Yoga, Community, and Mr. Bond
I want to tell you something: ever since I started writing about adoption, I haven’t been able to do yoga. For about fourteen years I went to Willow Glen Yoga three to six times a week. (There was a small marriage interruption of a couple of years when I moved 30 minutes away to Palo Alto, but we aren’t talking about that here.)
I used to say that I could not imagine what my life would be like if I didn’t do yoga. It made me feel clean. Aware. Long. Well used. It got me out of eating-disorder land. It taught me mindfulness. It taught me the importance of the breath. But, maybe mostly, it gave me community. For the first time since I had moved to California after getting married, I was “in the club”. Walking into the studio, I’d feel like Norm on Cheers. It was good.
But then everything started to fall apart, and, as a bodyworker I am aware when someone’s home life is in the dumps, so, often is his or her lower back. For the first time in my life, I had chronic pain. Lateral movement hurt. Backbends hurt. What hurt but what was manageable was walking. And so I walked. A lot. For a year. I needed to move, but I needed to move outside, not on a mat. I was already feeling trapped, and I needed to be surrounded by space and trees, not people. The inner space of me was in such chaos I needed fast walking to give me the illusion of control.
It was as if all the tools I’d learned in yoga had fallen away, but, really, I think, all the tools I’d learned in yoga had gotten me to this place of oh my lord, this is so hard. It had gotten me to the place where I needed wide sky to continue to release into my most genuine self.
My mind healed, but my body suffered. I spent almost all that year in my head, and very little time in my body. If someone had come to me and said, “Lie on this mat and just breathe,” I think I would have chewed off his face. I was in the throes of feeling seemingly all the things I’d buried deep somewhere: my guts? my brain? my heart? the marrow of my bones? and the last place I wanted to be was on my mat. It was too painful to be that close to myself.
For some people, this would have been the perfect time to show up on the mat, day after day, to reconnect with their true self. But I needed to walk. And Kent, my teacher, understood. He was there for me, even when I didn’t show up.
I don’t remember my first class at Willow Glen Yoga, but I do remember the first time Kent told me I was in the club. I went home and told my husband. He high-fived me. “I told you you’re still an athlete. You had a ten-pound baby and you still got it.” (Okay, really, I have no idea if this dialogue occurred, but I like it, and I’m the writer here, so Namaste.)
It wasn’t until later that I realized Kent routinely told students they were in the club, and sometimes he would tell them after their very first class. The last time I had been in any kind of athletic “club” was when I ran track in high school, and the goal then was to win, to beat everyone else. I was in California now, though, and I was not on the track. I was in a yoga studio, and this was a whole new world. The world of nice.
Willow Glen Yoga is about community. When Kent said, “You’re in the club,” he meant it. I started going to this studio seventeen years ago, and this place has a heart, and the heart is Kent.
It takes dedication to keep a small business running. It takes commitment and a kind of insanity. Kent drives a distance to get to the studio: anyone who has driven from Santa Cruz to San Jose knows that 17 is its own test of faith. And then, every day before he teaches, Kent goes out front and sweeps the concrete walkway like a Buddhist monk (except that Kent is usually wearing some funky Italian shoes he got in a little store over the hill).
It takes faith to show up at your own studio day after day, faith that students will come, faith that you still have something to teach. It takes dedication. Love.
More than a business, Willow Glen Yoga feels like my church. I mean, if child’s pose isn’t prayer and if savasana on your belly isn’t a long prostration, I don’t know what is. It is holy to enter the body of the self. It is holy to pay attention to the breath. It is holy to still the mind.
When I was in New York writing my book, Kent called me. “Just checking in,” he said. “You must be broke.” I told him I was, but that I was determined to finish before I came home. “What’s your address? I have some mad money under the mattress.”
A few days later I got a card with hundreds in it. There are so many ways to be on the mat. To do yoga. To be part of a community.
When I think about what my life would be like if I had never gone to Willow Glen Yoga, I can hardly believe it. I wouldn’t have gotten into bodywork. If I hadn’t worked as a massage therapist, I wouldn’t have met my writing partner. I never would have written a movie that made it to the big screen. If I hadn’t gone to Willow Glen Yoga, I would not know Scooter. I would not know Mark Lucas, the chiropractor I work with now. Chances are good I might not even know Willow Glen, the city in which I now live. When the faces of all the people I have met from doing yoga at Willow Glen run through my mind, I can hardly believe it. It is a river of people. I wouldn’t know Katie Peuvrelle and I might not have learned, from her, how to break through my limiting beliefs and write a book.
Here I am, near the end of this piece of writing, and I haven’t even talked about the practice of asana. I haven’t even mentioned triangle, wheel, handstand, cobra. Isn’t it funny that I wrote a whole essay about a yoga studio and I didn’t talk about what most people would consider “yoga”?
Last week I finally went to class again. I put my mat where I always put it all those years, face to face with Kent’s mat. He had us start the class in savasana. I lay down and breathed and listened to Kent talk about the importance of breath. I had gone away. I had written my book. And now I was back. And Kent was there, telling me to focus on my feet.
And, later in class, we did triangle pose, trikonasana. For ninety minutes, we did it all.
Kent was there. He was teaching, and I was back home. I could feel my feet. I was aware of my breath. I had showed up. I was on the mat, stretching to meet my self.