We leave our shoes at the bottom of the stairs, and climb up to a big, wooden loft space. It's so beautiful and bright. We sit in a large circle, all thirty of us, all thirty women, holding our breaths for the welcome.
And then it begins.
Introductions like I never knew were possible. Each taking our turn, in our own time, around the circle, we share - who we are, where we are from and why we are here. There is an openness that surprises me, it catches me off guard and I take in all the life that is laid bare in front of us. And there are tears. So many tears. The cards are passed to me, near the end, and after hearing the heart stories from the others, I tell mine. I tell them about who I am and where I am from and why I am here. Except that I don't know why I am here and it comes out in an unplanned blur of things I have never before spoken out loud. Because when you are surrounded by the deepest level of vulnerability, held within all of us, for every one of us, you have no choice but to open yourself up to it. I cry. I cry in front of thirty strangers who I have not yet even learned all the names of. They listen and they hold the space for me. Time stops and I take a deep breath, say thank you, pass the cards on.
We break the circle to find a place on our mats, take a few minutes to journal, and then Rachel takes our first yoga class. We move, we breathe. We stretch, we breathe. We reach, we breathe. I can hear people crying as we lie in our first shavasana, the energy in the room is so strong. When we open our eyes, we find a partner. Sitting in front of one another, knee to knee, touching, so close I can see every soft hair on her cheek. It's awkward. We take a breath together, ground, connect. We are told to look into our partner's eyes, in silence, until we are told to stop. Somewhere between two and four minutes, I can't remember now, I focus on her eyes. It feels like longer.. and then it feels like not long enough. Her eyelashes are thick and curled and her makeup is so perfect and I wonder if I should be thinking about something deeper. I realise that we are so close that I can't physically look at both of her eyes at the same time. So I choose the left eye first, but I wonder if she notices, and then I quickly shift to the right. Can she see both of my eyes at the same time? Can she see me at all? We blink. Her eyes are so full. She's crying.
When it's over, we are told to spontaneously decide, in silence, between us, who will go first. We smile. She starts. She shares what she wrote about just before our yoga practice. I'm still looking at her, at her eye(s), watching them animate. We're told not to respond or react, only to listen, to listen and hold the space. So I listen. And all I can think is, same same same. Our knees are still touching, we take a deep breath together. It's my turn to share.
I took my first class here last year, a week after the Stockholm Attack. I was looking for a faster pace, something to push through and release all of the built up tension in my body. (I don't know why I didn't just go for a run.) It was the first class I had found to be held in English but within the first three minutes, I had already decided that I would hate it. It was slower than I wanted, less of a challenge than I thought I needed.
It was heart openers. It was every challenge that I needed.
I went back to that class for the following four weeks, until the teacher, Ai, went on maternity leave. It was the first time I realised how sensitive I was (still am) to whoever holds the class, relative to the way I respond to the practice. Which is, perhaps, more of a comment on my own self validity within this context, but it's been hard to find a similar experience than to the one I felt with Ai. I signed up to her email list, to be notified of her future classes and events, although it's taken me until now to finally find her again.
I am not naturally flexible, nor do I have any real strength in my core, if I don't consistently work on it. My hamstrings are always tight, I hold wonky trees and broken-looking wheels and I shake when I am in (attempted) boat pose. This is a thing that never changes having been on-and-off with yoga for so many years now. But I know my warriors are strong, I can hold a decent plank, and my triangles are something I am proud of - I'll give myself that.
This year, I have completely fallen off the yoga bandwagon (again). After almost 8 months of a steady practice of Bikram (hot) yoga, some months of up to 4 times each week, with no problems, I suddenly came close to fainting. Twice. Both times I don't think I made passed the second round of poses. And it happened in an instant - that overwhelming feeling of nausea, the spots of light clouding my vision. I would spend the rest of the class lying on my mat. The last time was just after the new year. I've been too scared to push my body to that point to try again. Especially since I still don't know why I reacted like that. In another studio, my regular Hatha (not hot) class teacher moved back to Australia and after trying a few new classes, in both English and Swedish, I got shy about trying again. The problem with so few classes in English means that they are almost always big and almost always full. Classes with up to forty people and only a hand-width between our mats carry a different kind of energy. And for me, in those classes, there is only so far I feel I can take my practice on a personal (emotional) level. It means that I mostly go for the physicality of the practice and rarely, as much as I try, embrace the mentality of it. It means that it becomes an extra thing on my to-do list and, sometimes, it's hard to feel motivated to go again. I signed up each week, only to cancel, mostly, on the day. Because, I told myself, that I should listen to my body and if I didn't want to go, then I didn't have to. That it's ok to not be ok and I shouldn't be so hard on myself. Eventually I blurred my own intentions and confused self-care for self-sabotage. I've barely managed 3 times a month since October last year.
Last year I took a short yoga course in a newly opened studio in Södermalm. It's a tiny space but it's kept so special, sacred, intimate. I never went to any of the other classes after the course ended there, simply because they were mostly in Swedish. But a couple of weeks ago, I read Ai's latest email update, and she was teaching at that very studio this term. I put myself on the waiting list and on the day, took one of the cancelled spots. There were 8 of us in this class.
When I walked in, she recognised me. After only taking a handful of her classes from over a year ago, she remembered. And she knew my name, which I really have no memory of ever telling her, aside from writing my email address in her notebook. She hugged me. I congratulated her on the baby. We commented on how fast time flies.
This class is a gentle one, something I usually would not do, but clearly my other ideas are not working out for me right now. On this first one, of course, we focused on heart openers. Everything is slowed down. I have my eyes closed for almost the whole practice. In the middle of a stretch, my eyes get full. I hear someone else take a gulp of air as if she's crying. And then I notice my feet are wet and my face is dripping. I can't tell you exactly what I was thinking about except that I know the song that played in the background was like a trigger to something I didn't realise I was holding on so tightly to. It was Medicine by Daughter. It still makes me cry when I listen to it again. I quietly sobbed to the end of the song, eternally grateful that we were in forward folds and my face was still towards my feet.
You could still be, what you want to, what you said you were, when I met you.
Of all the poses I can or cannot do, my body will always crave heart openers. I feel it every time I roll my shoulders back or push my hips forward. There is always a tension that I need to work on around my chest. But it's a thing I'm coming to learn, that even if my body craves what it needs, my mind has to follow that for it to actually happen. And so it rarely does happen by my own accord. Those heart openers. They hurt. Every stretch, every breath, every push to lift up, open. I spend so much energy trying to protect the most fragile part of my inner body, to let it come forward first feels more counterintuitive than healthy.
For the most part, they only come around in one or two poses in each class, and I can deal with that. It doesn't hurt so much in the physical sense and I have learned to breathe through it, let it pass. But to focus the intention of the entire practice on the very thing, well damn, it hurts. And so, I know, I need to work on it. I need to stretch it and breathe into it and push to lift it up and open. So, I'm committing to this class every week, for the sake of my heart, and the desperate need to not die young from a broken one. Because in the end it's just a muscle that needs to be exercised and I know it (I) will be better for it when I do.
Stronger. Open. Free.