My local yoga studio just closed. I’ve known the day was coming, as much as I’ve tried not to think about it. I’ve become used to rolling out of bed at nine on a Saturday morning, throwing on appropriate garments (not too loose, not too tight), inhaling a cup of coffee, grabbing my yoga mat, and making it to the nine thirty class in time to be seated in proper cross-legged position (shins parallel, hips higher than knees) for the opening chant.
I’ve become used to the way my body feels walking home from class, looser and lighter and more solid (in a loose, lightweight way), too. I’ve wondered what’s next, if I’ll ever find a studio so convenient, a teacher so wonderful, a community so beloved.
But nothing, not even a yoga studio a block away from home, lasts forever, right? The owner of the studio for ten years—my teacher—is moving north to live with her husband. Married in September, they spent their first weeks in a commuter marriage. How could I not be happy for her that they’ll soon wake up every morning in the same bed? And the fact that she was, like me, a first-time bride in midlife—well, let’s just say I felt allegiance to her priorities.
That doesn’t mean I was happy about the facts of the situation though. Each class, as the studio became more spare—first the plants were gone, then the shelves holding blocks and straps, then the wall ropes from which we’d hung—I felt a twinge. As we sat and chanted, I choked up at how smoothly the Sanskrit words flowed from myriad voices, a blend I’d soon never hear again.
As much as I understood why the studio was closing, I felt sad about the inevitable: Change. Loss. The cycles of life, yes, and yet how amazed I find myself each time the everyday-ness of this inevitability strikes me anew.
In the past few weeks, I’ve been to as many classes as I can fit in—not only Saturday morning, but Tuesday evening and Thursday back-care, too. After each one, Craig has asked how I’m doing; the look on his face telling me that he gets it. “Oh, fine,” I say, which is my way—you know, no big deal until it is.
How can I not feel a loss? I walked into Annette’s studio five years ago. I’d done Iyengar yoga before, but at home I still walked into walls or the bedpost. I’d never managed a backbend or even a proper headstand (let alone one away from the wall). In her class, I sometimes felt cranky in certain poses. “Of course,” she’d say in her soothing Irish lilt. “Twists can bring that out.”
When I started weeping one day and had to stop the pose, she said nothing but came up at the end of class to ask if I was okay. I can’t recall which pose had so affected me, only that it was a pose I’d done before with no emotional side effects; but I recall how kindly yet professionally she told me my response made perfect sense.
Somewhere along the line, I stopped walking into walls. Breathing through the discomfort of Marichyasana helped me breathe through all uncomfortable moments. Yes, airlift would be nice, but that doesn’t happen in yoga class any more than it does in a traffic snarl, or during an awkward conversation, or in a bout of anxiety.
Breathing into it—whatever “it” is—does help. And those moments where I (eventually) felt layers that I didn’t even know were there give way deep inside? Bliss, imprinted forever.
Having taught writing since 1995, I’m familiar with the intimacy of the classroom. I’m used to being the teacher in this dynamic—imparting, guiding, steering, grading. The closing of the yoga studio has reminded me of the gift of being a student. Of letting someone know more than I do about something, and of surrendering to her guidance.
Annette has her moods. “Come on, guys, don’t wait for me,” she’ll snap if we’re dawdling, and then the next day, “Do this together with me, please!” As her student, I’ve known the pleasure of her personal attention, whether reminding me to draw in my navel or pressing her palm against my shoulder, and have felt silly jealousy when she pays more attention to someone else. (Just like in first grade, when Miss Frost chose another girl for milk duty.)
Doing poses in class, in conjunction with other students who are doing the same poses, and trying not to judge or compare has lifted me into deeper self-awareness and out of solipsism.
In her book The Liturgical Year, Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun, writes about finding God in the small things of daily life. Her chapter on Advent reminds us how closely the seasons of the church year—and this one in particular—bring us to the cycles of life. With every waiting, we’re opened to change as we look for what is to come.
I’ll find a new yoga community. Not right away, but when the time is right. And this Advent, I give thanks for that little studio around the corner. No bread and wine at yoga class, and yet it always felt like sacrament.