Uptown is no excuse!" he jokes, with a radiant smile. "Wait, that should be a t-shirt. That's your new mantra. Wear it!"
He's exactly as I remember. A soft presence, with a playful way and a pureness of heart. It's been nine years since I've taken his class. When I first found him I was in my early thirties, living on the Upper East Side, struggling to keep a documentary film company alive. I had left the "real world" a few years earlier - quit my job as a TV news reporter - and jumped into the unknown. I was in transition. And if you have to be anywhere in the world in transition, make it New York City. Because as costly as it is, as tough as it is, and as uncertain as it is...underneath it all, is unmistakeable magic.
For the first time in my adult life, I didn't have the answers. I had no plan, no goal in sight, and there was no running from it. All I could do was surrender, and when I did, the most serendipitous events began to occur. I found a lightness, a freedom, and a mystery that I had never known before. I was open to things I would have overlooked, dismissed, or rejected in my previous life. I took freelance writing gigs and a job at a high-end yoga store, that not only paid the rent, but paid me to take classes all over the city. So that's exactly what I did.
For nearly a year I lived in the unique type of fantasy you can only find in Manhattan - where strangers from all walks of life, people you would never cross paths with or know otherwise - find themselves in a sacred circumstance that turns them into kindred spirits. So it was, for eleven months, in the company of a group of amazingly creative women that I surrendered to the flow of life and played. We worked, we ate, we drank, we went to each other's performances (singing gigs, plays, musicals)...we laughed, we cried, we encouraged and inspired one other...and we spent hours and hours in the hottest exercise classes New York City had to offer - spin, African dance, 5 rhythms, barre, and of course, yoga.
That's how I found him. One of the best teachers in the city, and I don't say that lightly. He has that thing that all amazing yoga teachers have - sweetness, inquiry, no judgment, no expectations, impeccable sequencing that emanates natural flow, and above all compassion and love. They hold the space for you to just BE. Time disappears, the mind is still, the heart opens, and you're moving in ways you never knew you could...feeling your place in the universe.
When the real world came knocking again, and I dove back into politics and consulting, my routine changed. Gone were brunch and yoga dates with the girls. Instead I was arranging last-minute press conferences at 8am, having three hour campaign strategy meetings over dinner on the Upper East Side, then coming home and writing until the wee hours of the morning. Within three years I'd released my first novel. A few years after that I went back to Massachusetts for a heal some old wounds, releasing the past, turning forty, now what? eight month sabbatical. Within two months of landing back in Manhattan I met my future husband. We dated, married and moved to Westchester County within a year after that.
So when he turned to me, my sweet yoga teacher, as class was starting and said: "Wow, good to see you, where have YOU been?" The only answer I could come up with was: "I know, it's been a while. I've been Uptown."
If you are or ever were a New Yorker you'll get the joke. As united as we are, as much as the ten million of us make it work every day in a symphony of unbelievably peaceful and extraordinarily efficient co-existence...we like our little nests. You're an Upper West Sider or an Upper East Sider; an Uptown person or a Downtown person; someone who doesn't leave the Village or the Lower East Side; or is only all about SoHo. So in New York terms my answer really wasn't that silly. For me, since I landed in 1999, my special place has always been Midtown East and the Upper East Side.
But as we began to move and I replayed his reaction in my head, it left me wondering. Was I making an excuse? Why? What had kept me away from this delicious and soul nourishing class I used to love. I'm not one for excuses. If I want to do something I do it, if I don't, I don't. I make time for the people and events I care about and I am no longer compelled or guilted, the way I was in my younger years, to spend time with people or take part in activities that don't interest me. That may sound self-serving. It is EXACTLY that. To serve the self means honoring your authentic truth, discovering your own path, and allowing for the natural flow of BEing instead of DOing. Those things only come by not worrying about pleasing other people. For at their core that's what excuses are...simply a way you trick yourself into the trap of another's expectations, instead of living life on your terms.
However, his comment - "Uptown is no excuse!" - was a gift, not guilt. Because halfway through class it hit me, I wasn't making an excuse to him. I was making it to myself. And these are the trickiest excuses of all. The ones that rob you of true self devotion. All these reasons why in the years after I first met him I could never get to his class - work obligations, a different schedule, new friends, etc. The list went on. And while the past nine years were amazingly powerful both personally and professionally...more recently I have recognized that I am making excuses to myself again. Being a good wife and homemaker, a dedicated law student, and a committed and diligent advisor to clients - all of it has given me an excuse to let some "self-serving" activities slide.
So last weekend I made a commitment to my favorite things, in spite of and in addition to, the list of all that "had" to get done. I snuggled onto the couch and ordered an indie film (Paris Can Wait - if you love movies shot in France and are a fan of Diane Lane and Eleanor Coppola films - I highly recommend); I registered for a yoga workshop with a world-renowned yoga teacher from out West that hasn't been in the NYC area in thirteen years (not gonna miss her!); and I spent eight hours in my office, my creative sanctuary - sorting, plotting, reading, creating, goal setting, and writing - as the scent of Diptyque's Baies lingered through the air and the hypnotic sounds of Deva Premal enveloped me.
Finding ways to add pleasure, softness, magic and beauty to quotidian life is what keeps us ALIVE. For there is no greater purpose we have than to discover all that makes our souls shine. In the eyes of my teacher I was reminded that in doing that which makes your own heart dance - you become a fascinating, wholehearted, enormously creative and gifted being that can then go out into the world and share that light with others. Sometimes making space isn't about freeing up your entire schedule, but rather just devoting enough attention and time to things that will make your heart smile.
So that is my call to you in the coming weeks my beauties, make space for all those SELF serving things that fill your soul...because when all is said and done, Uptown is no excuse!