The Salamander Study

I walk into a yoga class. I’m anxious and nervous. A man sets up shop next to me, which doesn’t help my anxiety any. I have this strange complex about men deciding to be next to me. I have this assumption that if a man is next to me, he must want something from me. I don’t know where that comes from, but it’s deep within me.

But he has red hair, and a graying beard and that somehow makes it easier. It matches my kids’ hair and my husband’s beard, and that makes me feel a bit more balanced in this space where many come and pay $18 a pop to find that very thing - balance. And, this man, he has tons of tattoos. I look more closely and they are quite intricate and beautiful, and I don’t even like tattoos, but I find myself staring and realize that staring is never a good idea. I worry he might start to wonder if I am expecting something from him, so I stop staring.

The class starts and I feel more at ease because now I can focus on the instructor’s voice and not at the man next to me, or on the perfectly shaped woman in front of me, or on the lady next to me that seems a bit sad. I think I feel the sadness because I can feel it in myself at that moment and I wonder if it is her sadness or mine.  I quickly realize that it doesn’t matter. I’m not here for the sadness, or maybe I am. I just know that I feel it.

I then find myself grateful that no one is behind me because I still don’t know the etiquette for yoga pants and underwear. Can I wear it? Should I not? What if it is “seamless” but one can still slightly see the seams? What if I don’t wear it and I sweat too much or start my period in the middle of class and, worse, I’ve borrowed the studio’s mat, so I can’t discretely roll it up and pretend nothing happened? And is underwear an okay term, or does it have to be panties? I hate that word like I hate the dilemma of not knowing whether to wear them or not. (Just to be clear, I only have this dilemma in regards to yoga pants, not with everything I wear.)

The woman in front of me doesn’t have any seams, so I decide she is underwear-less or she has some great underwear. Is it the $22 Lululemon kind? Or the $6 Target brand? I want to ask her so badly, but that would be weird, so I don’t. Again, I find myself staring. Thank God for the instructor beginning the class to bring me back to my mat and away from all the other mats in the class that are surrounding me.

Upon hearing the instructor’s first words, I immediately find myself wanting to be BFFs with this man who obviously knows how to lead this class through not just a physical journey, but also through an internal one. My mind wonders how I can make this BFF thing happen. He doesn’t know me from any of the other 20 people in class but I fall in love with him within minutes. I don’t feel any guilt or remorse for falling in love with a man who is not my spouse, mainly because the man is gay, but also because I know I have no chance with him, gay or not.

Mid-pose, he starts talking about a study that was done with salamanders. He says that they have found that if a limb is removed from a salamander, one can still see the electrical currents where that limb once was, hence the belief around humans being able to feel their phantom limbs, or the sadness of one sitting next to you.  And as we move our fully present and physical limbs from pose to pose, I start feeling my phantom limbs that have been cut off in my life. One is that of my birth father.  Another is that of a friend from long ago that has recently re-appeared in my life. Two others are the babies that would have been, but didn’t quite make it. One is even that of my ex-husband. That one I don’t like to feel so much.

He tells us to bring attention to each part of our body, to not leave anything out.  I find myself picking and choosing what I really want to feel or not to feel. But he keeps saying not to leave anything out, to bring attention to each and every part of us. I decide that in order to even have a chance at becoming friends with this man, I must at least attempt being a good student, so I make myself feel it all.

Yet, just as he tells us to breathe, I fail as that good student because I immediately start to hold my breath so that the tears don’t roll down my cheeks and onto the borrowed mat.  Then I have to breathe because I might pass out, so I do and I surprisingly find myself capable of feeling it all – all the parts of my body and all those electrical currents of those that have been cut-off from my life.  I then realize that some of those phantom limbs exist by choice, others by no choice of my own. And in this world of scientific, medical, spiritual and emotional advances I realize that some of those limbs are useful, can help me to feel whole and that they quite possibly can be re-attached. I just have to choose to go through the process, painful as it may be. I decide that I need to start that re-attachment process and to start it soon. I decide so because I had written down a birthday list for myself this year and on that list titled, “What I Want,” I included this: to feel whole.

I leave class knowing I will be back. We may not end up being BFFs, the instructor and I, but we too are now connected by sheer virtue of the electrical currents that run through this life. And I will be selfish by not telling anyone who, what, when or where this class takes place because the only open space left last week was the one directly behind me and I still can’t decide on underwear or not. But I can decide to feel and to be whole, so I will make that choice each and every day that I can remember. Anyone is welcome to the spot behind, next to or in front of me for that life class, you just have to show up and be willing to feel it all. Underwear is optional. I just don’t want to know either way, unless it’s really great underwear that never shows.

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