I return to yoga with cramped feet, stiff hamstrings, weak arms, thirty extra pounds – the combined result of running long distances not out of joy but from desperation. I return to yoga nearly five weeks into a new job, the class an unexpected perk of the new position. I return to yoga after two years off the mat. I return to yoga because I have lost myself and I am on my way, it seems finally, to finding myself.
The yoga teacher is about my age and her voice calling out flows and poses twangs with vowels that remind me of my hometown and my mother – hard, unavoidable A’s and long, delicious O’s that linger in my ears as we move from one pose to the next, my stiff muscles and sore joints surprised by this practice. My breath, however, finds its way quickly to my navel and sings with a kind of happiness I did not expect, as if it has just been waiting to be invited home.
The first time I tried grad school, the yoga classes were nearly free. My days were mostly unscheduled and the yoga classes helped number my days. Afterwards, when my graduate degree did very little in the job search to offset my own nervous self, I tried to do yoga on my own. It’s hard to compete, however, with memories of daily, inexpensive yoga classes led by a quiet old man who always wore a navy blue t-shirt tucked into blue ski pants, and eventually I stopped stretching out on the yoga mat in our living room. For two years I ran instead.
Two years doesn’t seem long enough for my body to stiffen, but it’s been longer than that that I’ve hunched over my computer, combing the Internet for a real job that I will love and that will not squeeze out my soul; typing my way towards another graduate degree—this time in writing; and taking on as much freelance and consulting work as my late-night brain can handle. When I do leave my desk it’s to plod off six or seven miles, sometimes more, in preparation for a half-marathon. It’s a goal I can work towards, even if I can’t find a real job—one I can imagine keeping for years because it fulfills some deep need of mine and the world’s.
On the first day of my first real job, a new colleague brightly invites me to yoga. I am nervous around my new colleagues and it takes four weeks for me to muster the gumption to change my clothes in the bathroom near my office, sling my yoga mat over my shoulder, and find the conference room where my new colleagues are unfurling their mats like flags, surrendering to the day.
As I breathe in and out to and from the neglected core of my body, the breath wakes the muscles around my hips, around my ribcage, at my shoulder blades, in my neck. Later, in my second class, my toes will ground themselves in my yoga mat, the rubbery blue flecking off on to the carpet, and I will lean into some guided variation of tree, the one pose I used to complete with confidence, steady and unwavering while standing like a stork in the center of my mat. But in this first class, I reach for my first downward facing dog and my calves complain and my forearms argue and my feet curl with muscle spasms this yoga teacher will eventually suggest I treat with bananas, but my hips want to cooperate, want to convince the rest of my body to remember what it used to do, two, three, four times a week.
By the end of this first class, my body does remember and when I tip my lifted leg back over my sits bones, my arms shaking with the weight of my whole body in down dog, I feel my pelvic bones shift and slip back into place, sighing at the prospect of more practice.