So, you are now a yoga studio owner?
In Gayle’s 9 a.m. Thursday morning Vinyasa class the volume within and without was building. Gayle plays stirring music, some traditional yoga music, some surprises. I might find my fingers drumming along to Bobbi McFerrin singing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” in a hip-opener or interrupt the steady flow of inhale and exhale singing out loud to “Brighter than the Sun.” Plenty of the music isn’t so familiar; Gayle’s practice is guaranteed to pull me in, heat me up, and wring me out.
A Vinyasa practice links breath to movement and usually features any number of demanding poses, and repetitions of four-pointed staff pose (Chataranga Dandasana), upward-facing dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) and downward-facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). These three poses work the shoulders in a way that until recently my shoulder had been unwilling to accommodate. For the last month or so, I’ve been moving into a more demanding flow and experiencing the rich rewards associated with hard work.
We were really warm Thursday morning and Gayle called for three-legged downward facing dog. Right legs lifted behind us all around the room and Gayle asked us to draw our right knees in tight to our chests, coiled like panthers about to spring. “Place your knee between your hands, back toes walk back, Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, one-legged pigeon pose.” Pigeon is a hip-opening pose, the front leg traditionally bent so that the shin rests parallel to the front edge of the yoga mat, the back leg extending all the way back, toes untucked. If you melt your heart forward, it becomes almost restorative and certainly is easier to hold. I lifted my heart instead. Next I lifted my back foot, reaching back for it with my left hand. The foot nestled in the crook of my elbow and I breathed into the sweet quadriceps stretch. Then I surprised myself. I tried something I had never tried before. Releasing the handhold, I squeezed my foot in toward my back with my hamstring, I turned my hand over, found my foot again, and grasped the slippery big toe with my hand, rotating my elbow toward the ceiling. The next move was to lift up through my core, extend my heart upward and ease my head back toward my foot. For the first time ever, I could feel my hair with my foot. I squeezed everything a little more and grazed my head with my toe. It was awkward and wobbly, but I brought my head to my foot in full Eka Pada Rajakapotasana or Crown Pigeon. The experiment was similarly, inelegantly successful on the left side.
Some poses I work for and at forty-seven, I can move my body into positions that weren’t remotely possible at thirty-seven or even twenty-seven. But closing the energy circuit in pigeon, bringing that foot to my head—it’s not a pose I’ve been pondering, looking for or working toward. It’s not a bucket-list pose like handstand or crow; it wasn’t even a twinkle in my eye. And I was so surprised that I didn’t fully register what had happened until later in the day, teaching again, doing a fully propped version of pigeon with my restorative class. I tentatively drew my back leg up and regarded the miles of space between foot and head—it hardly seemed possible they had come together earlier that same day.
I’ve been talking about possibilities all week in class. Springtime, even our wet, cold, late spring this year, is a moment all about possibilities. But contrary to the new energy of spring around us, it’s our very human nature to set limits, lower expectations, and cut things out all together. One morning before class three different yoga students came by my desk and our separate conversations ended with the same mantra, “never say ‘never,’” I told each of them.
One woman is new to yoga, recently retired. She’s enjoying the practice and brings a delighted energy to the studio. In light of a question she asked about the body, I said, “you’ll learn all of that when you go through yoga teacher training.” It was a gentle nudge, not because I think she should teach yoga but because her question showed the kind of intense curiosity that makes a good teacher. She laughed, hard. “I’m never going to be a yoga instructor.”
The next conversation happened with a woman who worked hard for some time to get into headstand and now performs the pose regularly and easily. When I suggested handstand next, she said, “No way, never.”
The third woman stopped by the desk to tell me she had missed class the week before for a medical appointment. She’s old enough, now, that her doctor is telling her she no longer has to have certain tests—she’s had her last colonoscopy, her last pap test. With a sly wink she whispered, “unless I have sex again.” In her regular voice she quickly added, “but that’s not going to happen.”
Asking the women to sit tall at the start of our practice together, I made them laugh when I mentioned the impossible trio: becoming a yoga instructor as a post-retirement job, handstand, and sex after 70. And then I asked them to close their eyes and ask why those seem like funny ideas instead of real possibilities.
Sixteen years ago I left my first professional full time job at Suffolk County Community College on Long Island. I reconnected recently with one of my former office mates, and it was he who asked, with some surprise, about my status as a yoga studio owner. “It surprises me, too,” I told him. Then again, ten years ago putting my foot on my head in pigeon, living in Des Moines, IA, owning a yoga studio, and keeping a blog weren’t even remote inklings in my imagination.
What about ten years from now? I might imagine what I think I’ll be doing; I can set and act upon long-term goals; I can count on certain realities. What I can’t do, what none of us can do, is truly see the future. Nor can we predict the full range of possibilities in that future—the delights, disappointments, frustrations, and surprises, the spontaneous performance of stunts we weren’t even trying for, the relief we’ll feel when efforts toward something we thought we wanted don’t pan out. But if we sit with life knowing that it IS limitless, if we truly excise never from our vocabulary, then we get to live fully and openly in possibility.
The new moon has given way to the full pink moon, brightening the sky overnight. The cold spring seems finally to be opening to the possibilities of warmer temperatures, budding trees and blooming flowers. May the loveliness of spring open each of us a little more. xoR