July 18, 2013

Om is Where the Heart is. ~ Christine Hennessey

I sank into my worn mat and the hardwood floor beneath me, my body tired and loose from practice.

Usually, savasana is my hardest pose—while I can hold a headstand for minutes on end, and side crow is my favorite party trick, I had yet to master the mental side of yoga. On that day, though, I tried harder than usual to stay in the moment. I knew it would be the last of its kind for a long time.

It was my last day in Texas and my final class at Morning Glory, the studio where I had been practicing yoga under the guidance of my teacher and best friend, Amy, for the last six years. As I lay on my mat I wondered, for the hundredth time, why I was leaving.

Yes, I had been accepted to an MFA program for creative writing in North Carolina. Yes, writing a book had been my lifelong dream. Yes, Texas was too far from New York, where my family lived. But I knew I’d never find another studio like Morning Glory, or another friend like Amy.

The sacrifice, at times, seemed overwhelming.

As we came out of savasana and sat on our mats, spines straight and hands clasped in prayer, we raised our voices in a final om. I have always loved the sound of this chant, the way it vibrates through the room, striking a strange harmony. That day was no different. The hum faded and we bowed our heads. “Namaste,” Amy said. “Namaste,” we answered. The other students rose and rolled up their mats, but I stayed still, eyes closed, heart pounding, holding on to that final moment for a few seconds longer.

In his book Mindfulness Yoga, Frank Jude Boccio writes, “All yoga, including the Buddha’s yoga, is often called ‘the path of return’ – a return to our true home, which we eventually come to see was never really lost.”

On one level, I understand this concept—we’re all travelers and the idea of “home” is kind of like the idea of “enlightenment”—a thing we strive for without knowing exactly what it looks like, how it will feel or if we’ll ever get there. And yet I cling to the traditional ideas of home, community and friendship, and I can’t help but see them as deeply connected to a particular place.

One of my writing professors does an exercise every semester where he tells us to think of an important place and write about it in “caveman” speech—descriptions and emotions, with no attention paid to grammar or sentence structure, something our early ancestors might have scrawled on the wall of a cave. Even though I’ve done the exercise four or five times now, I always end up writing about Morning Glory. I look at the page and see things like hardwood floor, brick walls and low lights. Soft voices, gentle adjustments and snoring neighbor. Home.

I always paused over that last one. Home.

In theory, it was beautiful, but it always frightened me a little, too. If I kept thinking of one place as home, I wondered, would I ever feel rooted in this new one?

A few years ago, Amy and I, along with some other friends, started a tradition. Whenever one of us had a birthday, we’d get together in a park or a pavilion and do a sun salutation for each year of that person’s life, plus one to grow on. We were all in our late twenties and early thirties, so the ritual took some time. For Amy’s birthday earlier that summer, we had our biggest group yet, and as we moved through the poses, one after another, keeping our breath steady, our movements strong, I thought about the friends beside me.

I had known each of these people prior to yoga, but because of yoga I knew them better, more deeply. It was a gift, and even though my arms shook as the chataranguas piled up, I kept at it.

When we were done, we hugged each other, sweaty and out of breath, grateful for the chance to celebrate Amy’s life and usher her into a new year.

I turned twenty-nine a week after moving to North Carolina. I didn’t have any friends yet, and I spent a lot of time driving down unmarked alleys and dead ends while trying to locate simple things, like the grocery store, and the dog park and my own front yard. I still hadn’t found a new yoga studio, and a stubborn part of me didn’t want to. But the tradition we’d started was important and so, even though I was far from home, I spent the morning of my twenty-ninth birthday moving through sun salutations while surrounded by unpacked boxes and bare walls. It was both harder and better than I remembered.

As I lowered myself into the final chatarangua, and  lifted my arms for the thirtieth backbend, I felt something shift inside me.

Then my phone buzzed, and I opened the first message of many. In his new home in Virginia, Chip has also done thirty sun salutations, facing the direction of North Carolina. Eralda, visiting her family in Albania, completed her salutations in her parents’ kitchen while they peeked around the door, confused. Amy took a photo of her hands clasped in prayer position and sent it to me, after she had finished her rounds. I read their messages again and again, and the thing that shifted inside me began to take root.

It’s been two years since I left Texas. These days, I practice yoga at the YMCA with a variety of teachers, each with their own style and philosophy. When we lie in savasana, I can hear the screech of sneakers on the gym floor next door, the strains of a Zumba song floating through the halls. It’s a far cry from the sanctuary of Morning Glory, but it has a charm I’ve come to love, and it’s helped me realize that home is bigger and grander than a simple building.

Frank Jude Boccio, it turns out, was right.

Yoga is a path of return, and I’m grateful to it for leading me home, no matter where I am.

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{photo: via pinterest}

Assistant Ed: Andie Britton-Foster/Ed: Sara Crolick

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