Thanks to Leah Campbell for this wonderfully sensory guest post on Yoga to the People, St Mark’s in New York.
I’ve never had more complicated relationships with strangers than I have since I moved to New York. I share meaningful connections with people whose names I will never know and stories I will never hear. The man that hangs out on the steps of St Mark’s Church in the Bowery regularly tells me that I’m beautiful. A conductor on the 1 train has one of the most theatrical, velvety voices I’ve ever heard and I told him so once.
There is something going on with the ventilation system in our apartment that means when I’m brushing my teeth, I can hear the conversation of the people in the apartment upstairs crystal clear. It’s like they’re standing right next to me as I floss, but they have no idea I’m there. It kind of makes me feel like a ghost. Fragments of the city outside also seep in through our living room. We live on the ground floor, and constantly hear snippets of conversations that float in from the sidewalk. Some are positive, some are kinky, some are hilarious and lots of them are angry. Small insights borne of unnatural proximity.
Yoga to the People on St Mark’s Place is another venue where this strange proximity of strangers swirls among the urbanites. Donation based yoga is a wonderfully inclusive initiative that results in many, many yogis in a fairly small space. So many bodies crammed in together that your mat almost touches the mats of your neighbors on all four sides. Take a look.
There are several things you can count on when you practice right next to your fellow yoga enthusiasts. For instance, you won’t be using any space outside the four corners of your mat. That means no tricky balancing, no standing on your head, no using the wall and no rock star.
Based on the sheer number of people in the room, there will always be at least one person with a penchant for really vocal exhales. Orgasmic ones. It’s a testament to the philosophy of the place that whenever inspiration strikes and a student breaks into one of these explosive moans, it’s usually followed by the teacher remarking “that sounds great—lets all do a huge exhale together”. I giggle and pretend it doesn’t sound like group sex.
In addition to hearing your fellow yogi’s exhale, you will also feel it. Usually while in warrior two. And it won’t be the faint trickle of breath that you occasionally shiver through during rush hour on the subway. This will be a slow, steady wall of stale air that starts on your back, travels up your neck and comes to rest behind your ears. The upside of all this closeness is that, when you transition from warrior two into side angle, and the teacher tells you to imagine you are trapped between two panes of glass, you don’t really have to imagine, because you are, in fact, trapped between two people.
It’s not just your fellow yogis that you have the pleasure of getting up close and personal with. I have a real soft spot for the dude whose kitchen looks directly into the yoga studio’s window who stumbles into his kitchen during the 7am class with bed hair to brew his morning coffee. He must know that we are all huffing and puffing and balancing for our lives right in front of him, but he plays it cool. It’s yet another moment where I find myself intimately, inadvertently involved in the private life of a stranger.
I’ve dabbled in yoga for a really long time, but only very recently did it hook me in. For the first time ever, I’m actually making it to the studio at least once a week (an extraordinary feat, by my lazy standards). And of all the studios I’ve tried, I can’t quite figure out why this is the one that has tipped me over the edge into regular practice. I think part of it is the donation-based payment system. I cannot abide being told what to do, and perhaps on a subconscious level paying for a full month upfront made me feel obliged to turn up. Now that there is no pressure to go, I’m far more likely to set my alarm for the 7am class and actually get my butt there. Nonsensical, but true. Perhaps another reason is the size of the class. There are enough people in the room to feel anonymous, but the crazy-close proximity means that you end up feeling connected in an introverted, circumstantial, big city kind of way.
I felt this kind of connection at the end of a particularly intense class last week. As the Tibetan singing bowl drew to a close and people started to pick themselves up to trudge back out into whatever the night had in store for them, I heard the bloke lying next to me whisper to himself—so quietly that I wondered whether I might be reading his mind—“that was awesome”. I giggled and thought to myself that he was right.
Image credit: Peter D on Yelp