At the beginning of Luke Ossani’s yoga class, I am not entirely myself. I’ve somehow lost touch with half of me, the peaceful half, the part that keeps me from quitting adulthood, buying a one-way ticket to Morocco, or drinking one to five glasses of wine per night. He teaches at my small-town studio once a week: Saturday 8:00 a.m. For this I am grateful. I practice with the other instructors, but it is Luke’s class that I need on Saturday mornings, to haul off the week’s worth of tension that my peaceful self has left the rest of me to carry, alone.
Luke is six-foot-something, moderately inked, with a wispy, brown beard that sways near his sternum.
“Good morning, Natalie,” he says in his pleasant, deep voice. I huff into the lobby and mumble my hello. It’s cold—stupid cold, and I am stupid grumpy.
I remove my boots and am annoyed at the snow dripping off them. I’m annoyed at my parka’s testy zipper, the way I know my hair looks under my hat; I’m annoyed at the injustices of the world, the results of last year’s election, the boy who broke my heart when I was eleven.
I find an antisocial corner to claim and unroll my mat. The yogis brave enough to speak to me receive my grumpy greetings in return. I lie down with my arms over my eyes and try to wiggle warmth into my numb toes. A melody that my peaceful self would enjoy makes its way from the speakers, offering a sip of tranquility—which I refuse. My week was too stressful; I have too much to do today. I can’t be appeased by some song.
Luke joins us from the lobby, taking his place in the front of the room. He lowers himself to the floor and faces us, a gentle smile beneath kind, brown eyes.
“Good morning, everyone, and welcome. How’s everybody doing today?” Pamela replies amidst nods and murmurs. “We’re good, Luke. How are you?” “I’m great, Pam. Thank you for asking.”
I like Pamela. She’s over twice my age and exudes a confidence that I respect and admire, but how dare she speak for me? I’m not “good.” No one is safe from the wrath of my mood. Luke turns his twinkling eyes on me, like he suspects as much, and smiles.
“Let’s get started, shall we? Everyone take a comfortable seat, cross-legged, on your knees, whatever feels right for you this morning.”
We shift and shuffle. I sit one way, then another, unable to find comfort.
“Let’s all take a moment to get in touch with our breath. I would invite you to close your eyes.”
Gladly, I think, shutting them on the world. “Deep breath in.”
I hear the room’s collective inhale. I feel like I’m wearing an invisible corset, laced up by my ego and yanked tight by my neuroses.
“Full breath out.” I do my best.
We start slow, rolling the shoulders, the neck, arms reaching high, gentle twists of the spine. My peaceful self sends up a smoke signal, but I’m still mad at her for abandoning me. “Across the Universe” by Fiona Apple comes on, and I can’t help but silently mouth the words in my downward dog.
With his feel-good playlist and soothing sentiments, Luke lures me out of the darkness, as he does many Saturdays. How does he do it? More importantly, how do I wind up in this mood so often? It’s like I peer into an ominous doorway on Monday, wander into the dungeon on Tuesday, trip and fall and lie paralyzed in self-pity on Wednesday, try to rally on Thursday, only to find on Friday that I’m too late—the door’s been locked.
Yoga reminds me of what’s beyond the dungeon, of all that isn’t grumpy and cold. Each flow we take knocks the rust loose from my bones. Each stretch lengthens my wadded-up muscles. My blood warms in the stillness of each pose. I inhale the good life and exhale the stress. My peaceful self cheers me on, and I hold out my hand to her.
Luke cracks a joke and I laugh alongside my friends. I sway to the music, feeling balanced and free. I can move however I want and never fall down. If I do, who cares. It’s magic, this class. There’s sweat on my forehead, so I know I did some of the work. My teacher lit the path of escape for me, but it turned out that I held the key to the dungeon door.
By the time we reach savasana, our final resting pose, I’m practically comatose with giddiness. To-do lists don’t matter; words are just mushy goodness, like cookies taken from the oven before they’re fully baked. Warm and sweet and gooey. My body melts into the Earth. My mind is relieved of tension. Hey, girl, I whisper—my peaceful self returned. I am whole again.
We roll up our mats in the serene atmosphere of our making. Luke speaks with a new student about her experience.
“No, you won’t find a lot of cardio in my class,” he agrees. “It’s a different kind of workout, more of the mind—” he pauses, and I glance up from my corner, curious. His eyes alight when he finds what he was searching for in his head.
“When I do yoga, I feel that it’s easier to be a good person, a good father, husband, teacher—” The girl smiles, unconvinced. I feel a twinge of annoyance, but he shrugs good-naturedly, “—at least for the next twelve hours or so.” His goofy laugh fills the room, obliterating any trace of my bad mood.
And that’s how I end sixty minutes with Luke Ossani, like myself again, my better self…at least for the next twelve hours or so.
Natalie Mucker is a graduate student at Spalding University in Louisville, KY. She is working towards her MFA in creative writing. She is fond of animals, humans, yoga, creativity, kindness, all things food, and traveling—not necessarily in that order.
* This is the author’s first literary award.
* This is the author’s first work to appear in print.