Lights low, class has begun.
“Close your eyes. Settle into your space. Draw attention to your breath. Let go of the day.”
The air breathes of softness and solitude. The sunlight gently shifts westward.
He prowls into the studio, panting and sweating. Drops a wallet and some keys on the floor. They pierce the silence with an aggressive jangle. He slaps his mat down and peers at me with wild and weary eyes.
“Have a seat,” I smile. We’re just getting started. Close your eyes. Focus on your breath.” I say this with an exaggerated tone of invitation, knowing full well his mind hears a command.
An agitated exhale stutters from his mouth. He twitches; knees jerk from discomfort. His arm flails out, the water bottle spills. He laps it up apologetically with his sleeve, swivels to scratch an itch, and sits back down with a slumped spine.
“Feel free to settle on a blanket if it’s more comfortable.” He doesn’t bother. His lack of response screams belligerence and apathy. I can feel the room of closed eyes and placid faces throw scorn at his scuffling. The space around him bends and retracts, casting shadows of frenzy that pulse aggressively at everyone in the room, especially me.
“Now, slowly open your eyes, but keep your gaze soft. Staying seated, inhale, sweep your arms to the ceiling; exhale, lower them to your lap. Inhale, reach for the sky, taking up space; exhale, float your hands to the floor.”
His limbs move in jagged undulations. Like wind-whipped waves, they scatter the pattern of tranquility that unfolds across this sea of moving bodies.
“Transitioning to your hands and knees, arch your spine up and down. Coordinate your breath and movement.” The room pulses with awakened bodies, cracks, pops, and swells in the sounds of salient release.
But his exhales are sighs of self-defeat. His body moves him like a storm moves across the ocean, whipping and thrashing all the contents around, stirring up soot and silt until it forms a cloudy froth at the edges of his mouth. There’s a deep dent in his forehead where the left brow dips toward the bridge of his nose in angry defiance. A gesture seared into the folds of his skin.
“Relax your neck. Relax the muscles of your face. Step back into downward dog.”
As I lead the class from seated to standing, we get playful.
“Flip-flop your body. As you twist from left to right, let your arms dangle and sway at your sides, like empty coat sleeves. Get loose. Get light. Shake your hands. Shake your feet.” Wiggles become giggles and the room booms with big-belly laughter.
I glance in his direction. There’s the hint of a smirk becoming a smile. It’s working.
“Soften those arms. Be playful in these postures.”
As we move from twists to triangle pose, twirling, tumbling, turning inside out, his scoffs become laughs and his grunts less like groans. Inch by inch a weight lifts from his shoulders. Layer by layer, the hostility cracks, peels off, and blows away.
“Let go completely.” I speak to the tempo of melting icicles, each word drip-dropping into pools of warm liquid, bathing my students in the free formlessness that is relaxation.
“Now it’s time for savasana, corpse pose.” They lie down settling for these few moments, like tumbleweeds between gusts of wind.
I watch with intent curiosity as his body tenses and relaxes in cycles, one moment surrendering to the weight of gravity, the next moment tightening protectively. Out of habit, his body retroactively grips against the vulnerability of letting go. Eventually, his movement ceases altogether.
I always wondered about this name. It seems so morbid for a practice like yoga that’s all about embracing the fullness of life…
Seeing his formerly ferocious body lying limp and lifeless on the floor brings new meaning to corpse pose. Some energies must die so that others may be born.
“Slowly begin to deepen your breath. Start to wiggle your fingers. Start to wiggle your toes. Gradually make your way back to seated.”
We end with a few moments of meditation, soaking in the benefits of our practice. Afterwards, amidst the sounds of mats returning to their zippered bags and feet shuffling softly out the door, he tiptoes toward me, his face all glow and smiles.
“How do you feel?” I inquire.
With a short pause and a serene expression, he parts his lips and speaks.
“I’m human again.”