Upside Down

It’s the mid-semester slump: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”  Every thought feels poisonous.  Every conversation turns into a squabble.  Every day there is less sunshine, fewer steps toward progress or moments of joy.  Life itself seems stagnant.  My wheels are spinning. When will I start to accomplish something?

The mere thought of exercise makes me even grumpier, but I know I need it.  So I venture out in the morning to a yoga class — perhaps the only form of physical activity I find challenging and enjoyable. I think it’s the dichotomy of stillness and flexibility, control and freedom, that nourishes my soul; the focus on spiritual awareness (which is empty, but can easily be filled with prayer) is good for me, too.

I’m both a first-timer and late, but I am able to enter quietly and settle in among the other three students. The instructor introduces herself and the intention for the practice: Surrender.

I have to smile, because that’s one thing I have never been able to learn.  I would be trapped right alongside a group of monkeys with my hand in a jar, unable to let go of the argument or the banana even as the men in white coats approached with tranquilizer guns.  Here is God smiling at my flaws, I think, and I smile back.

We work; it is clear right away that the class is more advanced than I am, but I keep up as well as I can and concentrate on lengthening, balancing, opening — the words have an amazing power over my lazy bones. About halfway through, we take a new pose: fingers interlaced, heels of the hands planted firmly into the floor, crown of the head between them.  Toes inch closer, closer.  

“Has everyone here done inversions before?” asks the instructor.  I admit, shamefacedly, that I have not. “Would you like to try?” I would.  And two not-so-graceful kicks later, there I am, standing on my head.  The world is upside down.

I feel a rush of feverish adrenaline; it makes me laugh.  “Look, she loves it!” cheers the instructor from behind me.  I take a tentative breath, and then another.  Everything looks different from here.

Too soon, she calls us back to our mats.  I continue twisting and bending for half an hour, but with a fresh perspective.  Somehow, looking at the ceiling for just a few minutes, I see everything more clearly from the floor.