After four months away, I returned to my gentle yoga class last week. I knew it was time to get on my mat, to reconnect with my body, to stretch to my soft edges. But equally important, I was longing to reconnect with my community, to practice with my teacher and my regular classmates, and to be received with so many hugs and welcome backs.
But my teacher was on vacation so the substitute didn’t know I had been absent for so long. And it was a smaller than usual class and I only knew four people. After some lovely hugging hellos, I found a spot at the back of the room. I unrolled my mat, arranged my gray and red striped blanket on top, positioned my bolster near one end and set my blocks and a belt on the floor. And I stepped onto my mat.
I breathed in, slowly raising my arms over my head, open to the sky, I exhaled, lowering my arms, bringing my palms together at my heart. And I cried.
Just to be back, to recommit to my practice, to show up as a beginner who can no longer touch her toes.
I laid on my mat with the bolster under my knees and settled in. I watched the fan turning above me. I listened to the Sanskrit words begin sung on a CD. I slowly moved my knees and hips side to side, easing into my body, welcoming myself to my practice.
The teacher began class with a poem about letting go. We breathed and stretched into our arms and legs, and with each exhale came the invitation to let go.
At first I was disappointed, I had expectations for the class, for the experience. Knowing how my usual teacher leads the class, I had already figured out where I would ease up, what I would do and what I would stay in child’s pose for.
But then I let go of that too.
We opened our practice in a sitting position and I was surprised how comfortable it was to sit, cross legged on my bolster. Before my whole back journey, my right hip was too tight to sit comfortably for very long.
We began with three group Oms, but my voice quivered and everything got stuck in my throat. On the third Om I was able to get some sound out and join in.
We laid on our backs and raised our legs, straight up. A shot of sciatica pain surprised me and I may have said ouch out loud. And then I eased up, stretched less, and kept breathing. Just keep letting go, the teacher said.
We did some gentle hip openers, rotated our feet and moved into happy baby pose, where you lie on your back and grab the soles of your feet, ankles directly over your knees, and you rock, gently, like a happy baby. I had never been able to comfortably grab my right foot and hold it in the proper alignment, but now I could.
I couldn’t hold the pose as long as everyone else, and that was OK for me. I laid back on my mat and rested. And cried. Not for any reason. Not because I hurt. I was simply letting go.
I spent most of the class crying, tears running down my face, snot pooling in my nose, breathing in and letting go. I had no Kleenex, so I just wiped my face on my t-shirt, as if it were sweat.
When we paired up for a partner stretch, my friend asked, “allergies?” and I said, “no, crying…just letting go.” And she smiled, “yeah, I know that one.” And we held onto each other’s forearms and leaned back for a deep and sweet full back stretch.
One of our last poses was Tree, a balancing pose where you shift all of your weight to one leg, ground yourself, then place your other foot either against the calf or inner thigh (never over the knee). Your arms are raised up over your head, palms touching, in prayer position.
I used to be able to hold the pose and enjoy my breath moving through me as I stood, strong, tall, balanced. Today, I knew I would need the wall. I chose the easiest version of the pose, with my foot just turned so that the heal rested against my supporting leg, so that I could focus on how it felt to shift my weight with intention and trust the support of my hips and legs again. I wasn’t ready to add balancing to the pose.
And then, finally, we moved into Shavasana, corpse pose, a position of rest and yes, letting go. A few more tears dripped down the side of my eyes, onto my blanket. And I could feel more space inside of me, more calm, more ease.
After class, I chatted with a friend and then approached a woman who I’ve been practicing with for years but we’re always on opposite sides of the room. Today she was next to me.
How are you, I asked her. Her eyes were watery, her body seemed heavy, even though she is a size 2 with no body fat. Didn’t your husband recently die? She looked me in the eyes and said yes, it will be a year on Friday. About this time last year, he was starting to fade.
How are you, I asked again.
He wasn’t in any pain. So that was good. And we all knew it was coming. I thought I was prepared.
Yeh, I said, there’s some things you can’t prepare for.
But there’s a lot of joy in my life right now. I’m going to have another granddaughter. Next Tuesday. By Caesarian.
So there is joy. she said.
And grief, I said.
Yes. Again she looked at me and I reached in to give her a hug but I felt like I would crush her if I gave her a full on body wrapping hug, and so we did more of a nice to see you embrace and it was exactly what we both needed.
The following week my regular teacher returned, the room was filled with familiar faces and full on hugs. And even though I was careful, and came out of most poses before everyone else, I did too much. That afternoon I wrenched my lower back and have been pretty tender since.
I realize I need to move much slower than even my gentle class. And so yes, I am back on my mat, finding my own pace, my own soft edges, all over again.