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Rituals of the Road

The rituals are the same the world over.   You and your fellow practitioners have a common language – not the local patois, but an ancient language, a language of ritual.   You recognize the melodies.   You are welcomed as one of the tribe, and you feel at home.

 

No, I’m not talking religion – I’m talking yoga.

On my travels of late (all domestic, and mostly for work), I have made it my mission to find and attend local yoga classes.   (My other travel obsessions include farmer’s markets, public transit, coffee shops, botanical gardens, and local breweries.   A girl on a business trip barely has time to work.)   

The arc of the class is familiar: the sun salutations, the relaxation at the end.   Of course, there is the ritual language:   the Sanskrit words, sure; but also the platitudes, which seem to be the same, down to the punctuation, from my home in Newton, Mass. to Great Falls, Montana:

 Let the breath move you. Fill the pose with your breath.

This is your practice, no one else’s.   Listen to your body; it will tell you what it needs.  

Observe your thoughts without judgement, and let them pass.

I spent last week in the Pacific Northwest, and yoga was in ample supply.   First stop:  Roseburg, Oregon, a rural community in the southwestern part of the state.   I am thrilled to find the Body Balance Yoga Studio – an adorable storefront, right downtown.    

And they have a 5:30 class!   It will be cutting it close after I wrap things up with my clients; but I pull on my yoga duds and hop in the car at 5:20.    GoogleMaps says the drive should take only 4 minutes – the studio is just on the other side of the railroad tracks.

I stop at the traffic light.  Inhale, exhale.   The light turns green – and simultaneously the railroad bridge lowers and a freight train thunders past.  

And thunders past.

And keep on thundering.

I hold the position for 10 cycles of breath.   Then for 10 more.   It is 5:33. 

Observe your thoughts without judgement, and let them pass.

I observe the thought that I will not make it to class.   And I turn around and head back to the hotel.

 

Eugene, Oregon is full of yoga studios.   The one with the most appealing name is Sweaty Ganesh; but since it has rained ceaselessly for my first three days in the region, I decide that I’m soggy enough already.  

I do I make it to Everyday People Yoga for a late afternoon class.   It is a lovely, high-ceilinged studio, with a beaming Buddha presiding at the front.   There is a donation box near the door, under a long, apologetic statement about why it is reasonable that they should presume to ask for a donation from participants.   There are teachers to pay.  There is rent.   And is the requested $8 - $12 donation really such a high price for enlightenment?  Lacking change, I leave a $20, feeling that Buddha would approve.

Class begins.  I inhale.   I exhale.   I let the breath fill my downward dog pose.   I observe my thoughts without judgement.

I am observing thoughts of tacos.   There is a apparently a robust Chicano population in Eugene: on my walk to the studio I passed at least half a dozen taquerias, one smelling more enticing than the next.   

Tacovore must be a local favorite, judging by the long lines at all times of day; but should I choose one of the more-authentic taco shacks further down the street?  I am doing my best not to judge these thoughts.  But still, I wonder, is it permissible to judge the tacos themselves?

 

Listen to your body; it will tell you what it needs.

Mudra Yoga is my second Eugene studio. Like the first, it is light and airy, and white people with dreadlocks are well-represented among its clientele.   It is Saturday morning, I have not slept well, and my body is being particularly inarticulate about its preferences.   I think my body is telling me that it needs caffeine.   Maybe from that cute little coffee shop I passed on the way here…where was it, exactly?   I observe these thoughts and try to let them pass, but they settle in for the duration.

 

Urban Yoga Spa in Seattle is not donation-based:   it is a vigorous celebration of commerce right in the heart of the shopping district.  There are scores of payment options, none of them needs-tested.   Weekly!   Monthly!   Packaged with a facial and a massage!   And if you have more money burning a hole in your pocket on your way into class, you can buy outfits!

 

The studio here is anything but light and airy:  it is huge, windowless, painted gray, crammed with bodies – 50, 60, maybe more – for a popular after-work session.   And it is heated, steam-heated, to 105 degrees. 

I am observing thoughts of mildew.   They fill this place with heat and steam six or seven times a day.   And there are no windows.   How can they ever air it out?  

I exhale.  I inhale.   I fill my downward dog pose with breath, and probably also with mold spores.

No dreadlocks in this downtown Seattle studio, and no ripped T-shirts; but lots of Lululemon wrapped around perfectly-sculpted bodies.   20-something bodies, 30-something bodies.  I look around eagerly for other middle-aged patrons, and I’m delighted to see a man on the other side of the room whose hairline suggests that he and I might be of similar vintage.   But on closer inspection (difficult enough in this steamy room, especially when my attention is supposedly focused inward, observing those thoughts I am not judging), I find that he’s just another 20- or 30-something.  Bald By Choice.   Alas.

This is your practice, nobody else’s.  Listen to your body; it will tell you what it needs.

CJ, the teacher in this Seattle class, intones these phrases even as he spits out rapid-fire Boot Camp style instructions.    The perfect-bodied, Lululemon’d blonde to my left has apparently taken him at his word, since she stays inert, in child’s pose, for the first half of class.   Good, I think—I can be my middle-aged self here in the studio steambath, faux-baldies notwithstanding, finding my own balance of exertion and ease.

Then suddenly my blonde neighbor unfolds and launches herself into an absolutely flawless and utterly impossible arm balance – a Flying Llama or an Inverted Bound Red-Crested Chickadee – which she holds for an improbably long time.  After which she folds herself back into child’s pose, where she stays for the rest of class.

My body is telling me I need a shower and a nap.   And who am I to judge that?

Comments

From Megan Gerber (H) | On March 03, 2017 @06:14 am
I love my mildew and I love my..... This post made my day!
From Diane | On February 26, 2017 @08:40 am
Perfect! Keep on, keepin on, Laurie, with your mid-life aged body (which, by the way, you neglect to say is fabulously fit and strong) in yoga classes across the land. Keen eye and sharp wit included. Love it.

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