. but there’s something to be said for the cathartic rinsing effect of taking a vinyasa between each standing series & the comfort of knowing generally at the top of a class the anatomy of how the next hour of your life will go. it felt like home instantly & the uptick in movement from what i’ve been used to lately compared to my own dialed down home practice was just what i needed. i found myself smiling, laughing, trusting my neighbors as we held onto each other while transitioning between anjaneyasana, virabadhrasana III & standing. i reached out & took a bite of every arm balance, every backbend. i felt playful & alive.
lately, i haven’t been much for cooking, which is so unlike me. at the same time, i’ve been a fiend for backbends (also unlike me). she gave me plenty of opportunities to go there: urdhva danurasana, setu bandha sarvangasana & i even nursed the kapotasana i’ve been working on. of course, she’s not as pretentious as i am (all that knowledge makes me feel sexy), using all of that sanskrit. instead, she used just enough to be credible, but not so much as to alienate any newcomers.
those backbends are where it’s at for me right now: an embodiment of what it feels like to open up to possibility, feel empowered even while vulnerable & lead with my heart.
thanks for the reminder, tori & ben.