Yoga Flashback

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?

Dreams vs Reality, or What Yeats and I Have in Common (sort of)

Lake Isle of Innisfree

by William Butler Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

When my spouse and I lived in North Carolina, we frequented a pub called W. B. Yeats. It’s closed now, the Internet tells me, but in the late 90’s and early aughts they poured a good Guinness. Or rather, the one tall fellow with the longish brown hair poured a good Guinness. When any of the other bartenders was working, we’d order something else, but when floppy-haired guy was there, it was Guinness, and it was good.

When we finally returned to North Carolina for the first time since we conceived our daughter there in 2004, we didn’t visit the former home of the Yeats pub. Instead we spent four days in Asheville. I loved it there just as I expected I would and in some ways hoped I wouldn’t.

Like the poet Yeats and Innisfree, his idealized, Walden-inspired refuge, my view of life in Asheville is not very realistic. Yeats would have needed more than nine rows of beans and a bee hive to sustain himself, and I would probably find that tourists, vintage clothing shops, and Malaprop’s Bookstore would lose their luster after a while.

That last one’s probably not a good example—I’m not sure any decent book shop could lose my interest, and Malaprop’s is far beyond decent—but the fact remains that there are real-life reasons to abandon my Asheville dream.

But in quiet morning moments when I’m walking through my neighborhood and the clouds stack up just right so that it looks like there’s a line of hazy mountains looming on the horizon, I smell the woods and feel the fog on my cheek even in the middle of suburban New England. The mountains call to my heart, despite the protests of my brain.

The Mountain City of Asheville

inspired by William Butler Yeats’s Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Asheville,
And a downtown loft buy there, filled with local pottery and art:
A corner coffee shop will I have there, a book store just down the hill;
And each morning anew I’ll start.

And I shall feel at peace there, for peace through the mountains rolls,
Roaming with the fog of morning to the sunset’s fading glow;
There midnight sings with indie tunes, and noon with bluegrass barcaroles,
And evening full of pleasures slow.

I will arise and go now, for always day and night
I hear the tree tops rustling in the breeze that I adore;
While I drive along suburban roads, or the Massachusetts Pike,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Where is your Innisfree/Asheville? Do you love it for what it is or for what you imagine it to be?

(Note: Since it was first published, this post has been edited significantly to reflect the suggestions of my spouse.)