Friday, July 08, 2022

Like a handprint on my heart

Sometimes you luck into situations, people, places with no particular intention. 

And they change you in some way, small or even fundamentally.

Later you have to think long and hard to remember how your life was before.

Back when I was internet dating like a second job, married friends would occasionally suggest that I was trying too hard.

"It's because you're looking. You need to stop looking."

"You'll meet someone when you least expect it. That's how I met my husband." 

They'd say some version of this.

One suggested I lower my standards.

And I'd silently be all fuck you very much and discuss with my similarly-single girlfriends how really, if we weren't looking, how were we actually going to encounter a man we might like to kiss, much less marry?

Anyway, my dating life is not actually the point of this.

The point is yoga. 

Sort of.

The fall before the pandemic, after I'd left my office job and had weekday flexibility, my friend Tracy told me that I should start going to Asrat's classes. He was, in a word, incredible.

So I walked into his class, with students of a range of ages, where everyone already seemed to know each other.

Asrat is like nobody else I've ever known. He has a huge heart and an intense personality. He was a mixed martial arts champion who, after years of competing, and ultimately injury, discovered yoga.

His yoga teaching mixes in martial arts, for those who are familiar with both yoga and martial arts, which I am not. It's power yoga, I think?, with his own personal twist on everything. Every time you master a pose or part of a sequence, he notches it up and makes it harder.

His favorite thing to say is, "Nothing is impossible." Said while asking us to do seemingly impossible things.

But I digress. This yoga, it was challenging. Because Asrat pushes you to challenge yourself.

It was hard in a way that resonated with me. I'm not flexible, but I'm strong, and I'm so very stubborn. Week by week, I saw myself improve. 

Incrementally, but still. It felt good.

And then the world shut down. 

I missed everything, as we all did. I missed yoga, and I missed my new friends. I didn't know anyone well, but I liked them. I felt connected.

Then Asrat started teaching online. So I did Zoom classes multiple days a week. We did this for months and months.

And at some point friend Kathleen was Zooming in from a gorgeous living room in a beautiful house in a spectacular location. Where, we all wanted to know, was this magical land?


So we started joking: When the pandemic ends, we're going to do a yoga retreat in Montana. Kathleen, can't wait to come to Montana for our yoga retreat!

We talked about it regularly, in a low-key fantasy sort of way.

Then we started doing Saturday yoga in-person outside on an office roof downtown. I looked forward to in-person Saturdays so much. We did yoga in freezing temperatures in hats and jackets and in sweltering ones with copious sunscreen and sunglasses. 

Those who couldn't be there in person still Zoomed in. This is one of my favorite photos from the roof.

Eventually we started doing masked in-person yoga inside. At that point we were all vaccinated and there were only 2-3 of us at a time. Eventually we moved to unmasked.

Which, in Covid, took a tremendous level of trust.

And as we spent more time together, cheering each other on in both yoga and personal victories, and struggling together in increasingly difficult classes, we forged an intense group friendship.

I mean, being corrected in yoga is pretty personal, and being vulnerable and working so hard takes an immense amount of trust.

So when Kathleen said she was absolutely serious about hosting us in Montana, our little group started talking schedules and working to make it real.

For months it would come up every time we saw each other. We were giddy with anticipation.

And last month, five of us flew out to join Kathleen in the magical land of Montana. (One of us is included in my heart, but omitted, by request, online.)

It was glorious.

Tracy and I flew a day before the others, and we stayed a cabin just outside Glacier. 

Kathleen gave us bear spray for our hike. Bear spray! 

Here Kathleen and Tracy demonstrate, although apparently you want to use it before the bear gets that close.

(India later asked if you use it like bug spray and I was all, uh, no.)

We awoke super early, and Tracy, who is even less of a morning person than me, and less nature-y, and more food motivated, said, "OK. We go do The Thing in Glacier and then we meet our friends for lunch."

The Thing: hiking to Avalanche Lake.

And then we joined new arrivals for lunch and all headed to Kathleen's house. On a lovely, deep, clean lake

This view was ours for a week. I took versions of this photo every single day.

Only our morning schedule was strict: up at 6:00 am, yoga 7:30--10:30 or 11:00, and then we prepared and ate a large meal. We had down time, then a hike or nap or swim in the lake or really whatever. And then yoga again in the evening, then prepared and ate dinner. 

Half an hour per day of phone use. We gave our people Asrat's number for emergencies.

I feared this would be terribly hard. In truth, it was such a relief. When do we get to divest ourselves of the obligation to respond to everything?

I thought we might split up in our down time, but in fact we all wanted to do things together. We all went on hikes. We all wanted to see the waterfall.

One person headed down to the lake, and eventually, we'd all trickle down.

The only activity we didn't all do was the insanely hard bike ride up a mountain. We left that to Kathleen and Asrat.

I also thought we'd be in bed by 9:00 pm, ten at the latest.

But the Montana skies are delightfully light so late, and we all had so much to do, so much to say. We knew each other mainly in the studio or online. But we knew very little of each other's backstories.

And you know how much I love a life story.

Even the strongest among us has vulnerabilities. Otherwise we wouldn't be human. Or truly able to connect. And I love those moments of deep connection.

I never envisioned myself getting really into yoga.

When I told Wendy that I'd gotten so invested in my yoga classes she said, "That's really funny. I remember years ago asking you if you did yoga and you said it mostly seemed like a bunch of people farting in a hot room."

I don't remember saying that, but it does sound like me, so I'm willing to own it.

Truly, I don't know what I thought yoga was, but I wasn't looking for what I got.

I wandered into Asrat's classes looking for a workout. With my early foray into yoga with other teachers, that's more or less what I got.

But looking back to those classes, my form wasn't correct. My poses had no life. I really didn't get it.

I don't know that I totally "get" it, but I'm way closer. I still struggle with breathing correctly. I have not yet managed to visualize myself.

But in the wretchedness of the pandemic I found physical and emotional challenge while building a profound connection to a small group of people.

Asrat and this yoga community pulled me through some of the darkest moments of pandemic isolation and exhaustion and depression.

In a Covid world gone scary and weird and empty and often devoid of joy, I ceased to regularly change my clothes or bathe, but I always showed up for Zoom yoga.

So with the opportunity to spend a weekan entire, uninterrupted, glorious weektogether, we reveled.

We stayed up late, so late, talking and laughing. We laughed and laughed.

I mean, not every minute. One day I actually cried. Yoga pulled the anxiety out of my depths, up to the surface. Tracy said she looked over at me in class and was sure I was going to cry.

It was like a Dementor had flown by. I felt empty and joyless and utterly devastated.

I assumed it was because it was hour three and I was starving. But as it turns out, intense yoga will extract emotional pain.

After class I sobbed, while one of my friends, who is a therapist, hugged me. She said to just let it go. I cried until I was exhausted. And then I was lighter.

But overwhelmingly in this week, what I experienced was tremendous joy.

The laughter and joy stood out to those who saw us together. Several people we met remarked on it.

We just had all this great energy swirling around us like stardust.

One morning after yoga we took a field trip to a store called Booze 'N Bait. 

We entered as tourists, not even pretending not to be astounded by the volume of weaponry and taxidermy. We posed. We took photos of everything. We bought liquor and logo hats and glasses. 

We giggled.

I was checking out last, and the rest of our group had gone ahead outside. 

A man in the store said to the woman at the register, "That sure was a jolly bunch."

I will be honest; I wasn't looking for friends when I walked into yoga. I mean, I'm friendly. I wasn't looking for adversaries or anything.

I was mainly just looking for a workout.

Which sounds so trite, considering.

Now, on our retreat we did some very hard things. We each worked up to poses we hadn't thought possible. We supported--both emotionally and physically--each other into headstands, handstands, etc. Some of these are scary, at least for me.

Honestly, I felt quite proud.

But what stands out in my mind from our trip is not the physical accomplishment. It is the connection and friendship.

There have been times in my life when I've had to search deep to find something to be grateful for. And then there are times like this, where my gratitude spills over.

Sometimes we luck into what we need the most.

(And sometimes, let's be frank, we fart alone in a hot room. Or anyway, I do. But better than on a plane, I can tell you that for sure.)