Once I was allowed to work at a Yoga Studio in Brooklyn. I say, “allowed” because at the time I was a mess (and that’s putting it lightly). I was trying to stop drinking, trying to stop being sad, trying to stop being in love with every tattooed beauty I met in Prospect Park, trying. I was trying to stop trying.
A generous studio owner in Windsor Terrace gave me the opportunity to run the front desk at her Yoga studio a few days a week in exchange for free classes. I could check everyone into the class and then at the last minute (if I wanted to) I could lock the front door and slip my mat through the back curtain and take the class.“There’s just one thing,” she said before she tossed me the keys on my first day. “You have to sweep the studio after every class. Sweep and then wet and dry mop. I’ll show you.” She opened a closet close to the desk and pulled out a broom with a wicker bottom, and a pail with a bottle labeled “tea tree oil concoction”. Born and raised in Brooklyn my parents used Pine Sol and Clorox on everything. This was new and environmentally savvy. It smelled like upstate New York and made me forget for a minute who I was and more than who I was it made me forget who I wasn’t and who I was trying to be.
My boss had me follow her through the studio first sweeping from the corners inwards. Then after we pushed the dirt into the mini dustpan we filled the bucket with this Upstate New York smelling substance and began the mopping, then the dry mopping. “You must mop the same way you sweep and do it mindfully. Every time you clean the studio bring your focus and energy into what you’re doing, just like in yoga.”
I felt like a female Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid. I disliked doing anything the same way. Looking back, perhaps that’s what my life lacked most at the time: structure. I wanted to do things the same way I just didn’t know how. My body and mind pushed everything away in those days. I pushed so hard against emotions that I couldn’t feel anything and so sweeping the studio, in the same way, every day, sometimes three times a day, was a relief and a hindrance all at once.
The first week of sweeping the studio different pictures from my life passed through my mind. They weren’t all bad pictures but I was trying to focus! Of course there were also the yoga classes. I would sweep, check the next class in and then slip my mat through the back curtain and feel that I couldn’t do any of the poses. I couldn’t even touch my toes! I fell back into Child’s Pose more times than I could count and then I couldn’t wait for Shavasana, even though that scared me too because though relaxing it would mean having to go deep inside of myself to find peace.
So there I was, working at a yoga studio feeling like the worst student of yoga, pushing my feelings away, doing everything wrong…or so it seemed. But, it’s funny with the Eastern arts. Sometimes, faking it is the one true path to heart. Going through the motions somehow helped me to get somewhere, which wasn’t anywhere really, but it was here.
Let me explain. One day my boss asked if I could do the desk on a Sunday night. Trying to stay away from the bars and the boys I thought this would be all right. But, the Sunday night class was a restorative class and I had only been taking morning classes that generally were early flow and tune up classes. A restorative class is slower and it is supposed to be more relaxing. I’m a brassy Brooklynite with a “go, go, go” personality and so as I found out that night the restorative classes are more challenging for me. Also, I had been taking yoga and sweeping the studio for almost six months and I still felt like I couldn’t do anything. I still couldn’t touch my toes, I definitely couldn’t stand on my head and I smelled like a pine forest.
Sunday night arrived and with it a smaller class. The morning classes filled up but Sunday night was for the wicked, or just for the people who didn’t have to work on Monday morning. I checked the class in and then slipped through the back curtain. It was warm outside and the windows of the studio were open. There was a calm feeling in the air and we began. Halfway through the session I felt strange. I was completely present for the first time at the studio. Something about the slow drift of the class made me take notice of every movement and every thought. And with these movements my thoughts slipped away. I think this is what Zen Buddhists call “no mind”. And then all at once the teacher had us go into “easy pigeon” but using a bolster to lie on.
Easy pigeon is known to open up the hips. But, more than that the hips hold anger and tension which at the time I didn’t know. Using all of my awareness I deepened the pose. I breathed. I stretched. I stopped. For the first time in my life, I stopped trying. And then a flood of tears came. I didn’t know where they came from, or why and it didn’t matter. It was my body colliding with my mind. It was the relief of release. It was a slow croon, a long note, a letting go.
I remember that after that class I swept the studio with a clear mind. I put my awareness into everything I did. I noticed the pail, the tea tree oil, the mop, the floor, the ants gathered by the windowsill outside. I noticed myself in the vast world. The next week I touched my toes. A month later I did my first headstand. Today I sweep my own home with that same awareness. I mop with the same tea tree oil concoction. Only today I don’t push myself away. How can I? I’m right here. I’ve been here all along.