Yoga To Survive Your Mother’s Visit

I hadn’t been to my Sunday yoga class in two weeks. This morning, Isabelle stood in the alley near the side door of the Studio. Others were loitering in the street with yoga mats rolled up like festive banners — soon to be unfurled. Yogis peered into their phones or just settled in place gazing serenely up at the white, lanuginous clouds, which drifted across a blue sky. Isabelle wore multi-colored tights with black and white sneakers and an over-sized hoodie. She had the hood up covering her honey blond hair, as well as her large blue eyes, so that I could see only her mouth. She has a bit of a fish-mouth, though it is a pretty one. Isabelle looked up from her phone as I stepped into her personal space. “Oh jeez,” she gasped, seeing how close I was. We hugged. She smelled of flowery shampoo.

“I was just checking for the teacher today,” Isabelle said. “It’s supposed to be Han.”

“Oh…” I pondered. “I don’t know him.”

“Yes you do,” Isabelle insisted, “he’s the guy you said reminded you of someone in that Murakami book. The Japanese guy?”

I couldn’t believe it. My eyes must have grown even bigger than Isabelle’s, who has very big, rather bulging, blue eyes.

“HE’S an instructor?” I implored.

“Yeah. I thought you knew that.” Isabelle now scrolled and tapped her phone then put it away.

Soon, one of the shopkeepers opened the side door, smiling and purring, “welcome, welcome…” Isabelle and I rolled out our mats right next to each other. My mat is chartreuse, hers is pale pink. As usual, dust bunnies crept into the corners and under the clothing racks as rubber mats unfurled like flags upon the floor. Everyone is at various stages of readiness for the class to begin. Isabelle and I are seated cross-legged, up straight, stretching through the lower back. We were talking about how much better it would have been had Haruki Murakami won the Nobel Prize in Literature, instead of Bob Dylan.

Just then, the instructor walks onto the floor up from the staircase, which extends down into the main part of the shop. It was indeed the gentle warrior — the guy who reminds me of Tsukuru from Murakami’s book. He holds his head high and bears a tall and regal appearance. I imagine some epic, Japanese tune playing as he glides in, smiling at the room in general and glancing at me for a significant interval of time. I suddenly realize my cheeks are cold. But this could be from standing outside, I think. Several people say good morning. There is not room enough for the instructor to unroll his mat, so he simply sets it down, still rolled-up, by a ledge. The shopkeeper skips over to the instructor and talks to him about something, and all of the sudden I know that the instructor, this gentle warrior, is gay. It is just one of those moments when, no matter how subtle the signs, you just know that the person is gay. It’s in his soft laugh and the slight shimmy of his shoulders when he talks. I find this to be a vast relief, somehow.

“My name is Han,” the instructor begins. He is wearing black, capri tights, a bluish-gray, v-neck T-shirt and his ebony hair is pulled back in a bun. I notice he is wearing thin, thread-like bracelets on one wrist and a beaded bracelet on the other, and he has no tattoos — that I can see. His skin is an ivory white, though he is Asian. He leads us through a steady, un-halting series of asanas and warrior poses. “Flowing” is too general a term for Han’s yoga style; instead, it is gently rigorous. You can go at your own pace, but like waves — the next pose is on its way, it’s here. I was beginning to work up a sweat, which is something I never do in yoga. I felt hot and wanted so much to peel off my shirt, but I’d forgotten to wear a tank underneath. Han was moving through the crowded class like a stealthy tiger, and in fact moving straight for me. He stood in front of me and said, “Warrior One,” with a kindly yet serious look in his eyes. I was in Warrior Two. I HAD SKIPPED WARRIOR ONE! I felt mortified, but sort of giggled and promptly moved into Warrior One. Where was my mind?

The reason I had missed two weeks of Sunday yoga was 1). Because the class was cancelled two weeks ago; and 2). Because my mother was visiting last Sunday. I had invited her to attend the class with me, but at the last minute she decided not to, because of time constraints and possible traffic delays on her way out to my uncle’s house. My mother lives in Oregon, near Portland, and was wending her way back starting on Sunday. Well, she would not have fared very well in Han’s vigorous class - as strong and resilient as my mom happens to be.

As Han guided us into Shavasana, lying flat on our backs — a relaxation pose, which often comes at the very end of yoga class, I thought about my mom’s visit. We had attended a family wedding reception (which had its bursts of elation and other emotions), an open house on another day, gone out for coffee and lunch, went for walks up and down the steep hills, stayed home, and enjoyed my boyfriend’s stellar cooking. There were treasured moments but also shocking ones. We’d had a particularly cathartic conversation, for her, in which she apologized to me for some of her inappropriate behavior when she was in her wild, late-30s phase, during my teen years. She, rather lightly, said she hoped it hadn’t “scarred” me. I timidly assured her that it hadn’t, through teary eyes. I popped half a banana in my mouth to keep from crying.

Soothing didgeridoo, zither and flute music played through the studio speakers as Han went around to each of us with an orange and lavender oil tincture. He smeared a dollop on my forehead and then massaged across that tense valley and down to my temples, circling quickly but with purpose, “embrace all life’s experiences,” he murmured to me before moving on to the next yogi. I felt the emotion catch in my throat. It was as if he knew what I was feeling about my mother and her trail of heavy topics.

As Isabelle and I were leaving the yoga studio, I searched for Han. He was surrounded by yogis chattering like hungry ducks, asking him questions. He gave me a knowing smile. A warm, pervading calm surrounded me all through coffee at La Boulange with Isabelle. She told me a few more things about Han that I hadn’t known. According to Isabelle, Han is a native San Franciscan, teaches regularly at the Laughing Lotus, sees auras, and is psychic.

“I believe it,” I said.