Thursday, December 18, 2008

Yoga Yard 1 and 2

Well, I’ve arrived semi-permanently in Beijing. That means I’m living in a tiny ping-fong (standard housing apartment) with my friends Sarah and Maggie and pulling what few long sleeved shirts I brought to Singapore out of the bottom of my luggage to wear, one on top of another beneath my jacket.

As many of you know, I don’t speak Chinese. At all. I’ve barely mastered “thank you”, “hello”, and sometimes, after a strong cocktail and in search of another, I work up the guts to say “Hey, Foo-yen!” which means “server”. I point to things on menus, and pull out scraps of paper with addresses in Mandarin to show taxi drivers. My mobility is limited, and looking at maps only seems to confuse me more.

In spite of all this, I’ve managed to find a yoga studio that reminds me a little of home. It’s called the Yoga Yard, and it’s a small, home-y studio on the sixth floor of a building that houses, among other things, a tanning salon and a spa. They offer a variety of classes, including kids yoga, restorative and level 1-3 vinyasa.

The first class I went to was a restorative class, which was billed on the brochure as a time to RELAX!! This should have been a signal it wouldn’t be super relaxing—am I the only one who equates capital letters and exclamation points with yelling? But then again, this is Beijing, a city where conversations compete with cars, cell phones and the bright, distracting scenery of constant movement. So maybe we all need to be told to RELAX!!, or we just wouldn’t.

Unfortunately, even the loudest CD of gentle waterfalls can’t drown out the street below, even six floors above it. The restorative class wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible, either. Most of the classes there are offered both in English and Mandarin so demonstrating is more important then the verbal cues. The restorative class felt a lot like kindergarten naptime—a welcome thing most of the time, but I wanted space and clarity, not a nap. Beijing overwhelms me; I’ve said it here, and I’m sure in any number of emails I write home. I have to remind myself to breath here, and there are times even when I do remember to breathe that I just don’t want to: The smog hangs like dirty curtains in front of buildings and every other street corner smells like sewage, skunks or sweet potatoes. Okay, I don’t mind the smells of the last two, but sometimes I sure miss the true blue dream of Colorado skies.

The instructor wasn’t as focused on breath; in fact, she mentioned it twice in the ninety minutes we were together. But I still relaxed, if not restored. In a supine heart opener, sprawled across a bolster, I actually fell asleep for a few minutes, which was undeniably pleasant. Benjamin took the class with me, and I was getting so sleepy for a minute there it seemed natural to crawl over to his space and snuggle under his blanket with him. That would have been weird, though, I suspect.

The second class I took at Yoga Yard was a level 1-2 hatha class. It’s an hour and a half class offered in English and Mandarin for both beginners and more advanced students. The studio we practiced in was small and oddly shaped, recalling memories of Lulu’s. We started with a similar easy sit side stretch and moved our way slowly—s l o w l y—into Sun A. Vinyasas were offered to “level 2” and level 1 students were directed to downward dog. The vinyasa was plank held for four beats and back to downward dog—only the man next to me and myself ventured into an up dog, and when I realized we didn’t have to do it, I stopped.

For whatever reason I found myself exhausted during the practice. It was slightly boring; maybe, and too slow; we did crescent, warrior II and triangle for standing postures. I couldn’t gather enough momentum to really care about the class, and after each vinyasa I found myself in wide legged child’s pose. The instructor seemed to be taking a few cues from me, and each time I got into child’s pose, she cued the class to do it as well.

Beijing exhausts me, certainly, and even the task of getting to the yoga studio takes a bit of patience and energy. I spent a great deal of time in the class considering how I would get back home—if I even knew how to get back home, so I wonder if once I become more ‘local’, the openness and ease I find in my 'normal' yoga practice will come easier to me.

Anyway, it’s all a lesson for me to let go of what I expect, or even what I want, and accepting what I get. Finding a place to move with and be present with what’s actually happening, on and off the mat.

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