Nicholas Elevemo

As the lotus flower blooms in muddy waters

Ugh. Yoga.

I dreaded my first yoga class. I was eight months in recovery from a stroke, and I needed to work on my balance. My wife suggested I take a yoga glass. “Try it out,” she said. “See if it helps.”

We’re lucky to live next door to a YMCA. I don’t have to even get in the car, which made it even more difficult to put off. Reluctantly, I dragged myself in on a Thursday to a Gentle Yoga class — but not Gentlest Yoga. That class was for wusses. Upon arriving, I was the youngest person in the class — at 33 — by about 20 years.

I literally went through the motions. Most of the asanas didn’t thrill me beyond the joy of stretching before P.E. in middle school. Some, coupled with a little controlled breathing, didn’t feel bad. Others were awkward, but not painful.

Andrew, the class instructor, delivers a sermon of sorts at the beginning of each class. “Now,” he says, “is when we begin the practice of yoga.”

“When?” he asks the class.

“Now,” they say.

Andrew’s sermons at first were easy to tune out — full of detail about particular and differing translations of the four sutras of Patanjali, for example. But as I kept coming back, week after week, his talks developed a thread. “You are here,” he would say, blandly. And it clicked for me about a month in.

I am here. I go to yoga not for stretching or sermons, but to go to yoga. And it turns out that realization isn’t far from a fundamental understanding of yoga itself. Yoga doesn’t make you rich, strong, more flexible, or more calm. It can have those benefits sometimes, sure, but all yoga is is time carved out of your day to practice.

That came to be my favorite part of going to class. It has become an oasis in the dusty, stormy desert of freelancing. I leave my phone at home, bringing nothing but a mat, YMCA badge, and a house key. Distraction-free, I enjoy 90 minutes when I can truly be somewhere — anywhere —present in the moment. It's not always easy, but it’s good practice.

When do we begin the practice of yoga?