It’s a Wednesday night in North Portland and you are a goddess of the moon. You are carefully outfitted in bendable lycra, and a top that won’t fall over your face when you head into that first downward facing dog. Your kids are at their dad’s house, and you take a moment to whisper a prayer of gratitude. “Thank you, divorce goddess, for granting me this late night yoga class.”
You stretch back into child’s pose, forehead to the orange mat, the one that bears the transferred newsprint remains of a toddler’s art project from long ago. You breathe and set your intention for the next 90 minutes of serious mom-time vinyasa. You still don’t really know what it means to “set your intention” but enough yoga instructors have said it so you trust it must mean something worth doing. Your intention: to be present. Your body is here and accounted for, held in by technical fabrics, but willing the mind to quiet is like asking your kids for the 17th time to not talk while chewing or to refrain from farting at the dinner table.
The yogi opens the class with a calm and smoky reminder to stay present and you think “Holy shit she’s a mind reader! What else does she know?” and then you chastise yourself for already drifting away from the present you had committed to just a second before.
You remind yourself to stay.
“Stay, mama, stay.”
The yogi coaxes your class through their cat cows; inhale as you point your ass toward heaven, exhale as you pull your gut into your spine. Repeat. Regret your choice in underwear. Mentally acknowledge the laundry that sits wet at home in the washing machine, where it’s been since the night before. Inhale.
How “stayed” can you possibly ever be? How can you stay when all of the other minutes, days and hours are somehow simultaneously holding you together, pulling you apart, and swimming all around you, like an army of lotus blossoms adrift on your tranquil pond? How “stayed” can you be when you chose divorce and agreed to terms that life without one person meant a sacrifice of 50% less time with your kids? You didn’t stay. You left.
The yogi shushes your mind as she asks you to come to a deep squat, elbows to the insides of your knees, hands at heart center. “This is how we should go to the bathroom,” she reminds you. You consider removing the toilet from the downstairs bathroom in the home you rent, and you wonder how easily the children would take to squatting over a hole to take a poop. Then you remember camping trips and know that they would take to it with swift expertise.
You move from the squat to bakasana, crane pose. You lift your toes off the mat and hover, supported by your forearms and fall promptly on your face. You suck at crane pose. Bakasucka. But at least you showed up right? Isn’t that half the battle? You’re halfway to something. Halfway. 50/50 split.
You wind into eagle pose and choose a point on the wall to stare at so you don’t topple over. Again. The yogi believes in story time and takes the class on an adventure through the birth of Ganesha. One version of the story, she clarifies. Of how the goddess Parvati wanted a son and how the gods finally granted her one. But her husband Shiva was off in the mountains meditating and was left out of the kid conversation, which is kinda what happens when you go off to meditate in the mountains for NINE years. So when he did come home from his long sit-and-think in the hills, there was this kid at his front door, and the kid did not know Shiva, and Shiva did not know the kid. And when the kid wouldn’t let Shiva in, Shiva cut off the kid’s head, of course. When Parvati heard what he had done and Shiva was like “oh shit”, she threatened to destroy everything in creation. So Shiva pleaded with the gods and was like “uh, what now?” and he was instructed to go into the jungle and bring back the head of the first animal who presented itself to him. So Shiva did as he was instructed and a short while in to the jungle an elephant was like “Here, take my head.” And Shiva carried home the elephant head triumphantly, stuck the head on his kid’s body, and a deity boy was born.
And the whole time that the yogi is impressing upon you the knowledge of yogic history and you’re searching for clues as to how it will help you master an unassisted head stand, you can’t help but think “How the fuck can she remember all this? I forgot to put on deodorant. I have to make a list every morning that includes “eat lunch” and “find the cat”” and she’s able to remember detailed goddess folklore whilst tangled in an impossible pretzel.
Exhale. “Stay, mama.”
You ease into a pigeon pose and lament your tight hips. The hips that opened up for birth like automatic sliding doors at Target on a Black Friday zero dark morning, but with slightly less pushing. Now they’re like a rubber band that’s been left to bake in the sun.
The yogi chants “Exhale deeply, audibly, like a bellows fully compressed.” The man to your right exhales deeply, and then lets fly his bellows, audibly. Only nose hairs react. You and your class pretend you’re so focused that you don’t notice the stink. But if your 6 year old daughter and your 9 year old son were here right now they’d be pink-cheeked with tears in the corners of their eyes as they fought to contain the giggling intensity of a million carbonated bubbles pushing at the top of a lidded bottle. But they’re at their dad’s tonight, remember? And this is mom-time vinyasa.
The yogi gently leads the class into camel pose, a back bend. You’re good at this one, and you lean your head back, shaking it slightly to overcome the sausage roll of neck fat that has recently moved in. She asks you to feel how your heart has opened.
You feel it.
She lowers the lights and nurtures you into savasana. “Be present,” she reminds you, “and breathe. It’s all about the breath.” You breathe in and feel a warmth surround your heart, you breathe out and for a brief and blissful moment, you are fully present, connected all at once to your intention, your choices, your circumstances, your body, your heart, and your family. You are whole. Your family is whole.
You roll to your side and come to a comfortable seated position, hands returning to your heart center. The yogi leads the class in a collective “Om.” Then she lowers her head, and you lower yours, and you whisper your closing prayer of gratitude, “Mama stay.”
This piece was originally written and performed for Listen To Your Mother, Portland, 2015.