My friend Kirsten took me to my first yoga class, a by-donation community class in Manhattan. I’d never done yoga and am not particularly flexible, so it took some convincing. “Yoga is magic,” she said, as though she were in on a secret.
We joined a crowd of others with mats slung confidently over their shoulders as we walked into the building and up a flight of stairs to the studio. The teacher kept calling out for us to scoot our mats closer to make more room, until we were an inch apart from each neighbor. “Anything cheap in New York,” I muttered to myself, trying to preserve my personal space.
I followed along with the poses; I wasn’t great, but I wasn’t terrible, and it was interesting. “Now we’ll continue our flow into Half-Pigeon Pose,” the teacher said. We gently dropped down onto our mats, keeping one leg out straight behind us and tucking the other underneath ourselves. She told us to gently fold forward towards the mat. There was a sharp, almost unbearable pain in my hip. My instinct was to run – to sit up straight and get out of this crazy position. Instead, I remembered Kirsten’s words: sometimes your body gets scared, so it hurts, but it’s just muscles – you’re ok.
I’m not harming myself, I thought. It’s just something new. I’ll be ok. I took a deep breath and relaxed into the pain, and whatever had clenched inside my hip, sharp and white-hot, released. Without warning, I let out a sob, raw and instinctual.
As we gathered our mats and shoes, my friend repeated her mantra: yoga is magic.
Since that day, she’s been proven right many times. I spend a lot of time in my thoughts, and yoga helps me drop into my body. It reminds me of the shape of my heart.
Last week I attended a restorative yoga class with another friend, who is also a believer in magic. It had been a long day, filled with bright spots and disappointments (like most days), and on the drive to class I prayed that we would each get what we needed out of class.
This class was all about support: we were physically supported by bolsters and blocks, and we were guided to imagine all the ways we’re supported in life. I had thought of my family and friends, my house, and my sweet dog, and my gratitude was marbled with fear. What if I lose them?
During the next pose, the teacher had us lay on the mat, one leg twisted over our bodies, shoulders flat to the floor. “Imagine the right side of your body expanding like a balloon,” she told us. With each breath in, there’s a light that glows brighter, and it dims just a bit when you exhale. Repeat ‘I am,’ which is complete, or find a third word that feels right to you. I am strong. I am loving.”
I imagined my ribs opening like gills, translucent and glowing, exposed and vulnerable. The light expanded from within me out into the room, and I found my own mantra: I Am Here.
My mantra was born of a gentle realization: no amount of protecting myself can save me from loss and pain. If I’m already living this life, I may as well really be, really here. So as tears fell, creating cool, damp patches in my hair, my heart called out to the universe: I AM HERE.