It was nine years ago today that I trudged my way through the worn and cold streets of Boston to attend my first yoga class. I didn’t think too much about the process. Wasn’t overly deliberate. I selected a studio, picked a class, and showed up with a mat, towel, water, and small pieces of myself clinging to my bare hands. All I knew was this: I was a mess and I had to do something.
The class was a Bikram yoga class in Boston’s Chinatown. I didn’t call my “crew” to go. Didn’t mention it to anyone. I just went. There were no witnesses. Just me.
The room had mirrors. I had to look myself in the eye.
The place was heated to 105 degrees. It was more than hot.
I remember sweating. Breathing. Laughing and crying inside through that first class. I remember my first savasana, or corpse pose, lying in my own puddle of sweat and feeling for the first time, at home.
Funny to feel most alive in a pose that translates into dead person’s pose.
I remember I was the last one to leave the room. I stayed there in that savasana savoring this new space, resting, and threading a small piece of me back into my splintered heart.
I remember showering, drying off, touching that patch of old skin, now new. Walking back out into the streets of Boston, a little brighter now, less cracks in the road and more warmth to cover me.
I slept deep that night.
The next day I went back. And the next. And the next. And the next. One week turned into two and two turned into three, three weeks became a month… one month became two. And so it goes.
Each time we would stand in mountain or tadasana pose. I would face myself in that fogged mirror. I would bow slightly; a way of acknowledging that it was me standing there and then fix my gaze or dhristi on my own eyes.
We would breath. Six counts in. Pause. Six counts out. Pause.
Every inhale was a long hello.
Hello short brown girl, I love you.
Hello healing, where you been?
Hello self-nurturance, remember me?
Hello truth, Let’s get free.
Every exhale…a release, a goodbye:
Goodbye- Stranger I am remembering.
Goodbye Burdens, My arms have light to hold and joy to bear.
Goodbye Dead End relationships, I hear Love calling me home.
Goodbye inauthenticity, I am daring to be real.
I remember one day about two months into the beginning of my practice in bow or natarajansa pose, a quiet grace and a spiraling joy welled up in me. I touched my inner dancer. I felt the pose as a dance of destruction, the kind that leads to profound and deep creation. Later I discovered the story of Natatraj.
When I am open…the teachings come to me in many forms. When I am quiet. I hear the most. The stillness is always there. I just have to step into it. This peace. This healing. This raw realness is who I am. It is who I have always been. This practice beckons me to remember. I am grateful for that teaching from the beginning.
And the mistakes. The missteps along this way. The falling out of poses and not being able to laugh about it. My slippery descent into yoga evangelicalism (you know preaching the gospel of yoga, and only talking about how great it is…like when people are discussing…let’s say their favorite song, busting into a chant…Om Namo Shivaya!)
The obsession. The grasping for poses. The “I hate that teacher, I love that teacher.” The “oh look how good I look in this pose) The I have to be in the front row so every one can see how extra fly my standing head to knee is…you know. The clinging and coveting of that spot in the room. There is obviously more, but I will stop there.
And I continue to practice.
I am still in love. And like all relationships as we season together, it gets deeper, wider, higher.
This is more than a passionately sensual 60-90 minute a day romp in the hay. This is more than an intellectual and philosophical musing under dimmed lights with slow and lulling grooves playing in the background. This is more than sweat and tears of ecstatic pleasure and the ache of a torn soul being stitched back together.
The practice is so deep and wide. We bring to it, all we have. Our tattered pieces flung here and there, sores we haven’t cleaned, fragile places we have built fortress like armor around, and breaks we have tried to conceal with make up, stories and songs to forget. And this practice- all eight limbs of it, welcomes us home, courts and unconditionally loves us into a space of grace. It calls on us to gather up the pieces of who we have been, who we think we are and day-by-day, breath-by-breath, asana- by -asana, practice-by- practice, om- by-sacred om, it shows us who and what we are. The shadow. The light. The ugly. The beautiful.
I remember the day, I against so many odds showed up carrying all I had in the wounded cases of my hands. Those bits and pieces, my offering, my toll to get on this ancient road.
Who knew I would patch up so nicely? Stumble, fall, and break open so many times so beautifully? Get back up and break some more. Collapse in defeat. Rise in power. Through this practice- again and again.
I am grateful.
About the writer:
Octavia teaches middle school by day and yoga by night, and learns through those practices even more. For her yoga class schedule visit www.atlantahotyoga.com.
She is also the Atlanta Area Coordinator for Maya Breuer’s Yoga Retreat For Women of Color™. You can find more information about the retreat on the organization’s Facebook page.
For additional information you can reach Octavia Raheem on Facebook.
[…] not me. That’s Octavia Raheem, featured on Chelsea Loves […]
Namaste- and deep bow to you Maya!
Thanks so much Gail. Your words spread radiance, just like the light of your being!
Octavia your poetic soul flows through your writing like the inner dancer flows through your asana practice. This is so beautiful to read. Thank you for sharing.