His hands cradle my rib cage with a pressure so light that I feel I am made of porcelain.
He waits for the breath. My lungs fill. Time is suspended. My lungs empty.
He guides my torso to the left. Again, the breath. Inhale. I worry that my scent will repulse him. Exhale. He winds me tighter. More breath. Inhale. He is waiting with his palms holding me, his foot pressed against mine for balance. Exhale. I surrender to his hands, sculpting me into the perfect posture. Inhale.
This is the last one. He is going to take me somewhere I can’t go on my own. Exhale. Twisssst. There it is. My edge. Please don’t let me fall. He unwinds me and draws his hands away so subtly that I can barely feel them leave my body.
Downward dog. I clench my mat with sticky fingers. Tighten my quads. Reach with my heels.
Chaturanga dandasana. I hover over my wrists. Squeeze my shoulder blades back. Press my palms into the floor.
Upward dog. I lift my chin, my heart, my chest.
Downward dog. I pull in my belly. Lift my tailbone. Ground my toes.
My ear follows him around the room. He is holding her leg over his shoulder. He’s adjusting the man’s ankle and knee. Each body a unique configuration. Each touch an invitation to express the most divine alignment residing in each form. The lines get longer. The breath gets deeper. The muscles get tighter. The walls expand and contract with the breath.
I can hear the heavy breathing of the man next to me. Sweat like raindrops falling to the mat. He pushes through any force that might be luring him into laziness. There is a fighter inside if him. He follows the same voice that led us all here. A longing for the light. A quest for the Holy Grail.
Reach forward. Hands to floor. Left leg up. Balance. Put your nose to your knee. Inhale. Exhale. Hold your ankle. Inhale. Exhale. Tighten your thigh. Point your foot. Inhale. Exhale. I’m not doing the pose. The pose is doing me.
I feel the animal instinct that settles into this inversion like a cat stretching her paws back to meet her tail. I know this position. I’ve been here a thousand times before. I’ve lived here. I’ve cried here. I’ve bled here. I’ve died here. I’ve been reborn here. I’ve survived here. Downward facing dog.
He passes by me. I can feel him more than I can see him. I wonder if he is going to put his palm on my sacrum and push me deeper into the stretch. He doesn’t have to. Just the thought of him doing it to me makes me do it to myself.
Chaturanga dandasana. I didn’t know these words until a few months ago. Now I hear them like commands, like friends, like markers that tell me exactly where I need to be.
Child’s pose. Rest there. Inhale. Exhale. Plank pose. Fight there. Surrender there. Inhale. Exhale. Up Dog. Open there. Melt there. Down Dog. Reside there. Live there.
The ambient music rolls over into chanting. He reaches for the thick curtains and pulls them across the massive windows to block out the peeping sun. The nightime light, the candlelit altar, the deepening of his voice leads me down into the most intimate place of my being.
He is counting the breaths. One. Two. Three. Four. His voice penetrates me so deeply I can no longer feel my body. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. I could live on the sound of his voice alone. Nine. Ten. Eleven. Twelve. I’ll never breathe again if I can just take his sound home with me. Release.
Tears start to paint a trail of moist heat down the sides of my face. I am so in love. I am so in love. I am so in love.
There are no people, no mats, no sweat, no altar, no curtains, no crying. There is only love.
Shiva Shiva Shiva Shiva Om. Shiva Shiva Shiva Shiva Om. Shiva Shiva Shiva Shiva Om. Shiva Shiva Shiva Shiva Om.
We stumble through the Sanskrit awkward and off-key, but earnest in our efforts. We all want to get it right. We all want to sing our way through the magic door. We all want to ride the notes to the buried treasure. We are kinsman. We are travelers on the same path. We are sitting still, going nowhere.
AummmmNamaste, he says, and bows forward, forehead to the floor.
The courage and intelligence it takes to be humble—the gesture fills me with respect. A man who knows how to bow, is a man who knows how to live.
I open my eyes and the stained-glass window is illuminated in an ornate smile. The pink, blue and gold swirls turning up the corner of their mouths as if to say: Happiness is here!
The window is smiling at me. How lucky I am to see the window smiling at me.
Curtains part again. Dusk rushes in. People collect their things. Hot air leaves through the open door as cold air saunters in.
Inhale. Exhale. Right foot on the floor. Left foot on the floor.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Emma Ruffin
Photo: Lyn Tally/Flickr