Characters: Robert, manager; Riviera, yoga teacher
Morning embraced me with warmth, brightness, and a caressing breeze. I was in the right place at the right time. I had been absorbed by the environment. I was part of my surroundings. I had stowed yoga onto a back burner for months. I needed to stretch my muscles.
I started with the corpse pose, my favorite. With the door open, I lay on my mat in the living room but my back resisted lying flat. Knots worked to hold my posture erect rather than relaxed. I had no idea I had been carrying this amount of tension, trying to hold myself together. Breathing deeply and slowly from my abdomen, I convinced my body it was safe to let go. I would not fall apart.
As the sun rose, I began with Sun Salutation A, the Mountain Pose, standing straight, feet together, arms down. The vessel rocking with the waves interfered with balance, producing shakiness. Maybe I should wait for the class. I’d be on solid ground.
Robert walked by and waved, “Everything all right?” he asked. I was surprised by his sensitivity. His air of nonchalance must be a cover-up for being an introvert, not knowing how to start a conversation.
“I’m fine, thanks. Just practicing yoga.”
“Better you than me. Boring. Exercising in place does nothing for me. I’d rather run. I end up thinking about all the work I should be doing instead of wasting my time,” he said as he walked down toward the end of the dock, shutting out any response from me. ‘Frequently wrong, never in doubt,’ shot through my brain.
As I ambled down the dock and up the hill toward Cafe Bleu, I was hoping to develop friendships within this group of women who were easy to talk to and shared the same interests as I did. As I entered the restaurant, Sam, the bartender shouted with a smile, “What will you have?”
“Nothing, thanks. I came for yoga.”
“That’s too bad. Maybe on your way out.” Maybe that wasn’t a bad idea. I felt as if it were the first day of school. Grow up, I told myself. Get a grip.
There were eight women rolling out their mats. Riviera greeted me, “Glad you could make it. There are blankets, blocks, and straps on the shelves over there, in case you want to use them as props. I want everyone to feel at ease and comfortable. No judgments. No criticism. Each of us can do only what we can do.” I felt part of the group already; happy that I showed up.
The others sat on their mats, bare feet together, hands on their feet, and most were flexible enough to lower their knees to the mat. My knees, by contrast, were at least 12 inches above the mat. I couldn’t push them any further down. Riviera came over with two blocks and put them under my knees. “You’ll be more comfortable using the blocks. It takes time to train the knees to lie flat,” she advised. I doubt if my knees will ever achieve that, I thought. I was glad I was at the back of the class so no one, except Riviera, could see my shoddy performance.
Graciously, Riviera asked, “Let’s get to know each other. Please introduce yourself and share any concerns you have about your body.” What should I admit? My knees are not what they used to be.
Surprisingly, several women, younger than me, complained of pulled muscles that restrict certain poses. I began to feel more comfortable. One woman admitted to being anxious and fighting depression associated with her mother’s diagnosis of breast cancer. These comments were met with encouraging words from the group. Maybe I will fit in.
“Thanks for your honesty. As a group, we are sharing what is called ‘energy up,’ meaning through yoga stale energy moves out and is replaced by lifting energy. By addressing your physical and/or emotional shortfalls, we work together to lift our energies. Collectively, we have the power to overcome the negative, with the possibility of achieving the positive.” I felt hopeful, as if I found my place.
“We will start at the beginning with Sun Salutation A. Please don’t push yourself. If you are uncomfortable, stop and do the Upward Salute, which is standing up with arms above your head. This posture stretches the shoulders, arms, and belly. Hold for 1 to 5 breaths. In short, yoga is not meant to be strenuous but steadily integrates breathing, physical poses, and a mind that focuses on the present.”
Riviera led us through 14 poses, repeated four times, over a period of one hour. I was sweaty but rejuvenated. “You have done very well. Please return to the lotus position on your mats. I have an announcement. Each of you expressed your personal concerns. Now it is my turn. I don’t want to burden you with my dilemma but I invite you to return tomorrow at the same time for Sun Salutation B which will be part of my healing process.”
“What do you need to work out?” I asked. “If you don’t want to tell us, I understand.”
“No, I want you all to know. As you have probably guessed, I am a Native American, a member of the Tonkawa tribe. For centuries, we lived here along the Colorado and Guadalupe Rivers. Now, there are approximately 826 of us left, most live on a reservation in Oklahoma. I am an advocate for our tribe. And I need your help to lift my energy for my mission to become successful.”
Our interest piqued, all of us agreed to return tomorrow to assist Riviera with whatever her mission was meant to be.