Clothing, signals, teshuvah
Preparing for the holidays: a place to pray

The place where I am

Yoga has been an on-again, off-again thing for me through several professional incarnations. I can chart the last ten years of my life both through jobs (newspaper editorship at one end of the county; arts nonprofit at the other end) and through the beautiful yoga centers in those two towns where I started and restarted my yoga practice. I've never really stuck with yoga in a longterm way, though. Scheduling gets in the way, and eventually distance. During the year since I left Inkberry to pursue full-time rabbinic studies, I haven't really been doing yoga at all.

The trouble is, there's only so much time in the day. I'm aware that I would be mellower, more energized, and saner if I prayed three times a day, engaged in daily yoga practice, and worked on poems for an hour every morning...but if I actually gave each of those practices the time it truly deserves, I'm not sure when I would, oh, work, you know? Besides, I'm not very good about doing yoga on my own; I need a class, both for community and for motivation, and driving thirty or forty-five minutes to the studios where I used to learn takes too much of a bite out of the day.

But Ethan and I have been engaged in a slow process of exploring Pittsfield, the county seat which is directly south of the town where we live, and on a recent pass through I noticed a yoga center on North street. (It's next door to a lovely coffee shop with wifi, and across the street from surprisingly decent takeout Chinese.) Last Friday afternoon, as Shabbat approached, I rounded out my week by taking a gentle introductory yoga class there. This morning, to kick off my Monday, I returned for a class they call "Ashtanga Flow."

The first thing we did was take a comfortable seated position, notice our breath, and cultivate awareness of where each of us was at, on all levels. Notice your body, the instructor urged us. It's the best yoga teacher in the room, so listen to it, and be aware of what it needs. You can only practice from the place where you are.

The class pushed me right up against my physical limitations. It had been months since I last attempted downward dog, and I can tell that my hamstrings and my hip joints and my pecs will chide me for this unexpected burst of physicality tomorrow morning! But throughout, I kept returning to the notion that I need to be mindful of my body; to hear what it's telling me; and to work with what I've got, not what I imagine I ought to have. This sounds so easy, even corny, but I find it surprisingly difficult to put into action. Some part of me always wishes my body were different -- sleeker, stronger -- and every time I bump up against the disjunction between the body I imagine and the body I've got, there's a twinge of frustration.

Of course, those twinges of frustration are excellent opportunities to practice some of the middot we talked about in class a few weeks ago. Savlanut, patience; hakarat hatov, gratitude; rachamim, compassion. (Yes, my primary task this week is to write the final paper for that class; how'd you guess?) Returning to yoga practice after a long time away offers me all kinds of chances to work with my real body, with all of its imperfections. To be where I am, not just in a metaphysical sense but in a very embodied one.

I drove to class this morning humming a melody by Reb David Zeller z"l. The melody goes with the words "Ki imcha m'kor chayyim, b'orcha nir'eh or / for with You is the source of life, in Your light we see light" and the verse that was in my head goes

Wish to be where you want to be (3x)
Wish to be where you are.
Wish to be where you are right now (3x)
Wish to be where you are.

What better benediction could there be for a Monday morning -- for the return to yoga, for the work that lies ahead, for the ongoing process of refining how I relate to where I'm at on my various paths?

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