Although I’ve spent most of my life in big cities, it has somehow happened that I live in a pretty small place, surrounded by even smaller and smaller places. Surprisingly, I’m really happy with it. Changes!
My town has very few yoga spaces compared to what I’m used to, but I’m slowly letting myself learn that the lack of commercial, normative, mainstream yoga has nothing to do with opportunities for yoga practice, sharing, and study – the trick is accepting that my yoga moments might arise differently than how I’m used to them popping up in my life.
For the first time, it has happened that I live really near to a nature preserve. Even though the trees out here in rural New York still freak out my west coast soul a little bit (where’s all the green, and why are the trees and mountains so small??), it’s a beautiful area, and the remarkably noisy birds are actually rather calming, since their repetitive chirping noises have nothing to do with any of my electronic devices, and responsibilities.
Recently, I was driving home from another one of my typical days spent careening between meetings and clocking in time on one of my various screens. On a whim, I turned into the parking lot of the nature preserve. It was late at night, so it was locked, but I walked up to the front gate. In the small clearing, I could quite easily let myself sink my senses into the forest in front of me, the dark sky above me, and the unattractive rocky gravel below me.
Just as a teacher might ask their students to focus their attention within the studio room despite the unhelpful voice of someone on the phone outside or a heating system that’s clanging a bit more loudly, I asked myself to focus my attention on the nature before me. My car, dutifully holding my cell phone and other bearers of my obligations, was waiting patiently just a few paces back. My mind had plenty of things to say about my last meeting, about emails that I hadn’t written, and about how surprisingly anxious the vast stillness in front of me was making it feel.
Stopping is weird.
I stopped, everything, for a moment, and it was awkward. It was not glamorous; I did not feel at one with nature, I felt awkward. The moon was gorgeous, but I felt awkward that I didn’t understand why it was in that part of the sky, and I wished I had paid more attention to that kind of thing. But I hadn’t had a chance to practice yoga yet that day, so I figured this was as good a chance as any. There wasn’t a place where I could really stand with my feet flat, but I let my boots hang out with the very uneven gravel and just figure it out however they felt was best. My bright turquoise jacket felt out of place, lit up by the moon as a glaring reminder that I didn’t quite fit in. And there wasn’t going to be a way to put my hands on the ground.
Inhaling to gather up all of my excuses and observations about things that seemed flawed, I sent them all away in an only mildly exasperated exhale and just let myself start flowing through some pretty familiar movements. It worked.
Mountain pose, swan diving to a forward fold, lengthening to a flat back, floating through warrior three to a high lunge to a triangle pose. I quickly remembered my Iyengar training and that I still can’t get myself to practice it without blocks, so my trikonasana quickly had to morph into an extended side angle pose. Conveniently, my disinterest in the rocky ground encouraged me to find a full bind, and my top shoulder popping sounded even more satisfying in the silence of the forest than usual.
My balance was awkward because the ground was so uneven, I was a little nervous someone would drive by and not share my enthusiasm for parking lot yoga, but it was lovely nonetheless.
As countless voices have said, yoga happens in all kinds of ways in all kinds of places.
If you need some yoga during a late night commute under the light of the moon, even when you have no clue what phase it’s in, do it. If yoga happens in the shower, by the office microwave, by the side of the road, let it happen. It’s yoga! Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in.
Abby Nathanson is the Co-Founder of Women’s Power Space, the center for women’s leadership, collaboration, yoga and arts in downtown Poughkeepsie, New York. She studied Sociology and Africana Studies at Vassar College and is a RYT-200 yoga instructor with a background in the Iyengar method. Abby is passionate about feminism, anti-racism, decolonial witchcraft in Cameroon, crying in pigeon pose, and savasana (resting pose) that is practiced with a bolster, eye pillow, two blocks, and three blankets. To connect, visit her website.