Physical Spirituality

The room was dim and deliberately made poorly ventilated for the sake of the heat. The humidity really. As I unrolled my mat, I could feel my brow starting to dampen. I know I am out of shape, but the stairs weren’t that strenuous.

The activity starts slowly, almost in a relaxing manner. Though I have practiced before, the act of chanting “om” was never part of my prior practice. The timber, the pitch, the vibration that catches the clouds of sweat and thick air, reverberates the very hairs on my arms and at the nape of my neck. The entire room vibrates in this full, warm sound. On man, towards the front and right of me, is off pitch from the rest. I am reminded of being in an a cappella ensemble, honing in on the dissident and using raised eyebrows and scowls to correct their pitch. Here, though, I find the dissonance perfect for the mood. We are not all one mind, one voice. Here we each bring our own things to the mat.

By 30 minutes in, I am profusely sweating. Not just the clingy sweat that drenches the front of my shirt, though that happens too. But as I balance on one leg, bent forward at the waist, right leg straight back, hands pushing parallel to the floor and backward, palms facing inward – as I shake and struggle and have to touch the floor to maintain balance; as my thigh begins to pulse with aches; as my shoulders begin to slacken and my head cannot remain down for fear of missing the proper transition moves, the sweat is now dripping on the mat in front of me, like a faucet. My brow is soaked, my hair drenched.

It is then that I begin to smile.

As the session continues, I am beaming. My body remembers the way even if it finds itself incapable of execution. With a twist of a hip or stretch of an ankle, a painful strain pops suddenly into a blissful stretch. I am straining, sweating. My body feels hurt and used and at the same time loved and appreciated. I beam, smiling stupidly and occasionally even laughing quietly at the pain of the exercise.

And then we’re in child’s pose. My chest and face are on the mat, knees at my side, arms stretched far ahead of me. It is a private moment, a rest. I inhale. It is in a single moment, a mere instance, that everything comes crashing in on me. The teacher said to remember what brought us here tonight, and in this moment I do. I remember everything.

One single sob wracks my body. The cry is muffled by the mat, but I feel the hot sting of tears running down my face. And I honestly cannot tell if this is joy or pain, sorrow or bliss.

I exhale, and that intensity is gone. We move on with the practice. The strain, the burn, the calm – it all fills me again.

When the session ends, we dim the lights further and relax, again contemplating our practice and the things that brought us here tonight. I lay in the dark, knees curled to my chest, and I close my eyes. There is nothing but peace in my heart for the moment.

This is what brought me here tonight. And some part of that blackness, some part of the weight I have carried for longer than I knew, some part of it has been expelled.

For all the external things I believed brought me here tonight, I find that I am here for myself.

And whatever I expel or take on in the interim, when I return again, it will be something I do because I am learning again to be kind to myself.


3 thoughts on “Physical Spirituality

    • It’s a vinyasa flow class. This particular one was a “Yoga for Men” class.

      The yoga itself wasn’t necessarily painful or strenuous. The combination of being physically and emotionally out of shape at the time was what really caused the tears. But they were good tears.

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