Observing a Yoga Class in Center City

My bare feet stand rooted shoulder length apart, heels pressing all of my weight into the shallow pad of my yoga mat. My toes extend into tangled green roots burrowing and nesting deep into the earth. I feel my toes spread and dig deeper as my breath flows cyclically through my wooden lungs. My arms extend parallel to the ground, shooting out branches so far my shoulders pop out of their sockets and extend to catch the sun on the horizon. I feel my torso stiff and solid carrying the weight of my heavy branches, but I feel balanced because my roots are deep and connected. I feel my breath exhale shaking the leaves of my branches and as I open my oak brown eyes I reconnect with the physical world around me once again. I wiggle my toes and shake out my shoulders, feeling a connection with every pore draping my newly refreshed body.  
What I have found is that yoga means something very different to every individual person. To Mary-Ellen, my own instructor, it is a form of meditation, to Kathryn, the instructor I am observing today, it is a healing ritual, to my father, it is a waste of “Goddam’ time”, to me, yoga is mindfulness and exercising control of the body.

The large room where class will take place looks to be a repurposed dance studio. A wall-to-wall mirror reflects the floor-to-ceiling window opposite. On this sunny day, this room embodies the world. You could look in that vast mirror and touch the face of a biker on Market Street and race your fingers alongside his reflection until he disappeared and your fingers pedaled right into the brick wall adjacent to the mirror. A single African American mother walks with child on hip, holding desperately to the small hand of another young child around the age of 4. He seems to be crying in the upper corner of the mirror, but the mother has a destination on the opposite side of the mirror where the wall molds intersect at the door, and cannot listen to the resistant child’s wails. Bustles of women and men march past one another; poor passing wealthy, father passing child, privileged passing needy.

At the very center of the mirror you can spot Love Park. The pool is empty and a bed of granite backdrops the love statue. In pictures, I imagine the statue silhouetted with lovers and that sparkling fountain. The statue, void of sparkling water appears as empty as the dance studio where I wait for class to start. This room is one world within a larger world. Micro within macro.

Kathryn walks in frantically, hoarse from a cold she is trying to heal. She shakes my hand while stripping off her street clothes. Underneath her oversized jeans are skin tight leggings.

“So glad you could be with us today,” she says through her Temple University sweatshirt as she pulls it over her frizzy short cut hair.

“Thank you so much for having me. I’m really looking forward to this.”

She notices my own robin egg yoga matt and I spot awkwardness in her expression.

“Oh, um, actually…for liability reasons, I could lose my job if you join in. I thought this was just an observation. I feel bad, but I could lose my job and it seemed like you just wanted to watch.”

Who just watches a yoga class?

Not wanting to make her uncomfortable and seeing her distress, I assure her it’s no big deal and I would just observe, “I’m just grateful to be here.”

The classroom of eight fills with girls draped in oversized neon armor: soft woolen socks and cozy sweaters cover their frames as they lazily slouch over their array of rainbow yoga mats. Kathryn begins to teach a lesson on spacing ribs and pushing palms between shoulder blades in order to enforce ‘the breath’. The class inhales and exhales as the wind reflected in the mirror breathes life into Philadelphia streets, lumps of trash thrown about through city’s lungs, navigate through alleyways as blood coarses through arteries. Students nod along, bobbing disheveled buns carefully placed on top of their crowns. Girls in colorful crop-tops over skin tight leggings stretch out their fingertips-popping joints- waking up their bodies.

Kathryn strolls the classroom touching each student, repeating, “Find your base, your skeleton, and feel how it moves.” My morbid imagination begins to take hold, manifesting itself in every corner of this classroom. Suddenly, they are all sitting skeletons striking sharp poses- downward facing dog, warrior, and triangle. Their sliding shoulder blades slipping through scapulas entrance me. I stare at each skeleton, still adorned in colorful garments breathing through their ivory bones. In the mirror, I catch a glance at myself. I meet my mirrored stare and can’t shake my comparative gaze of solid meat and flesh aside these dancing, slender bones.

My right hand callused with Russell’s sign wanders to my chest and I start pushing down on the soft skin searching for the bones beneath. I feel wiry muscle intertwined underneath my goose-bump skin. I dig and scratch at my skin searching for the structure I know lay below the armor of this solid body.

The warm sun drapes my back like a hand stitched afghan, but I shiver, huddled frozen to this hardwood floor, thinking, “How can I make these swaying skeletons disappear?” I don’t know how to let go of these images and see meat filling out flesh once again. I cannot un-see the bones before me pressing heels-imprinting their mats with simple touches. The dangerous beauty of these bones makes me cry, but I’ve mastered the mask. I sit with my face still and unmoving, but tears roll down my cheeks and dribble past my chin. I try desperately to remember the strong tree that I had inhibited earlier. I remind myself that trees are sturdier than ivory bones and this strive for a skeletal frame is what has haunted my mind for 3 years now. I want the shadows of skeletons to stop appearing before my eyes every time I come close to not caring about the protrusion of my rib cage.

Yoga is supposed to be mindfulness, but my mind is wreaking havoc through this brick sanctuary. My mind is a distressed youth, out of control, screaming protest through cans of hissing spray paint, smashing mirrors begging for my attention. Like a disappointed mother, I don’t want to listen. I just want it to shut up and go away. I shut down and ignore the skeletons and my mind’s encrypted message meant for me and me alone. I don’t know how to deal with this, so I won’t.

I curl into a fetal ball against the hardwood floor and try to remember my breath. Through a clenched esophagus I swallow the iron ball of air that has puckered itself within my cheeks. I force the breath down and allow myself to release the breath. It sputters out like toxic sludge and I swear I can see shadows of my inky breath rejected on the hardwood panels. I take in another breath and it comes in more smoothly, like a spoonful of raw honey. The breath leaves my throat expunged and clean.

I feel my feet become solid and stony. My eyelids shut from a heavy force and my body sinks into the floor as every muscle both tightens and relaxes, allowing me to transform into a singular solid object. I am cool to the touch and my pores open up to become solid masses of granite. I bring my arms and legs into my chest to make myself as compact as possible.

I am not mountain, strong and stable standing tall looking over the world with clarity and perspective. I am neither strong nor healthy enough to be mountain. However, I am stronger than these bones dancing around me. I am rock, but one day I will grow by developing strength from overcoming my comparative gaze. I will be mountain.


This was a harder piece to share ; because it’s admitting a weakness with no resolve. thank you for taking the time to read it 💐🌸



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