Yoga Good At It

I’m standing on my yoga mat, wedged between my nightstand and a basket of dog toys in the back corner of my bedroom—which has become my yoga studio in the pandemic. It is here on this 6 x 3 piece of rubber, that I come to escape my kids, my husband, my job, my dogs, Amazon, all of it. 

“Right knee into your chest, left arm up and twist,” Brian, my yoga teacher of 15 years, instructs from my laptop, sitting on a small ottoman at the foot of my bed just to my right. He is now diminished to a head on a screen. I’m weighed down by a giant hoodie and a long-sleeved t-shirt over my yoga top just to try and recreate some of that unnatural studio heat. 

My body knows the poses so well by now, I move in and out of them with relative ease, which makes sense because I’ve been practicing yoga for over two decades. But I wonder why it’s called a yoga practice no matter how experienced you are. Even for those people who can self-levitate in the shape of a pretzel, it’s still called a yoga “practice” and not a yoga “good at it.”

I follow Brian’s instructions, balancing on one leg, I twist. My lips closed, inhaling, and exhaling only through my nose, I take deep, fluid, ujjayi breaths. The muscles in my face, my tongue, my jaw, relaxed, my shoulders soft, twisting, wringing myself out, my right arm stretched out behind me, I gaze at my fingertips.  I am still. I am grounded. 

My bedroom door flies open. 

I am interrupted.

“Mom!” Phoebe, my 11-year old charges in.  

“Paige’s mom gave her money to buy the upgrade Minecraft!” She huffs.

I ignore her, keeping my gaze on my fingertips, hoping the fact that I am clearly in the middle of something will drive her away or at the very least, impress her.

“Can I have your credit card? Please, mommy?” Phoebe pleads. 

Deep, fluid ujjayi breathing.  

Out of the corner of my third eye, I see her: Her uncombed, long, brown hair with the blue tips she had to have because Paige’s mom let her have them, her face smeared with Goldfish dust wearing a chocolate stained white t-shirt with the words, “BE KIND” in big blue letters, hands on her hips, she is waiting for me to cave.  

“Bring your gaze forward, lower your leg and sit into chair pose,” Brian instructs with zero awareness that Phoebe is standing behind him. His head positioned between her knees; it looks as if she might crush him.  

“Mom! It’s not FAIR!” Phoebe huffs.

Deep, fluid ujjayi breathing.

My knees bent in chair pose, my thighs screaming almost as loudly as my daughter, I recall something Brian had once said, “The real yoga goes on off the mat. Can you breathe when things get difficult? Can you be still and not reacting? Can you remain calm in the face of adversity?”

No. I cannot. Not if Phoebe’s face is the face of adversity.

With each increasingly shrill, “Mom! It’s not fair! You’re being mean!” my breath quickens, my jaw clenches, my face muscles tighten, my eyes narrow, nostrils flare, my shoulders hunch up around my ears, until finally, I open my mouth and shout, a guttural, explosive reminder, “I AM A PERSON!!

Deep, fluid ujjayi breathing out the window, I learn that this is why it’s called a yoga “practice” and not a “yoga good at it.” ❏

Liz Astrof is a writer and mother who lives in Los Angeles and hasn’t been to a mall in eight months.

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