We gather each week, a collection of men and women, 20-somethings to 60-somethings, business owners, teachers, parents, athletes. Some of us can barely touch our toes, so tight are our hamstrings. Others have the lithe bodies of dancers, bending easily into each pose. If you threw us together anywhere else, we might seem a hodgepodge of folks with little in common. But in the upstairs room of this barn, tucked behind a house off a side street in Littleton, we gather to practice yoga.
As the pre-class chitchat fades, Rose leads us in a chant of Om, the shortest of words, drawn into a long sound which is supposed to represent the union of mind, body, and spirit. In other words, Om equals yoga.
I first encountered yoga when I was living in Crested Butte, Colorado, in the 1990s. The yoga studio in that little mountain town of uber athletes and beautiful people was next to the tiny health food store, and so in my mind yoga became an extension of eating whole grains and downing shots of wheat grass. For many practitioners of yoga, it IS an extension of a lifestyle of pure foods and actions.
For me, yoga practice started as a way to supplement my more active athletic endeavors, to bring more flexibility to my body and calm to my mind. I started with videos by Rodney Yee and Patricia Walden, finding my way into imperfect poses in the sunny light of our loft living room. After I moved back East, I found a Thursday evening class in Franconia, which was both invigorating and informative. But then life got really busy, and yoga was left behind.
When I had three children in the space of two years, my life pace shifted from long bike rides and hard skiing to kid-carrying and crawling on the floor. My days were often mentally and emotionally hectic – and physically exhausting, even though I felt I wasn’t actually exercising. (Raising kids is a perpetual workout, but there’s no training regimen, and the challenges change from one minute to the next.)
Then I found Rose. If yoga is the union of a healthy mind, body, and spirit, Rose is the personification of yoga: smart, beautiful, and good. She is both a dedicated student and teacher of yoga, traveling regularly to Boston to practice with Patricia Walden (whose videos introduced me and countless others to yoga) and studying occasionally in India. She is kind in her teaching, but also tough, persuading students to go deeper into each pose, challenging us to improve – at once encouraging and demanding.
I harbor good intentions of extending my yoga practice at home, beyond my weekly class. The most I manage is a few twists here and there, a down dog pose after skiing, a forward bend or two before bed time. Still, my weekly practice reminds me to sit straight as I type at the keyboard, to broaden my chest and breathe when I start to stress about something, to refocus when I need to.
Tuesdays always seem to be my craziest, busiest days. But I know that no matter how hectic my work schedule is or how crazy the kids get, I will get to close out my day with 90 minutes of yoga, seeking poses that will engage my muscles and quiet my mind. I often rush to make class, arriving harried and barely on time. The very act of unrolling my mat onto the wood floor begins the calming process.
At the start of each class we sit, cross-legged, to chant Om. Rose asks us to look inward, to direct our energy from our minds to our hearts. Soon I am too focused on putting my body into the next pose to dwell on the day’s happenings, tomorrow’s tasks, and the persistent to-do list.
My mind focuses. My body moves. My spirit lifts.
A version of this essay ran in the Oct. 12, 2012 edition of the Record-Littleton.