Several times a week throughout 2004, I biked from our apartment in East Palo Alto to the yoga studio in Palo Alto, my yoga mat bungeed to my bike rack. The trip was nearly over when I came up through the cool, urine-smelling tunnel under the Caltrain tracks and squinted into the bright sunlight on California Avenue. About halfway up the block, I locked my bike, tucked my helmet under my arm, and slung my mat bag over my shoulder, then walked the short distance to the studio.
Inside the glass doors were potted plants and racks of high-end yoga wear and the diffuse odor of extinguished incense. There were meditation, chanting, and yoga music CDs, one of which was always playing quietly over the sound system.
Behind the curved wood desk to the left sat a tall, smiling woman with a German accent who invited me to sign in and to have a cup of tea from the urn in the corner by the glass wall that separated the retail space from the class space. When I started working there one evening a week for the discount on classes, I would be in charge of emptying the old tea and refilling the urn with fresh for the following day. It was a little thrill to know that I was in charge of what kind of tea everyone would enjoy the next day from the tiny ceramic cups I’d just washed.
After sliding out of my Birkenstocks, I pushed aside the heavy velvet curtain and entered the studio itself. The right-hand wall was floor-to-ceiling mirrors and the wall to the left was a leafy mural in yellows and greens. I lay my mat near the mural wall and walked to the back wall where there was a stash of blankets, straps, mats, and wooden blocks. Through the doorway next to the yoga gear were the curtained changing areas and the restrooms and the small storage room where I washed the tea cups in the utility sink on my co-op nights. After choosing a blanket, I returned to my mat to stretch and try to avoid looking like I was looking at myself in the mirror until class started.
When class was over, I stumbled out glassy-eyed and biked home across the San Francisquito again.
Eight years, two children, and more than 3,000 miles separate me from this ritual. Time for yoga is hard to come by most days, but this afternoon the stars aligned and my children and cats let me do about an hour of practice with only minimal interruption.
I set up my yoga mat on the wood floor of my bedroom, situated so I wouldn’t graze my fingers on the ceiling fan blades, and situated my laptop on top of my dresser. As I listened to a Vinyasa Flow class on audio, breathing my arms overhead and exhaling my palms to the floor, I thought of the yoga studio in Palo Alto—the California sun, the smell of incense, the sound of Krishna Das or Karma Moffett, the reclaimed wood floor beneath my feet.
No matter what the sounds, sights, or smells of the place I’m actually practicing, when I do yoga, I’m there.
Where do you go when you find yourself transported?