Brave Little Yogi

I did a brave thing the other day: I went to yoga.

No, it’s not Firefighter-Level bravery, but it was – for me – big. I have been living in this small city two years now, not counting the four that I spent during my undergraduate years. It’s an odd place – gritty and working-class and “a dump” are all different ways I’ve heard it described. I think all three are true.

It dawned on me awhile back, while talking with my therapist at the time, that some of the anxiety I was feeling then was in part due to feeling lonely. I have a web of beautiful weirdos I call my friends and family; they are more dear to me than my own self. But they’re not here, in this city. They’re there, nearby, or over there, a little farther. Seen regularly, but still: not here. In the age of the Internet and constant job churn and endless graduate degrees, relationships get scattered. And with technology being what it is, it is quick – though not simple – to stay in touch, and keep the connections alive.

And so, I went to yoga.

Week after week this summer, I have driven by a cute yoga studio and been curious. So after a long week of babysitting (rife with “I don’t like you’s” because, no, chocolate chips don’t count as breakfast) I decided to sign up for a class. I figured the “Happy Hour Yoga” with a post-class glass of wine would be a good way to break the ice.

I did what any sane person interested in this studio would do: I Googled it. And spent a few days looking at their Facebook and Instagram.  Would it be friendly? Or zen? Or filled with skinny Lululemon clones? Cut to a few hours before the class: scrolling through Instagram and Facebook (again) to see what kind of people go to this studio, as if looking at the website for the 67th time would make know who was there and what to say and how to act. Would I have to start conversations with people, or would they chat with me first? I very conscientiously picked out a cool Beatles t-shirt to wear increase the chance of having a “Go-To” tidbit about myself. (Writing that is embarrassing. The truth will set you free, but not without embarrassing you first.)

As I parked, I noticed the parking lot was not very full – fine, I’m 10 minutes early, just like the websites said to be if you’re new!! I approached the door sort of from the side, because for some reason, the thought of approaching it head on seemed aggressive and like it would shine a spotlight on me. It looked just like it did in the pictures online; good, this yoga studio is not filled with liars and people who use stock images. A good sign.

I entered to find only the owner and one other woman, and after checking in and an awkward little chit chat about how the owner and I are both Kates, I awkwardly hung up my sweater and took off my sandals. The class itself was great. I forgot that yoga in a studio kicks your butt because you can’t hit “Pause” on the teacher. Mentally, too, it was a genuine challenge for me to quiet my mind and match breath to movement. (I suppose that’s the real benefit of class – that call to be mindful and present in community, that call to resist the urge to compare and despair). I failed a lot, and forgot the names of poses, and definitely wore the wrong shirt because it was a more active practice than I anticipated. But there were also good moments.

At the end of class, we all went to sit in the lobby and have a very generous glass of wine. (My kind of studio!) I’m not sure why in my head, Happy Hour Yoga would be filled with lots of naturally cheerful, chatty women who would intimidate me by their sheer yoga bliss, or why I thought it would be like a cocktail party at work where everyone is looking to find that one person they can glom onto for the night. In my worry about how to work a room full of people, I never got the opportunity to worry about an intimate group of strangers. That was for the best.

I found myself with two women probably 10 and 15 years older than me, with probably a quarter of a bottle of wine in my glass, with a heart and ears open to listen. Am I going to brunch this weekend with these ladies? No. But I learned that the owner has two children, and another on the way; that business is slow to start; that my anxiety is dwarfed by her real risk in this venture. I learned that my fellow yogi uses her art degree and sculpture skills to arrange displays for Macy’s, and has tried every studio in the city. And I learned that doing the thing that seems hard is good and vital and not at all like you imagine. It is different, maybe better, maybe just what you need.


Living the Questions at the Kitchen Table

If you are lucky enough to get time for vacation, you know that the week leading up to time away is a slog. The hours pass slower, and slower, and slower, until the clock seems frozen. The work feels more tedious and all you notice is how tired you are and tense; how urgent a break is.

What a gift it is to retreat and relax. This past week I stayed in the Adirondacks with my entire family. The environment up there is stunning: dark curves of mountain against pale blue sky, every shade of green dancing on the leaves, lakes as rich as sapphires. My muscles began to melt, and the weight of my body relaxed. My mind was at ease, concerning itself only with what book to read next or what snack to munch on. Success was measured by how much time I spent laughing or laying in the sunshine.

When I am there, my heart becomes extra tender and I feel a sense of yearning: everything seems simpler up at the lake. I have always had a soft spot for the wilderness, which might explain why I moved to Kentucky after graduation or why I love the parts of the Gospel where Jesus retreats to find some solitude. I am introverted by nature, and a lover of solitude by nurture. The tall pines and the mist in the valley seem to protect and nurture that.

I am tempted by the dream that living in such a place would bring those things I seek most: freedom, peace, joy. If only I were there, not here…. If only I were able to retreat…If only I could get away from the anxieties of my day to day life. Life would be just that much richer.

But then I realize I am only dreaming. Life is complicated everywhere, and in different ways. And our human longing does not leave when we “escape” to anywhere. The questions are there – in the desert or the mountains or the suburbs – and they are waiting to be lived, regardless of the environment. The questions are there, too, in the midst of a busy work week or in folding four loads of laundry or in checking email at 7 a.m. But maybe escaping the ordinariness of our lives is the easy road. It is true that some have the vocation to live a solitary or secluded life, but it’s truer that most of us do not. It is harder to live the questions at the kitchen table than in an Adirondack chair with toes in the sand.

Clearly a time to retreat is necessary. “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain,” says Matthew at the start of Chapter 5. Luke 6:12 mentions that Jesus “went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God.” And yet it would be a mistake to stop there. What follows in each passage is a return to community and great wisdom: the Beatitudes. The yearning for a break, for a little clarity and simplicity, is a call to Wisdom. We need to heed that call, but we also need to recognize what that wisdom is for: the here, the now, the ordinary community in which we find ourselves. We need to heed that call for our own peace, and for the world’s.