“So come out of your cave walking on your hands and see the world from upside down .”
~ The Cave, Mumford & Sons
The other night, I was at yoga, laying out my mat, unwinding it from its bag and doing the same from my day. I prefer a spot against the wall, where I can try a few handstands without going overboard. I walk along my mat and talk with those nearby, enjoying the switch from my work day to my yoga night, chatting and pacing and popping into handstands.
And I wonder, where else, really, would this seem normal?
Aside from my Instagram friend who sneaks photos in her office attire when no one’s around, putting up pictures of handstands by a file cabinet or backbends atop a conference table, I’m not sure I know anywhere else I could chat while upside down without anyone wondering what’s wrong with me.
I’ve come to realize that I feel the most like myself when I’m at yoga. It’s nice here, more than nice. There is a freedom once I park my car and walk to the studio, as if I am leaving one life and showing up at another.
And this transition has been a huge adventure for someone like me, someone who doesn’t love change and who takes comfort in sameness.
It’s not that I’m not who I am outside of yoga. It’s pretty hard to be anyone else, anyway. It’s just that on my mat, I feel the closest to me and to the girl I was so long ago.
On my mat, it is what it is, a phrase I usually hate to hear. It’s the phrase I come up against when no amount of justifying or explaining can make things how I’d rather they be. It’s the phrase that speaks the truth, and that’s what I get on my mat.
It is what it is on the mat because it’s pretty bare there, and so am I. Even what I wear is bare, my shoulders, often my midriff and even my feet. Once there, I put up my hair, which for me is a fairly personal thing. Off my mat and outside my house, my hair is always down and done.
The yogi seated to my right looks up at me as if we’d been in conversation and exclaims, Wouldn’t that be amazing?
What? I ask, realizing that she thinks I’ve overheard the yogi on her other side.
To have the kind of job that can take you anywhere? she answers. Where you get to go anywhere?
No! I immediately say back. I’m a homebody, I admit from my mat, coming down from a handstand against the comfort of the wall. I don’t want to go all over the place! Coming here is my big adventure!
But then I sit down to ask this young girl where her job takes her and find that she has just returned from months studying dolphins in Australia. And from my perch on my mat, I am indeed amazed.
My yogi friends are big adventurers. To me, it seems they are scared of nothing. I love to hear what they do and where they’ve been. They are young and brave and adventurous, and I’m doing my best to learn from them.
I am on the road back from something, an adventure that had been chaotic and challenging. I had been young and brave and adventurous then, and I think that’s what helped me through. It’s just that I thought the objective was to find peace and safety, kind of like the spot against the wall where I can’t fall over if I go upside down.
The classes I take are pretty powerful, and maybe that’s why I’ve met so many adventurous people, those that run and bike and ski and more, those that are not necessarily looking for peace or safety. And when I wonder what I’m doing here among them, I think back to when I was young and brave and adventurous, too.
Maybe I am trying to find that girl again.
One yogi friend runs to yoga, takes the class and runs home. She was there throughout her pregnancy and was always one of the few who could hold the backbends through all the counts. Another yogi is an avid skier who just spent a recent afternoon on a trampoline. And there’s the man who completed 20 years in the military who hopes to teach as part of Yoga for Wounded Warriors.
My son’s a yogi, and he’s jumped out of an airplane (pictured above). Yet another yogi biked to the beach, more than 100 miles away, to raise money for Autism, and still another ran the charitable Cupid Undie Run in next-to-nothing in the middle of winter. One dear yogi hails from across the globe, having spent the past year teaching yoga in the States and just this week returns to her country for yet another brave beginning.
And how can I not mention the young woman who spent many years as a platform diver, studied in faraway places and is recovering from a knee injury received while cliff diving. She is forever my example of grace and strength and determination as she maintains her practice, her work and her indomitable spirit while healing.
That night’s practice is intense and I am glad to reach the end when it’s time for inversions. As before, I pop into a handstand, secured by the wall behind me.
After balancing a bit, I lower my legs and stand up for a breather. I face the wall, thinking about how much I like this part of the practice, with the room dark, the music playing and everyone upside down.
A tap on my shoulder catches me by surprise and someone’s hands spin me out of my reverie. It is the instructor, making me face front, away from the wall.
It’s just so seamless at this point, she says. No more wall for you. Hope you don’t mind and hope you had fun there, because you’re done with that.
She stands there and, under unspoken instructions, I place my palms on the mat and lift my legs into a handstand away from the wall. Each time I wobble, I feel the instructor point my core back to where it should be, so I can be upside down but still stable.
And just like that, I am set on a course for a new adventure, joining the ranks of those around me and getting that much closer to the girl who had been there once before.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: courtesy of the author