She left the yoga studio half running, half walking in the drizzly insanity of a morning where the train was late, the practice was revealing and work beckoned with a curled, outstretched finger. Balancing better than she had in the steamy room, she jogged, the sounds of American music from the 90s blasting into her ears. She allowed herself a moment to hum the tune; in the midst of students dwarfed by backpacks and silent and still in their own earbud realms, singing would have been ok. In the city, she still missed this joy. Too many people on the street, too many people in her building, too much otherness for which she didn’t want to provide a free performance. Yet there were those days where she breathed deeply the way her teachers taught her long ago, feeling newly developed abdominal muscles stretch and tighten and allow for a greater vocal range. This was not that morning. She had faith though, that somehow, with Incubus playing oh-so uncheerily while she kept time to high-speed drumming and lyrics whining how hard it was to be “23, in the midst of spontaneous combusion, woe is me!” that things were right. That her decisions were right. That running, Doc Martens bouncing, backpack swaying, she had faith that she knew what she was doing – even thought she was still afraid.
She felt the sweat run down behind her ear. She breathed. In. Out. In. Out. “Look at your palm, head all the way up,” she heard, and nodded, distantly hearing the splat of sweat hit her mat. Inhaling, she pulled herself to standing, legs spread wide. “Prasaritta Padotanasana A, B, C and D, now, please,” her teacher said. She looked at him. “Inhale, bend forward, hands under the shoulders.” Her hamstrings refused to do what her brain requested. “Head on the floor,” he said.
“I can’t, I – can I bend?” she quavered.
“Bend your legs if you have to. Arms under the shoulders, wrists under forearms, head on the floor.”
She inhaled and remembered to focus rather than grimace in the pose. Her shoulders felt firey, remembering Tuesday’s exertions, her legs clearly not positioned in the “correct” way, but they supported her, nonetheless. She inhaled sharply and began to rise.
“Now, hands on your waist, prasaritta padotanasana B. Inhale forward. Exhale, head on the floor. No, head on the floor,” he sang across the room.
“Fuck this,” she thought and kept breathing. She was terrified. Her legs trembled slightly and she continued to breathe. In. Out. In. “I’m going to break my neck,” her brain said. “Look at your nose,” she commanded. Out. In. She wobbled, her right fingertips brushed the mat next to her heat. “Shit,” and she released her other hand, hearing “Hands on your waist,” float over as she wove back to standing.
“Hands behind your back,” he called, “Head to the floor.”
She imagined scrunching up her face, tightening up her lips.Telling herself to relax her face, she breathed instead. In. Out. In. Out. The crown of her head grazed the mat and somehow, she told herself it was ok. That her legs would support her. That she was not going to fall. She breathed and came back upright.
“Grab your big toes,” he said, “Don’t look at them. Inhale.” She moved as directed, her head easily coming to rest. As she breathed, she wondered if she should be doing this. Was it going to bother her, the same way that in acupuncture a single needle extending her length on the table in the same spot woudl reduce her to a quivering, panicked wreck? Would a yoga pose have the same hidden power as a hairthin slice of metal? In. Out.
She rose and looked at him. “Now do it all again,” he said.
“But I already – ”
“From Padangusthasana Vinyasa,” he directed. “Grab your big toes. And inhale.”
She kept her emotion in check and began to breathe. She moved forward and lengthened with every inhale, bent forward with every exhale. He left the room and she kept going, even though that voice in her head reminded her she could just stop. She could leave, and he would never know; no one else in the room cared, and you weren’t supposed to be watching the other practitioners anyway – a good thing, considering the sweating, contorted bodies and raspy breathing that greeted her at the start of practice. Yet she would know. Her body would know. And her practice – that thing she kept for herself in the midst of life, it would know. So she kept moving, wobbling, legs threatening, feet stretching. She stopped thinking about falling. She stopped thinking about panic attacks and fear and worry and falling into that pit that could just appear in the middle of the sidewalk and suck her in any day, any time, any season. She felt for the floor, with the crown of her head and did not grimace. In. Out. In. Out.
She rose for the final time. “Good,” he said. “Now sit.” She laughed shakily. “Thank you,” and moved into the meditative, closing poses.
She lay open and vulnerable at the end, her towel dampening beneath her head. Her breathing slowed. She tried to stop her brain from running through what she could eat and how long it would take to prepare for the day, and relalized her brain was going to keep thinking. She started to feel. She started to laugh, releasing. Dry, silent laughter because there was no joke to be shared. She laughed a little more. She lay still. She trusted. Finally, she knew how to trust herself. She relaxed.
Coworkers were sick. Yoga friends were still coughing. The train had the faint damp rank of fall and unseasonal weather, despite the lost yellow or orange leaf being smeared across the dour subway floor. It was easy to forget that it was October; it was easy to forget that the skies had been more brilliant than the leaves in Vermont across the past week at both sunrise and sunset. There was only the insipid, dreary grey.
She didn’t use her umbrella, that morning, before entering that tube of stagnant humanity. The wild winds outside were energizing and reminiscent of her hometown, too far away for more than an annual visit, if flights and prices were timed with hairthin precision. She sipped coffee in the darkness, caught the scent of toast burning, the flicker of an early morning television show behind still-drawn curtains, heard the crackle and snap of a sharp exhale on a cigarette. She saw the misty sparkle of city lights, no more than five miles away; she used to run there, and now she thought back to being small and excited by the lights, curious about the glitter. She had wanted to be where the magic was, and now, she lived there and all the illusions had been revealed.
Without a mirror to reflect a fantasy life imagined, she noticed the shine of love, the rest in a body finally finding a seat on the train that morning, the joy of a couple preparing to travel the American city with their foreign language. She took in the intent reader at 6:45 a.m. still preferring a book over the Kindle, turning each page in an oasis of concentration. The magic existed outside of the mists, and remained long after the theater had gone dark and the curtains had closed for one night more.
She stopped waiting and remembered to look both ways before following the green light across the street.
“I didn’t need these things. I didn’t need them.”