Yogis in the City

9 years of east-coast city life wires your mind and body a whole new way.  Tight, stressed, mentally, emotionally and physically compressed.  The vitality, culture and community I draw from city life always outweighs the drawbacks of my urban existence.  But sometimes just barely.

A few weeks ago I found myself at the Sunday morning class at the donation-based  St. Marks Yoga to the People in NYC.  Usually, I’m baffled by the lack of people out-and-about before noon on a weekend in the cultural capital of the world.  This time I found myself mat-to-mat with 70 other students, jonesing for some vigorous asana.  The class was not unlike the hot and crowded power yoga classes I’ve taken in Philly.  The instructor kept things light and simple (and challenging).  The major difference was the breath.

All the AHHHHHHHHHHHHhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh’s, “uuuuaaahhhh’s, and haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa exhales.  Longer, deeper, and a lot louder.  I’m not talking about the occasional practitioner who interprets ujjayi  to as a breath more akin to moaning or grunting than that “fogging up a mirror”/”Darth Vader” oceanic sound.  In Philly, I’m used to students who are a little afraid to breathe, or at least to do so audibly.  Half a room full of 70 strangers feeling comfortable enough to make these primal breaths with such volume and intensity surprised me.

And then I thought, oh, yeah, I get it!  Manhattan is always go-go-go-go-go!!! all of the time.  It’s expensive, relentlessness, exhausting.  It’s everything you’ve always wanted and everything you never even knew existed.  It’s high heels stuck in subway grates, turnstiles, blaring horns, stand-clear-of-the-closing-doors, and speeding cabbies.  It’s work-hard, play-hard, for more hours than any other city would allow.  It’s where-is-the-nearest-public-bathroom, and of-course-I-have-to-wait-an-hour-for-a-table-at-brunch!  It’s amazing, and it’s terrifying.  It’s definitely a lot to handle.  If anyone ever needed to let go with a big, kind of wacky, totally loud exhale 20 times in row, it’s probably a New Yorker.

So more power to you, New YAAAAaaaaHHHHHHHHHHHhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhkers.  Keep breathing.  And maybe take time to go somewhere, now and again, where you don’t need someone to remind you to breathe out.

Photo by Casey Kelbaugh for The New York Times

Photo by Casey Kelbaugh for The New York Times


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