I start in child’s pose, stretched out and beginning to open. My breathing is unsure, though I’m trying to right it. I’m eager to begin, to do what I came to do; but I’m not warm yet, and things must move in phases.
I grow taller into tabletop, add in a few cat-cow stretches to find new height and a new range of motion. I’m bigger here, and freer. The motion is exciting and I’m ready for more.
Extend the right leg, says the instructor; and the left arm, too. Suddenly, my muscles are engaged. It’s not that it’s difficult, it just requires a little more focus, a little more work. I’m instantly nostalgic for that child’s pose, and how it was so peaceful. I’m committed to the practice, though, and the only path is forward into what comes next.
Push up into down dog. Settle into it, pedal the feet. Check yourself, your alignment—your wrists, your hips, your toes. Be sure of your foundation. What feels challenging now will be a glorious place of rest later on. It will be something certain to come back to.
I lift the right leg high, bend the knee, open the hips. Now, the instructor chants, knee-to-nose! Now knee to right elbow! Now knee to left elbow! Extend that leg! Stretch up! Fallen star. I feel the pricks of perspiration in my pores, stinging over my skin and now heated muscles. Before, on my knees, it felt like hard work. It’s harder now, but I’m ready for it. We reset to the center and wake up the left side.
Then, I tiptoe to the front of the mat, actually sweating now, and realizing that was the whole point. That was the warm up. I stretch like a mountain, swan dive to the mat, lift halfway to stretch my back. I do it again, and I savor it, knowing that when it’s done, I’ll have to sink into a chair that isn’t there. I’ll have to stand and balance of my own power. Just when that starts to burn, I’ll bring my hands to prayer, I’ll twist to the right or to the left, and then, I’ll step a foot back. The prayer makes sense—I need faith to be steady. Hold the crescent lunge, open your heart with a bind.
Sometimes people ask me if I do yoga because I find it relaxing. There are moments of rest and deep peace. I forget that in a high lunge, when the burn in my thigh screams for me to stretch my leg, and not only do I not give in, I have to insist that we push further. Slowly rise: modified warrior three. I use the exhausted leg to balance all of my weight forward, the other leg stretching and driving out behind. It’s shaky, but that doesn’t matter. Continue. Bring the leg through to standing, lift the leg forward and bend the knee. Cross the leg into standing figure four, then bow. Surrender to the fire in your legs and your core muscles. All you can do is breathe into it.
From here, the instructor grants much freedom. Sometimes it is good and right to stay where you are. You have to want to go deeper. I slowly stand, still on one leg. Bring it back up in front, twist to one side. Grab the foot and extend it in front of you. At this point, my hands are slick with sweat, and I wonder if my hands themselves are sweating or if it’s traveled from someplace else. My thighs shake in duress. They admonish me to rest. But I think, I have to try this.
I always fall from dancing shiva, but I at least get there. I clasp on to that foot and I straighten it out and every time, I smile. Sometimes I laugh, because I’m so happy to have made it. I worked my way up and I rose to the challenge, and I got there. I stumble trying to transition out, but somehow this is always funny. I love Sandy’s class because she giggles with me. Yes, laugh when you teeter, laugh when you fall. It’s bound to happen—but only if you’re doing it. Not falling means you never put in the work in the first place.
Eventually, things wind down. I find my way to the floor. We play games, trying to stand like grasshoppers or rocking like babies. We reward ourselves for our efforts. Massage your feet, the instructor always says. Reverse those forward folds. Show your legs some love. Before this, I never thought to thank my body. As I sink into long, deep stretches, I’m so aware of all that’s passed. I’m outgrowing it all, and I’m honoring it.
Then I die. I always come into shavasana happy. It’s delightful to find stillness and rest after the intensity of the workout, but it also means that I saw the thing through from beginning to end. All of it suddenly becomes what it was, and it matters only in that it brought me to this point: final rest.
Yoga is my preferred medium for exercise. It’s good to find something that you can do, so as not to be discouraged, but that also challenges you. Yoga has healed parts of my body, and the older I get, the more emphasis I understand must be placed on our physical health. Morgan told me once, “You have to treat the body first.”
But darn it if it isn’t also the most gorgeous metaphor for life. I act out a lifetime on my mat, from birth to dying. I grow into new challenges, which I sometimes succeed at, and sometimes I fall. I’ve stopped using the word fail; instead, I try again. Trying again is never failing. I learn to accept areas that require more attention and strengthening. I learn to celebrate where I excel. In both, I smile and call attention to my divine DNA. This is who I want to be in practice, but it’s also who I want to be all the time.
For me, yoga is surrender and confidence all at once. Because I can do something on the mat, I’ve found that I can do things off of it, too.