I have something else I should be doing right now, a whole list of things in fact. I hadn’t planned on writing a blog post today and certainly not this one. But sometimes things happen that you just need to write about – that I just need to write about – and this is one of them.
Today, I learned that Virayoga is closing its doors.
I was on the 1 train when I read the e-mail that I received yesterday. I might have left it unread for another day or so, but the headline caught me: “Important News from Virayoga.” And so I opened it.
I want to write that reading the e-mail “my heart sank”, something like that, and one of the things I find most frustrating about writing is that when I want to express real emotion, my mind tries to shortcut it with a cliché like that. Because what I want to write about, what I want to capture, is what Virayoga has meant – still means – to me.
I moved to New York from Dublin on 27th October 2011, arriving late on a Thursday night. Less than 48 hours later, amidst an unseasonably early snow storm, I made my way downtown to SoHo and up the stairs of 580 Broadway to take class. It wasn’t my first time at Vira. I’d first come in 2008, a year into my yoga practice at a time when my eyes were drawn to others’ mats instead of focusing on my own. I’d been so intimidated by everyone around me that I couldn’t wait for the 90 minutes to end. But over time, as my practice evolved and I became a bit stronger, I’d check back in, try a new teacher or class, until every time I visited New York, Vira had a slot on my schedule, or more than one.
I’ve written a lot about my move from Ireland, how about unaware I was really, until I got here, of how big a transition it was for me. And in those early days of being uprooted and not yet planted in New York City, I gravitated towards Vira more and more. Looking back, I don’t think I’d have been able to articulate how important Vira was for me then, I don’t think I even knew. All I knew, was that during this time of so much change, when my belongings were still on a ship or on a dock somewhere, when not even the brand of deodorant I could buy was the same as back in Ireland, that yoga provided something I needed. And that through the classes I took in Vira I found a constancy, a consistency, a gentleness, a welcome.
Mostly, I took Elena’s classes. Elena is known all over the world and lots of people had urged me to try her but until the summer before I moved something had held me back. Elena owned the studio and I’d heard her classes were full of teachers – everyone, in fact, who recommended her, was a teacher. And after four years of yoga, I was still often mistaken for a complete beginner because I couldn’t put my shoulder blades on my back properly and my left hip refused to open and I was terrified of handstand. I am still terrified of handstand. So, if it wasn’t for a workshop she'd taught with Sianna Sherman that August, I might never have made it to Elena’s class at all. I might never have realised that Elena’s were the classes I should have been taking all along.
Her Tuesday class at 12 o’clock quickly became my staple and every week I went there, even structuring my work schedule around it. The new friends I was making would ask, the way New Yorkers do, why I would travel “all the way” from Midtown to SoHo for yoga when there was a studio across the street from where I lived? What was so special about Vira? What was so special about Elena as a teacher?
I liked when people asked, to get a chance to talk about it and yet I didn’t like it because I felt like I never could quite explain the feeling I got walking up the stairs and into the dimly lit studio, rolling out my olive green mat on the highly polished floor. How Elena’s precision, her curiosity, her gentleness and her sense of humour made every class exciting, different – revelatory, even. How after a class with Elena, in a way I didn’t quite understand, I got to know myself better – my body, my heart, my mind. That in her sharing so much of herself – even the parts of herself she didn’t like, especially those – she showed me what courage looked like and the freedom in honesty and true acceptance, things that took me way beyond the mat.
Elena is at the heart of Virayoga but Vira’s heart beats in everyone who works there, everyone who practices. I enjoyed so many classes, so many teachers. There were days when I wanted to be held in the gentleness of Andrea Frade’s candlelit Sunday practice or have fun with Kevin Lamb or Jorja Rivero in her star speckled yoga pants. I can remember stories told by Eric Stoneberg and Laura Juell and most recently been introduced to the idea of the universe of stars beneath my very own skin by Ally Bogard. I’ve walked back onto the chaos of Broadway in blinding sun and teeming rain and often, this winter, in flurries of snow. And each time, every time, I’ve been a different person than the one who walked in.
Finishing my latest novel has impacted many areas of my life this past year, and yoga is one of them. But over the last few weeks I’ve been reconnecting again, climbing those stairs again, rolling out my mat on the highly polished floor again. Only yesterday, I made a note of when my class card will run out and resolved to buy another, to keep up this momentum into the summer.
So when I read the e-mail on the 1 train this morning, I’ll say it, I don’t mind saying it: my heart sank.
But I don’t want this blog post to end on a sinking heart. Because for me Vira has been about beginnings, about grace, about showing up - on the mat, in life, whatever direction that leads me in. I took class while waiting for biopsy results last year, I took class the night before my partner’s hip replacement. I took class when I finished the first draft of my novel, when I got engaged. I will be taking class tonight.
Vira has been there for me through so much in the last two and a half years and more than anything, what I want to say in this blog post is “thank you.” To Elena, to all the teachers, all the staff, for creating something magical, somewhere special. For providing, in the middle of this mass of movement and energy and bodies that is New York City, a place of stillness, of comfort, of cradling.
For bringing me home.