Bālāsana

Amanda’s breaths are slow and even as she reaches backward farther and farther until her hands reach the soles of her feet. Her dark hair hangs behind her in a loose braid, and her eyes are peaceful as she surveys the upside down studio. The soft, unidentifiable tones of meditation music pulse from a small boom box in the corner of the room, and a fan blows warm, moist air in hellish cycles around the room.

“Raise your heart toward the sky. This is the Camel Pose – Ustrasana,” she says quietly to the class.

At the end of the second row of mats, Lucas is in agony. Having never had the need nor the desire to move his heart in any direction in particular, he pins his shoulders back and feels around blindly for his feet. His eyes bulge in their sockets and his back is one wrong movement from snapping in two.

“We will hold this pose for one minute. Focus on your breathing.”

Her voice is smooth and melodious, and in other circumstances, Lucas would be tempted to doze off to its rhythms. But as he tries in vain to focus on his breathing – which comes in gasps and wheezes – he can only think about the tensile strength of his middle-aged vertebrae and his growing need to pass gas. Around him, house wives, coeds, and a man with hair longer than Amanda’s are silent in their contortions, hogging the hot oxygen in deep, contented breaths. Lucas has never been so certain of the poor condition of his body. Finally, mercifully, she calls them back to the Child’s Pose – the only one at which he is truly skilled.

His forehead to the mat, Lucas is soon puddled with sweat. His enrollment in the twice weekly classes had been a whim, driven not by the quaint idea of alleviating his ever-advancing paunch, but by his burning need to see Amanda as much as possible before she left. Like most things in his life, she had arrived too late and stayed too briefly to amount to anything more than a pipedream. So far, he has failed to catch her attention in the crowd of seasoned yogis, and his progress in the art or science of yoga had been scant over the course of ten classes.

“Class is ended,” she says from the front of the room. Lucas mumbles his profane thanks to whatever spirit he was supposed to have gotten in touch with during this ordeal.

“Now lie back, relax your body entirely from your toes, through your body, to the top of your head, and to the tips of your fingers. Savasana.”

If Child’s Pose is his specialty, the Corpse Pose is truly his magnum opus. In a flash, Lucas is on his back, arms and legs flopped on the mat, his breath under control for the first time in an hour. He waits impatiently for what comes next – the soul-redeeming crop of seconds at the end of each class which makes all the pain and suffering worth their weight in gold. He stares absently at the tiled ceiling as she moves from student to student, then closes his eyes and focuses on the warmly melting pain in his back. Each breath slower than the last, he comes to the brink of sleep but is roused as her hands gently cup the sides of his head. His eyes snap open and she is above him.

“Relax,” she says, “keep breathing.”

She begins softly rubbing his temples, never breaking eye contact with him. Her braid has fallen over a shoulder and lightly brushes his forehead. Her cheeks and nose are familiar to him at this distance.

“You are improving. Your face is not nearly as red as last week,” she says, a light smile playing on her lips.

“That’s news to me. I feel like death.”

Her fingers move, pressing firmly in short strokes across the bone on his brow line.

“Your body hurts, but how do you feel?”

Her point is obvious, and he admits as much. The classes have soothed something in Lucas – a curiosity at first, perhaps, but now a fundamental necessity. To be close to her, to hear her the strength and softness in her voice, to witness the control she has of her body and her person, the trust she attracts so freely. It is worth the pain, worth the embarrassment when his shirt slides up over his neglected belly and his arms give out in the simplest poses. His pride has no place here. Her hands leave his face.

“You may have heard this is my last class here. Miranda will be taking over my Tuesday and Thursday classes.”

“Oh no, why are you leaving?” he asks, masking his knowledge.

“I am moving back east to be closer to my husband’s family,” she says, “but don’t worry, you are in good hands.”

She rises and her knees briefly leave two round craters in his mat before the spongey material rebounds and erases her memory. She stacks her hands and bows deeply in front of him.

“I wish you the best of luck in your yoga journey,” she says, before moving to her next student and taking the woman’s head in her hands.

Lucas rolls his mat and collects his shoes from the shelf in the corner. He moves quickly past the sign-in counter and the collection of sweaty people standing in the foyer discussing the class. On the sidewalk outside, he risks one more glance through the studio window. Inside, she stacks foam blocks and hangs loose bands on a hook at the head of the room. She feels his eyes and turns, offering a small wave. He waves back and fails to see even the smallest trace of himself in this fully grown woman who had arrived too late and stayed too briefly.

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