I have stood on three yoga mats in my life. Each one became a home.
The first mat is thick and red and I bought it in Berlin. It is the year I work at a former concentration camp and with Holocaust survivors in Germany. It is the year I go to yoga almost every day. At work I walk amongst barracks and graves, and hear stories that have not lost their horror over 60 years. When this work leaves me overwhelmed and grieving, I bike from the train station to the yoga studio, my red mat in tow. In these hours, yoga is the way I bypass my mind and connect to my body. I discover a holy moment somewhere between posture one and twenty-six, when I am more attuned to the physical experience of the stretch than any mental thought of stress. I practice holding on to these moments beyond the studio, as well. On cold, winter evenings, I stand on my mat and learn the German words for elbow and heel; I lie on my mat and match my breath to those of the people beside me. These are the months when I learn the importance of emotional boundaries and physical connection, that stretching can bring release.
Solo Yoga (Kampala)
I leave Berlin and replace my soft red mat for a thin blue one I can fold up in my backpack and bring travelling. In Kampala, Uganda, I meet urban refugees from Congo and Rwanda. There are no traces of reconciliation in their lives; instead they are desperate and impoverished, and wildly resilient. It is devastating to hear their stories of rape, torture and exile, reminiscent of those of the survivors in Germany I have just left behind. Yoga remains my refuge, my way of maintaining both muscle and emotional composure. On afternoons so hot that sunshine makes the air smell like smoke, I roll out my mat in the narrow space between my bed and the wall, claiming the only space I can. With the door closed and my eyes shut, I sink into Balasana, Trikonasana, Uttanasana. Each movement is a meditation, a way to remind myself that my body is powerful and has stories of its own.
Today I live in a library. During the day I pull heavy books from shelves and navigate both the past and the present in different ways. My yoga mat is thin rubber and the soft pink-orange of sunset; I can still roll it up and carry it anywhere. It does that for me, too. After sitting for hours, lost inside my mind, I crave the feeling of yoga, a stretch that moves from my back to my toes and up again to expand and release my mind. As I remember Kampala and Berlin, I move in and out of stories that are both history and reality. I seek to understand cycles of violence and all the scars we do not see. I still need reminding of boundaries and connection. And so, I stretch and then release. In a different city now, and on a different mat, I move beyond and within the expanse of the studio. Alongside people and at the same time alone, I step onto my mat to return to a home.