We found out the next day that shortly after Jois's Tuesday class, Chelsea Piers was transformed into a triage center. The workshop was canceled on Wednesday as organizers scrambled to find a suitable venue. Nonetheless that morning, Tony and I woke up and rolled our mats out on the living room floor. We didn't know what we'd face once we left the apartment and the only thing we knew we could connect with for sure was ourselves. Occasionally, we gave each other adjustments, the sound of our breathing accompanied by the blare of sirens and what would become an omnipresent smell of burning wreckage.
Jois's class resumed the following day at a new location, a relatively small yoga studio in SOHO. My staying on the Lower East Side turned out to be a mixed blessing: I was near enough to ground zero to hear sirens and see war planes … and get to practice every day. Police had blocked off lower Manhattan to everyone except those whose address was south of Houston St. and many students couldn't get to class. As I wended my way through the police barriers filling Little Italy, Chinatown and SOHO, I held a handkerchief over my mouth and nostrils to keep out the smoke as I attempted to keep breathing.
"Samastahiti," Jois intoned to the greatly diminished number of students. Equal standing. I took my fullest breath of the day and the room filled with the sound of inhales and exhales as we practiced observing, balancing rather than reacting or attaching to the fear and panic swirling around outside, and infusing ourselves with spirit.
On the last day of my stay in New York, Tony and I lingered to watch the advanced yogis go through the Second Series. A gasp went up as Jois bent one yogi so far back as to grab his ankles, unfurling his ribs from his heart cavity and hinging his hips at an extraordinary angle. It would be one of the most inspiring images of the week. To bend back and expose the heart so deeply was the ultimate white flag: an act of complete trust in the teacher, in the moment, and in the capacity of a human being to have faith in life even in the face of extreme circumstances. It summed up the lesson I was striving to learn: The pursuit of liberation through the body, by breathing and surrendering to what was given rather clinging to fear and giving in to the urge to counterattack or escape.
That afternoon, we took the subway to the Upper West Side and the Cloisters. We walked through the park and into the old stone building, looking at tapestries and wood carvings, finally finding ourselves in a small courtyard garden. We leaned against the stone wall under the shade of a few fig trees overlooking a view of the park and distant rooftops. The trees were green, the sky was blue and the river below flowed gentle and lazy. For the first time in a week, the air we breathed was relatively smoke free. Below us I knew were bruised psyches, shattered windows, ruined gardens and broken dreams. But many hearts — nearly 6 billion human ones on this planet — were still beating and much work, and even more healing, still needed to be done. We were part of the equation. I took a long deep breath
… and let it out.
This article appears in "Bare Your Soul: The Thinking Girl's Guide to Enlightenment" Seal Press 11/2002 edited by Angela Watrous - http://kpjayi.org/
Click here for part one, part two, part three