On clear, cold winter mornings the pre-dawn air is thin, the paving salts have turned the blacktop silver grey. I pedal deliberately, the only bicycle amid few automobiles. I coast over every bridge and through every turn, dangling my right leg just over the surface, on vigilant watch for demon black ice. I see no one. The beacon light of the Bikram Studio glows along JFK Street. As I mount the stairs I wonder if perhaps I might be the only yogi alert on this frigid January morning. Of course I am wrong. There a dozen, no twenty, no more than twenty disciples arrayed along the black lines of the studio, soaking in the heat.
I savor these ‘one hundred degree difference’ days when the thermometer registers single digits out of doors and triple digits within. This is class 884 – my yoga diary has disintegrated into a simple calendar chit that registers attendance. Heather is our teacher, she has taught Wednesday mornings in Harvard Square forever; bone thin with huge red hair, a recent husband, and a pair of dogs. She is a terrific teacher with the right mix of purpose and humor, heat and humidity. I take my favorite spot, just to her right under the center fan. Heather corrects me often, but I never mind her improvements. I have a bit of a crush on her, which is ridiculous given my usual lack of interest in skinny people or redheads or, girls. My crush is just another element of silliness in a world that is torpid inside and freezing without, where I flex with sweaty abandon while the rest of the world creaks to rise.
You might think that after so many classes one more hardly matters; that I am as flexible as I am going to get; that another half-moon plus or minus isn’t going to make a morsel of difference. I should feel good about being able to rest my head on the floor in fixed firm but should accept that my forehead will never touch the carpet in standing hand to feet. But that way of thinking would be wrong, because even after 883 classes, change occurs within me every class, every day. Most changes are tiny; my eagle pose keeps getting lower and lower, though I would need a caliper to measure it. Some changes are ephemeral; one morning four months ago I actually touched my head to my standing knee but have not been able to replicate that feat again. Occasionally wholesale change sweeps over my practice and I establish a new normal.
This winter my yoga flowed to a new plateau. Somewhere around class 846 my lower back opened up and it has stayed loose for weeks. As a result a whole group of poses became deeper and stronger. My knees finally locked into standing head to feet, my torso held firm in triangle, I gained height in cobra, and my elbows hit the floor beside my knees in the final floor stretch. One day my fingers struggled to clench my toes in a sit-up, the next day my palms flew beyond, cupped my digits and I grabbed my instep. It was bizarre and sudden but appears to be lasting.
Daylight arrives about the time I leave the studio; crisp and bright though still bitter cold. I pedal quickly along Brattle Street. Traffic is heavy, women with impeccable makeup and patrician men grip their coffee mugs while navigating their Lexus’ and Mercedes’ and Lincoln’s out of Cambridge’s privileged driveways. I nod to them; partly because a savvy cyclist wants to ensure that bleary-eyed people motoring tons of steel notice him, but also because I am in such a cheerful disposition, and they’ve got some bending and stretching to do before they can catch up with me.