Possessing a disorganized mind, I do what I must to keep my life in order, labeling files and jotting down lists as I go through my day. But ordering my free time would feel like sheer nonsense. I’m simply not capable of doing it. Blissfully, Monday night yoga releases me from that responsibility. Once a week, someone else leads and all I have to do is follow along.
I attend only “Beginner” classes, although I’ve been practicing yoga for at least 15 years and could do all the poses relatively easily from the beginning. I am naturally flexible, and as a teenager I was a competitive gymnast. The familiarity with my own limbs that sport gave me has stayed with me all my life. In my twenties, before I became a writer, I generally attended challenging Vinyasa Flow classes, the kind that keep you moving the entire time and offer an intense workout. But that has changed.
When I write, working on a personal essay or my book, which is a memoir of my mother’s mental illness and the ways it shaped our family, I work with difficult memories. And when I draw them up these memories invade my tissues. They climb into my muscle fibers, hunker down in my joints, tug on the fascia. I get knots in my shoulder blades, headaches, spots that pinch in my wrists when, as a massage therapist explained to me, the sheath around the nerve that runs down each arm tightens and pulls. Showing up at yoga in this condition, it is the stretching that matters above all else. I live for poses that open up the hips and shoulders, like that brilliant one called the Pigeon Pose, which pulls on the body’s largest muscle, the gluteus maximus, and leaves you almost gasping with the mix of intensity and relief that only grows the longer you stay in position. I get light-headed just thinking about it.
Sometimes, in the middle of a writing project and finding myself stalled, I’ll start relaxing into the yoga practice and suddenly discover that the breathing and stretching has released something in my mind, so that the sentences start rolling again, mid-pose. I’ll have to stop and tiptoe across the room to the cubbies, digging in my purse for my notebook and pen and then perching quietly on the bench by the door while I scribble out a thought to catch it before it slips away. I’ve learned that if I feel the urge to stop like this once, I’ll likely do it again in the same session, so when I creep back to my mat to rejoin the class I take my notebook with me and set it within reach. My teacher, bless her, professes not to mind.