Minutes before class one Sunday morning in early October, a student arrived and asked if we could practice outside. I slid open our glass door and spread my arms to feel the air. Not too hot, like in September, not yet cold, like in New York, just perfect; the Goldilocks principle, as my teacher Susan used to say.
“Betach!” I said, but of course. Together we lugged up the mats and blocks and straps from my downstairs studio as others began to file in.
One student stepped outside and complained it was cold. “You’ll warm up quickly enough!” Only 8:45am, it was probably around 75 degrees, and I was confident that their internal body heat would build faster than the sun would rise.
I instructed them to face the garden while I faced them and the house. “Can you open the pool cover?” someone asked. “That way it’ll be like we’re at the sea.” She was right, quicker to adapt to outdoor yoga than me. With my back to the pool, I heard the steady hum of the pump and water gurgling below me.
“Sit tall and listen to the sounds of nature.” The birds chirped and the cat, Mooshy, who belongs officially to our neighbors and unofficially to Philippe, sauntered by and mee-owed. Flies buzzed. A garbage truck rumbled by on the main street behind me while taxis and cars and motorcycles zoomed around our circular drive. “Listen to the sounds of urban nature,” I said, perhaps coining a new term.
For the next 75 minutes, they moved, peeling off their various layers on their own time. “Inhale as you reach your arms up toward the sky and on the exhale, fold toward the earth.” Suddenly, the language of yoga made sense—sky, earth, ground, air, heat, cold, planting, rooting, anchoring.
Throughout the month, I taught my morning public classes as well as the teacher practice in my by the pool and the evening ones in the studio. By November, I moved up my props to the top of the studio stairs on Sunday morning and only put them away on Thursday after class.
Every class, I switch the set-up. Sometimes I have them face in and form a circle or line them up in two rows facing each other or set up their mats facing our makeshift sea.
A few minutes into class last week, one of the students pointed at the sky. “Look at the birds!” she said excitedly. We looked up and witnessed hundreds of cormorants, large, diving birds with dark feathers, heading north. Several formations flew overhead—some in a V, others in a W—and we were wowed.
“The thing about being outside is we realize we can practice anywhere,” I said. “The room, be it in a gym or a studio, the walls and the hardwood floors, the music and incense—those are just props. They’re not crucial. All we really need is the ground underneath us and maybe a mat or towel, our body and our breath. Think about it… what is the essence of yoga?” Just think about it.