I went to yoga class in the mirage heat, into the tiled basement of the Quaker house. Humid and dank, tiled in cool institutional tile like the floor of your gradeschool. Dark. There are windows the upper fourth of two walls, holding themselves upright, clean and parallel. Plants wave outside.
There were only seven people there. There was room around everyone; we manuvered around each other's edges. It was quiet and empty.
Outside, it was Art Fair, and the streets were filled with sticky tourists, all sticky no matter what kind of popsicle they may or may not have been licking down to the stick. Silly hats and huge sunglasses slipping down the nose. I just touched the perimeter on my way down, crossing against the edge of the closed street, sets of orange bars splintering from use and use.
My teacher's name is Martha. I wonder what she thinks of having such a name. I don't know that I would have liked it, but it suits her. She is little and compact, and is said to have an extensive dance and gymnastic background. This is easy to believe; she has gynmast's thighs, flips up from mat to feet easy with practice. She is wry in a calm, happy way. No one ever feels caught in a lens under her criticism. She comes over, matter of fact, to shift your ankle.
Midway through class we were doing a series of sun salutations that I personally find are very good although difficult. Sometimes we will have music for this type of action, repetitive motion with repetitive breath long inside you. Inhale up, exhale down to uttanasana. Knees, hands, feet. Again. We did several series, using the music to breathe in rhythm. No vocals. Then.
The last piece she put on did have vocals. "I like his voice; I hope it doesn't annoy any of you," said Martha. I don't think it annoyed any of us.
The voice, a male voice with some backing singers doing harmony, was very deep and round and resonant. It felt as if it had been carved from wood. It echoed off the room, off all our bodies, and the room was full. I felt like a drum, skin stretched over a tambour frame. Everything resonated; my arms came up overhead as if I were not even moving them, fingers vibrating to their very tips. I could feel all of my blood as I tipped forward, downfacing dog, and down, plank position.
The voice was singing hare krishna and hare rama over and over again: the exact mantra you would expect in a yoga class. I have not heard this often in a serious context. The most I have really heard is the Beatles' tinny repetition on My sweet lord. This was entirely different (not to disparage George or anything). The timbre of the voice seemed as important as the words. Here I am; I am calm; I am full. It was so strange and different to hear ritual words sung purposefully, with an actual sense of faith; they seemed physically full.
Then the backing instruments dropped out, and the words suddenly changed. Now it was Amazing grace. I have never liked this song. But here it was suddenly in a very different context, a different melody and harmony, sung with an awareness I had not felt before. I was upside down, flat, lunging forward, all with one set of fluid motions; I was listening to everything, and I could hear everything, and my head overflowed, and then I was upside down again, trying not to cry.