Early on a Sunday morning, I boarded the subway bound for a mysterious new class, reservation-only, in an un-marked Chelsea tower. I traversed the long avenues between the C line and 11th, only to realize that the instructions said “11th Floor.” Whoops! I back-tracked those laborious avenues and found the address. I checked my watch as the elevator ascended. In spite of my long detour, I still had a few minutes to spare…
As I exited the elevator I saw a gazillion doors (well, OK, maybe ten or so) – all without signage. Afraid to knock, I sheepishly uttered “hello?!” next to each door, wondering whether I would be greeted by the smell of incense and candles or an angry bulldog (or worse – its owner!) awoken from slumber. No answer anywhere. I desperately looked around for other eager mat-toters as the hands on my watch approached the start time. As I frantically texted and emailed both studio owner, it began to dawn on me that this class was not going to work out.
I’m a strong-willed person, and I’ve learned how to make things happen. But I’m not so good at letting things happen to me. So I must admit, my reaction to this situation was not the grace and ease that would befit a yogi, but frustration at having awoken early and spent an hour traveling from my Brooklyn digs to the city all for naught. Uttering some choice expletives hardly released the tension. The bare white walls and barred windows glared in non-responsive silence.
Hungry, tired, and irritated I surveyed my options: go for another class somewhere else; go back home (extremely unsatisfying, plus I’ll probably just skip practice and go back to bed); stay here fuming until the bulldog arrives…
As I took a deep breath and became aware of my surroundings, another option began to emerge. I heard a primal drumbeat from the floor above. Tuning in more closely, I sensed the stomping of feet, and the mingling of voices. I called the elevator and tentatively entered another hallway of un-marked doors, this time accompanied by the joyful chords of a full-on gospel choir.
I toyed with the idea of crashing the church party, but I felt under-dressed and over-tired, and my body was craving my morning yoga practice. An open window in a far corner of the hallway beckoned, and an impulsive urge came over me to unroll my mat in the little square of sunshine. I stood in Tadasana, facing the open window, wondering – am I really about to do this?! I cautiously moved into a Sun Salutation, guiltily looking back between my knees from Downward Dog to make sure I wasn’t giving anyone a sacrilegious view. All the floor’s occupants seemed blissfully entranced in singing, and so this Jewish girl turned yogini found herself rapturously throwing down yoga moves in the name of Jesus. Hallelujah!
New York City grants an odd privacy to those who dare to do something off-beat. The few passers-by carefully averted their eyes almost as if I were invisible, and I was able to practice un-disturbed.
My exhaustion faded as my body wound itself into contorted poses like Eka Pada Koundinyasana that I had felt too tired to even contemplate minutes earlier. Sunlight streaming through the window bars warmed me as I folded deeply forward. The crisp blue autumn sky seemed to wink encouragingly. I opened my chest in a standing backbend with breeze kissing my face and a birds-eye view any NYC yogi would envy.
My restless mind surrendered to the spontaneity of the moment, and I realized that often the things I wear myself out seeking are to be found right here, in the messiness of the things that don’t seem to be going my way. I was ‘sleuthing’ a NYC moment, a precious experience I would have missed had I remained fixated on my attempt gone awry. Losing a class I found the essence of Yoga in an unlikely corner of a Chelsea high-rise. Surrendering my small will to the grateful acceptance of what life had to offer I felt peaceful, calm, and connected.
I descended with songs of praise ringing in my ears. Walking up a 9th Avenue block more seedy than spiritual, I heard the voice in my mind parroting the words that had fueled my morning’s practice: “The presence of the Lord is in this place.”