All it takes for me to feel good is to walk in and put down my mat.
I really like my new yoga studio. It’s small, a single storefront room, with brick walls and limited HVAC (more precisely: decent H, questionable V, and no AC whatsoever). A mural fills the studio’s eastern wall.
This mural offers ample opportunities for contemplation, primarily on the topic of why this boddhisatva has no nipples. Also whether the cobra-as-neck-wrap is really the right accessory choice, especially when paired with multiple necklaces and bracelets, to boot.
I’m in a new studio because I recently moved into the city. I loved my studio in the ‘burbs, which had reliably wonderful teachers, and a clientele that invariably included others of my own vintage. There is nothing I’d rather see, walking into a yoga class, than wrinkles and gray hair. This new studio mirrors the demographic of my new neighborhood, which skews a bit younger than my old one. The median resident of Boston’s South End is around 34; and to judge from this group, she has excellent balance.
My own balance? Not so great, especially when I’m standing on the leg with the Bad Knee. I watch in admiration as most of the group pops into full wheel pose – quite out of my reach, two years after rotator cuff surgery.
But child’s pose is always an option, for all of us.
While it’s not quite my demographic, I respond to the warmth of this place, and I find myself coming here as often as I can. I’m not alone: it's a small studio, and classes tend to be crowded. As an introvert, I generally prefer a more spacious experience. Still, I recognize the crowds as a good sign: it means the business is doing well. Which means the nipple-free boddhisatva should be here for me to contemplate for years to come.
I am the top decapitated Warrior in the column that runs down the side of my screen. In the middle, much larger, is the yoga teacher, masked. There are a handful of students, also masked, in the studio, spaced more than six feet apart. I cannot imagine doing yoga while wearing a mask. My pod is awaiting its final round of vaccines; so I’m not ready to chance an indoor class just yet, in any event.
But there are online classes, many of them; and I have been taking them pretty much daily since the onset of the pandemic. Suburban and Nipple-Free both moved promptly online when the world shut down in March, 2020. Suburban charges its full price for its online sessions, and has preserved its full schedule. Nipple-free offers online classes at about half the in-studio price, and has gradually pared back its offerings. I pay for the broadest available subscriptions to both: it’s been a brutal year for these businesses, and I want them both to survive.
I miss that sense of calm and release I used to feel just from walking into the yoga studio. But there are advantages to practicing at home. Convenience, certainly: I can be in a class within minutes of finishing my last Zoom meeting of the day. Even better: my balance turns out to be much better with nobody else in the room.
I am wondering why my Good Knee is now nearly as sore as my Bad Knee: Child’s Pose is becoming a tricky proposition. But when the instructor suggests Full Wheel, I lift right up.
Every few weeks I walk past the storefront where Nipple-Free used to be, to see if the For Rent sign is still up. After more than a year, it still is. The blinds are drawn, so I can’t check the status of the oddly-accessorized boddhisatva.
Suburban, on the other hand, is thriving: they have opened two new studios, including one in my neighborhood, in collaboration with a local fast-casual natural food chain. I go to this new studio sometimes, since it’s now my most convenient option, and there are a few teachers whom I quite like. I don’t love Suburban's new city location, though. It's too shiny and too cramped. What I feel when I walk in isn't peace so much as a business plan: if we can fit 24 mats, at $20 per student, and we can teach six classes a day….
I still do plenty of classes at home, via Zoom; but it’s always a treat to go to a live class. This new Suburban branch is usually crowded, however; and post-pandemic, it’s hard to feel the same way about a jam-packed class. If COVID positivity rates are 2% and there are 15 students plus a teacher in the class, then if I’m doing the math right, there is roughly a one in three chance that I am spending 75 minutes in this very small room with someone who is infectious.
There is roughly a one in four chance I am doing the math right.
I've found yet another new studio, a little farther away, which does a better job with that feel-good-when-you-walk-in-the-door experience. It’s a fourth-floor walk-up in an older commercial building. The main classroom is ample, with huge, high ceilings and exposed beams. There are more cubic feet of air; that matters, these days. The studio is right around the corner from the Berkeley School of Music, and not far from the New England Conservatory. When the class chants the occasional Om, the pitch is flawless.
I am getting better at balancing on one foot with other people in the room, at least on some days. In the past year, an MRI has revealed exactly what tissues have torn in the knee formerly known as my Good Knee (now just known as My Knee). I can’t fully bend either leg, so Child’s Pose is pretty much gone, almost certainly for good. I know I can lift up to Full Wheel, but these days I mostly don’t want to. On the other hand after eight years of regular yoga practice, my head now reaches the floor in a straddle fold; and perhaps in the next year or so I’ll gain the core strength to lift from there into a headstand.
I have surely been spared from much of the hardship of the last few years; but it’s been a maelstrom of change for us all. My home, my body; the world and my sense of safety in it. Businesses closed, and opened; routines busted and re-formed. Tissues rendered; muscles strengthened. Vertigo, literal and figurative, ebbs and flows.
Yoga has helped through all of it. I am grateful for the chance to do something in my body that gets me out of my head. I am grateful for the time to myself; grateful for my sticky mat; grateful for the fact that while Child’s Pose is gone, Downward Dog still feels pretty good. Most of the time.
I am grateful for the teachers who remind me, again and again, to stay focused, to come back to my breath; for the teachers who begin each class with those words that center us so firmly in the here and now:
“Can the people on Zoom hear me?"