I’ve been trying to go to yoga in a regular way for about 3 months. The love affair began at a studio a couple blocks away from my apartment, where I obtained a 2-week free trial that I blabbed about to anyone who would listen. During my trial, I was treated like a goddess of health and flexibility, given towels and water bottles by the front desk to create and consequently soak up my goddess sweat. The classes themselves were wonderful, varied in difficulty and focus, and the studios themselves are kept at such a temperature and light level that you literally feel like you are back in the womb. But the very best thing of all – at the end of class, when you were slipping all over your mat and ready to curl up into a ball (which you got to do), the instructor surreptitiously left the room and returned bearing a tray of cool lemon-lavender washcloths. She proceeded to make her way through the room, priestess-like, and gently place a cloth on each forehead, one at a time. You were then welcomed to stay as long as you liked on your mat, resting beneath your cool crown in the dark, in the warm.
My 2-week trial has since ended, so I am now left attending the one free community class that takes place on Wednesday nights. So many people show up that there’s often hardly any room to lay your mat, much less receive a lavender towel seemingly from thin air, but I’m happy as a clam that I get to go at all. It’s nice to be in a room full of people breathing together. The goddess glow has faded, and instead I am surrounded by people who are generally just trying their best and often laugh while doing so. We have the same teacher each week, and she’ll call us out by name to tell us that our pose looks better this week, or that we’re clearly moving more deeply into our practices. She speaks softly and laughs with us, taking our time to go from one thing to the next. The lights are brighter so she can help us out, but the warmth remains.
This last week, the typical instructor was not there, and was replaced by someone who ran a slightly tighter ship. I could tell you about the class, but what I want to talk about is the towels. For whatever reason, at the end of this community class, she made the since-forgotten gentle announcement that she was leaving to fetch us lemon-lavender towels. I’m pretty sure steam was actually radiating off of my body at this point, and that I may have even let out a little yelp of excitement at the prospect of a former luxury returned. She slipped out, I curled up, breathed, and waited.
When she came back in, I heard her way making her way through the mats. I tried to gauge based on sound reflection how close she was getting to my own mat, dead center in the middle of the room. I thought I heard her nearby more than once, and felt my forehead involuntarily tilting ever so slightly to meet her. “Bless me! Bless me!” A full two minutes went by, and even though I hate to spoil surprises, I couldn’t resist opening my eyes to see where she was. To my surprise, she was looking back at me, not with a towel in hand, but with her teeth clenched and a shrug mouthing, “Sorry.” She had run out of washcloths. I looked around the room. There were white cloths, impossible even in the dark to miss, sitting on everyone’s foreheads but mine. Just one short of a full bag.
Outwardly, I instantly mouthed back, “It’s fine!” and made a similarly clenched expression to convey how silly the whole thing was. “So crazy! One towel short! What are the odds! Ha! Ha! Ha!” Internally, the stages of swift and sudden crying began. I waited for her to look away before I closed my eyes and let my mouth do the strange, blanched, trembling thing it does when I start crying without warning. I kept it subdued until I left the studio, after which I cried in earnest, swift guttural gulps, on my walk home. I didn’t want to figure out why so I just let myself cry until I got back home and eased back into whatever I had been doing before I left for the class. I actually felt a little embarrassed, which almost never happens when I’m crying, because it seemed like a small thing to cry about, even to me. Not small. Childish, maybe. Like I came to the ballgame with my glove and got sent home. Either way, I felt silly, and just wanted to hurry up and get the crying over with so I could go back to being the bastion of strength that I am.
There’s a game I used to play in my days of college theater. In the exercise, you simply lay down on your back on the ground and imagine that somewhere vaguely near your right hand is a warm washcloth. Perhaps it smells like lemons, perhaps it’s just clean. Slowly, slowly, you pick up the washcloth (which, of course, isn’t there) and you place it wherever it is you need to be healed. That’s the whole game. More often than not I placed it on my heart or my head, though on occasion I’d place it on my stomach or crossed hands or my feet on days when it felt like every part of me required any and all physic, that I myself was a sickness and required everyone else’s cloth, too. I don’t think I ever cried doing that, perhaps because it is consistently difficult for me to imagine an object being some place it isn’t, but almost every time we played it I would hear someone nearby losing it, completely sobbing under the weight of their washcloth. The object may have been imagined, but the reality of healing was almost too much to bear.
I don’t think these two washcloths are the same. I think the reason I cried when I didn’t get a towel at yoga was perhaps more primal, a physical response to being the one have-not among the have’s, an unfiltered need to be comforted in physical distress. But I’m happy it led me to the healing washcloth, because now all week I have been wondering what it looks like to walk through the world as healed. That’s what we would do, after we got up from the ground and had used the washcloth. We would walk around the room as healed. I don’t know a better way to say it than that; I don’t mean to be vague or esoteric. Perhaps it’s best left unadorned anyway. Or perhaps it’s very simple: walking around as being rid of whatever afflicts you.
What does a body look like that says, “I have not been hurt. I am without blemish, spotless, made clean. I am well.” Of course I won’t know this side of eternity, but I can’t shake the thought. How does a body walk as healed?
Our frames carry so much of what has happened to us; our muscles literally carry memories in them, to the point where it requires great effort – conscious or otherwise – to be rid of them when we need to be. This sounds obvious, almost commonplace when typed out, but it’s so difficult to put into practice in the day-to-day. How can I walk through the grocery store as healed? Even when, especially when, I feel the total opposite? How do I sit in my car, make my coffee, trudge through snow as healed? Can I walk around as something other than who and what I am? It’s not even necessarily about being healed, but imagining that it could be so. Imagining that it’s possible, that not everything must be with me always. That whatever is keeping my shoulders clenched halfway up to my ears can be let go for a moment, that I can be otherwise. I saw Call Me By Your Name earlier this week – an essay unto itself for a later time – and while it is chock full of many beautiful things, there is one line in particular that I can’t get out of my head: “Our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once.”
Once. Just once. Is it the same one the whole time? And if so, how much of its mantle must be carried every day?
I suppose there’s no real hope for healing, complete or otherwise, without a full embracing of the wound to begin with. You can’t get through the gate to the pool at Bethesda unless you know you’re sick. Even then, there’s no guarantee of getting into the water, I suppose. And so many wounds are inflicted by someone who will never apologize, leaving us with more broken parts than we had to begin with. But I just want the option. The option of walking around as healed, the option of permission to start over at any given time, the option to be new. My body, beaten up as it is and lugging around this particular mortal coil, is only given to me once. Can it yet be new?