The Alchemy of Release
The couch underneath me is soft, white, a color likely labeled with fragility in mind, like “eggshell” or “bone.” I’m sitting cross-legged in the back of the room. The morning light streams in from my left onto the floor, hitting the reds and blues of the mandala on the wool rug, the women under their blankets on top of their yoga mats in front of me. The space is cozy from the fire, glowing in the brick fireplace near the feet of the women, deep in savasana, the sanctioned nap at the end, the death of practice. Completion. There’s music playing, wordless, bittersweet piano somehow expressing what is unfolding in the space even as no one moves.
For me, the hypervigilant introvert and sporadic yoga instructor, savasana is the time when I too can relax.
I became a yoga instructor to learn more about how to practice on my own, not because I had any desire to be the person running the show. For me, yoga was the thing I turned to out of sheer frustration. It was one of the few things my cardiologist would sanction as good activity for my body since I could no longer depend on the intensity of endurance training.
Yoga was the place I could grieve the loss of my identity, could explore new expressions of what my body could do, and begin the process of letting go of the ways my Type-A, hard-driving habits were eating me alive. It forced me to slow down and let go, sometimes of sweat, sometimes of tears, and more often than not, of what I thought was important so I could feel what was there instead, what my body knew was really important. To notice the slow path the sunlight traveled across the wide, uneven floorboards of the yoga studio in an hour. To feel my own pain, both in a posture or in my life, as I couldn’t fathom who I now was. To feel the loosening of things I held tightly, now that I had stopped trying to busily numb my way out of my feelings.
I uncross my legs and move into the most delicious part of that rest at the end. The adjust.
I rub my palms together a few inches from the ear of each woman, one by one, signaling I am about to come into her space and warming my hands in preparation. I begin by watching her breathe and timing the downward pressure of my hands on her shoulders to stretch her chest more deeply as she exhales, her palms rolling open. I cup both hands behind her neck, feeling the warmth of her body, the light coating of sweat, the fragility of her skin, and the hairs I try not to pull as I move. I massage those small muscles that support her head and adjust my grip to cradle her skull, creating gentle traction.
As I move to a gentle massage of the muscles around Marion’s forehead and eyes, I see a tear creep cautiously from the corner of a closed eye. My fingers graze the wetness as I finish. This eye has seen enough years to be neither firm nor smooth, and the tear diffuses into the crinkles I’ve seen light up but haven’t, until now, touched.
It’s an unusual intimacy. It brings tears to my own eyes: tears of recognition, tears of empathy. I have also been in that position, weeping at the end of my own yoga practice. I know that feeling, that much-needed release.
My tears are also of relief: they tell me I hadn't gotten in the way. I spend more time than you'd think fretting about getting in the way of Yoga. Like a priest worrying about ruining sacred rites, or a referee obstructing the field of play, I worry that my own inexperience would impede the beauty and the power of being guided through movement, linking body and breath, cocooned within warmth and music. Yoga had its way with this woman, and she experienced what she needed to experience.
That tear reminds me of what I know happens when we slow down and give ourselves - and our bodies - space. It feels like alchemy, like magic, something humans have known for millennia.
What needs to come through comes through. What needs to be released releases. And, like an out-breath, once it's gone, it's gone.