Sep 13, 2019

I Learned How Yoga Practice Should Be From Julia Roberts

I started practicing yoga in New York in a large studio with high ceilings, tile-brick walls quite typical of Manhattan.

I started practicing yoga in New York in a large studio with high ceilings, tile-brick walls quite typical of Manhattan. As it was close to my home, I just had to leave five minutes before the class started. I was rushing off in my yoga outfits and finding a place for myself in the yoga studio all in one breath. This studio, run by a friend of mine, called the Movement Salon, aroused positive feelings in me. I was attending different classes and learning about different yoga styles.

On a Sunday afternoon, I jumped out of the house all in one breath again and smiled at my friend Sandy at the entrance and spread out my mat in the studio. This was my first time in the class. We arranged the mats in opposite sides in the ashtanga yoga style. Instead of feeling my body and my breath, I started watching the faces in the room in that brief time until the class. It was a rainy dark day of spring; our teacher had announced that we would do the lesson lights off. The scant light entering through the window kept the studio dim. The dimness made our gaze relaxed, focusing on a point. Towards the end of the lesson, as we stretched ourselves in shavasana, the resting posture, the sky would be completely blackened.

As my eyes scanned the faces in the room like radar, I paused on the face on the mat opposite me a few times. Surprisingly, the lady with the black tights, the draped t-shirt on the sports athlete looked just like Julia Roberts!

The course began with the sitting pose, sukhasana. Our teacher was talking about the importance of listening to our breath. Julia Roberts had real curly hair in “Pretty Women.” But years had passed since that movie. Wasn’t her hair a little less fluffy in the latest paparazzi photos? I heard someone saying it is possible to make the spine straight with the breath of Ujjayi, and everyone lined up in the Tadasana -mountain position- in front of the mat. (She is as high as Julia Roberts. And she is as slim as her too.)

With a number of repetitions of the surya namaskar sequence, my body slowly gave in to sweating. I smiled as I imagined the flow of fluids in my body accelerating as I breathed, opened and folded down. Our teacher asked everyone to make a few sun salutations by watching their breath. When I stretched my hips with my elongated spine, I always found the lady in front of me already in the Tadasana pose. From her ankles to her hips, her infinitely rising legs formed drishtimi for a moment. (Certainly, this is Julia Roberts. She has extremely tall legs like her. But no, no ... This is not a luxury studio! After all, what is Julia Robert doing in a place where a lot of low-income people like me can come?) (But I’d heard she has an apartment in a neighborhood close to the studio.)

As the sky darkened, people’s faces gradually became hard to notice. The course proceeded in a smooth flow style; the standing poses were interspersed in the sun salutation series. Every time we were on the mountain position, our teacher asked us to direct our attention to scan our body with our inner eyes instead of tugging on our clothes here and there. We were to explore relaxing our coccyx. (I wish she smiled ... Then I’d understand if Julia is Robert or not. At Tadasana, I’ll smile at her. She’ll definitely respond. No ... What a ridiculous idea. Who am I next to Julia Roberts? And this is not her anyways. New York is a city full of celebrities anyways.)

We’re rotating the spine. We were to extend the spine as much as possible before turning it. Breathing in particular, focusing on the back (What? It is so comfortable to turn it ... Just like the teacher shows. This cannot be Julia Roberts. Definitely. I’ve never read anything about her doing yoga). That the lower thoracic vertebrae of the thorax could be highly stretched. Oops ... I missed the beginning of the sentence. There are people like me having a hard time in the room. We’re finally out of the inverted triangle pose.

After doing some standing poses for a while and moving our hip and shoulder joints sufficiently, we move on to the wall to try to get a handstand on our hands. (Huh, she doesn’t. That’s for sure Julia Roberts! She doesn't want to put herself at risk and is cautious.) The wall catches me. (Listening the teacher on hands halfway, I throw up my legs; the wall catches them. (The teacher doesn’t offer her a variation. She couldn’t fully understand the situation like me I guess. Otherwise, she’d definitely have shown some special attention to her. Or isn’t she Julia? Oh, how much I wonder? I wish the lesson ends immediately and I go up to her and ask.) After talking to the person next to her mat in a whisper, the two lie on their back and put up their legs against the wall and try the Viparita Karani pose.

We’re now on the floor. The room is totally dark. While leaning forward, we should be careful not to squeeze the shoulders, not to squeeze the neck by lifting the chin. (I’ve come to three classes a week for the last three months, and I cannot not bend my chest to my upper legs let alone my belly while Julia’s nose almost touches her ankles. Anyways, as soon as I get home, I’ll do a Julia Roberts search on Google.) The teacher comes and tells me to relax the space between my eyebrows, rest my facial muscles and reach out to my legs. (OK darling, but how can I look across with these myopia eyes without frowning? This Julia Roberts-like woman ruined my yoga practice today! If I had just known about her, I’ll relax.) 

We’re getting ready to lie down in Shavasana. The rest we get here could were to happen not only through our motionless bodies, but also by the relief caused by a sense of surrender, which was to accept ourselves as we are. (I think someone famous will have an eye cushion of her own. However, the woman in front of me grabs one out of the tiny wicker bowl the teacher hands out. And she does this even without putting a tissue paper between her eyes and the eye cushion. This is not Julia Roberts. I kept looking at her during the whole course all in vain.)

I lie down on the ground. There’s only the sound of bodies breathing in the room. I try to watch my breath move by holding my hands on my stomach. The teacher talks about the mind. The nature of the mind is to produce thought. (I wish I hear the gong now and the class is over. Let’s see what happens when the lights are on...)

Gong! We're stretching. Slowly straightening. What is that! The mat lying opposite me and the one next to it are empty. Our teacher begins to sing a mantra in Sanskrit. I’m just moving my lips. (Oh, my God! I had waited for this moment the whole class.) Aum ..... Aum .... Aum .... The teacher is talking. If the mind and body were in harmony, this practice would heal. (Whereas my mind left my body as the class started.)

I run out of the room; she’s not in the locker room either. And nobody took notice of her like I did. I feel so stupid to lose my mind to a lady that looks like Julia Roberts. So it’s also possible to practice like that. Without being in the body, feeling the moment, watching the breath, not paying attention to how I rooted on the ground. What did I do then? Yoga? No way. I just did some physical exercise on the mat.

I see my friend Sandy at the entrance. She was Julia Roberts. Sadly, she had to leave the shavasana early. She came to this class often. The teacher would usually announce that she’s in the class to those in the room before the class starts to eliminate the participants’ curiosity and have their concentration. I guess I missed that announcement because I was there almost at the last minute.

I’m going home smiling. Julia Roberts has shown me skillfully how to practice yoga.