Mat on the Grass – Practicing Yoga in the City

Finally I got my mat on the grass last night. That is, I participated in “Yoga on the Green.” I personally liked “Mat on the Grass” better, it was more in line with yoga’s roots. But regardless, after seven weeks of living in the city, I finally had a Tuesday evening free to participate.

I had joined the Facebook page of The Yoga Bar, to obtain instructions in case of inclement weather. And there sure appeared to be gloomy weather on the rise. I didn’t need a Weather App to tell me. But I was free, and, I was going.

I made my way to the South Lawn – yes, there is a south and north lawn in Washington Park, kind of like the White House, with “lawn” designations. I unrolled my mat on the grassy knoll beyond the bandstand and benches despite the looming gray overhead.
yogaA few minutes before six o’clock, the sun poked through an ominous cloud, as if to warn the crowd. And then, as our collective gaze shifted to the West to observe the solar sear, a wall of water poured down onto those awaiting inspiration. Women of all ages and sizes, and a few men too, scrambled for cover beneath the bandstand, while the rest took cover beneath a few tree elders. (Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to stand beneath a tree in a storm?). I draped my purple rubber mat, still emanating a vinegar odor from its last cleaning, over my already wet, matted down hair.

And there I waited, thankful for once to be short. The rubber topping covered me from head to knee, down each side. It took only minutes for the cloudburst to empty itself out, and before I knew it, every one was back on their mats in the grass.

Yoga is about presence, staying connected to the present moment. And it is never more so in the city, amidst church bells whose chimes are asynchronous with Apple time, sirens sounding along Elm Street just as the yogi is about to instruct on a pose never attempted, cigarette smoke swirling near enough to the nostrils to hold the breath, and a few onlookers who either had too much beer, or maybe hadn’t had enough, who commented on how the participants appeared to be asleep.

I have practiced yoga three times in the out of doors in the city. Once on the North lawn on a Saturday morning, once at Kaze on a Thursday morning, where I executed a flow sequence and wound up in sun salutation at the exact moment when the sun was awakening over the Kaze building and spreading its light on to my mat. And on the South Lawn last night.

It takes practice to practice yoga out of doors. To experience the harmony that arrives when you focus on staying in the moment despite distractions. To continue to breathe, though it sounds like the breeze is doing so for you. To not sing along to Marvin Gaye’s lyrics, or gawk at the jugglers on stilts, both originating on the steps of Music Hall.

Our yogi for the night, Donna Covrett, exhibited poise, instructing through the intemperate weather. And in doing so, she invoked the ancestors, as Washington Park was once a cemetery for Episcopal and Presbyterian congregations. When the park was renovated many remains were relocated. But a few headstones still stood, a reminder of our roots. As our yogi intoned more thoughts of the ancestors, she encouraged us to think about our roots, what keeps us grounded, what lifts us up.

We were not in Nepal where yogis have practiced for hundreds of years and the wisdom of the ancestors is as prevalent as the winds. We were not in Tuscany where I have practiced drunk on the sweet scent of vine. We were not in my former yoga studio of YogaHome, now Root Down Yoga, where in summertime, the teacher would often leave the back door cracked open to let in a little wind and wisdom.

No, I was in Washington Park, where a tingling ran up and down my spine as my mind raced to the headstones within my view. I was doing dolphin over top of centuries of dirt and bones, and work and tears.

Dedicated to my intentions, I had asked for “direction” as I had been feeling rather rootless (not ruthless) in my work, following our move. Yes, I needed direction. I needed a sense of going somewhere next. While I had plans for travel to Oregon, it was soul travel I was summoning. Where would my soul be happiest? And how? Where was I needed?

The skies held off all the way through the last downward dog, where in between my legs, I spotted a few young men watching the backsides of younger yoginis. We settled into savasana, dry and complete.

And when all the “namastes” had been passed around and mats returned to their rolled position, I reached for my cell phone. Text messages from the husband. Missed calls from the mother-in-law, whose husband had undergone surgery a week before.

I was being called in a certain direction for sure. And I had to work extra hard to not let the distractions of life seep into my city peace.

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