The petite and flexible Japanese woman who teaches my Tuesday morning yoga class commands our attention by softly tapping a metal bowl with a metal instrument. Three times. The sound floats through the air with a smooth reverberation that stops the chatter in the room wordlessly.
In her second language of English she asks us to settle into our bodies and own them. To leave the world beyond her front door where it is, outside. We modulate our breathing by inhaling a particular number of counts, holding that breath with the tip of the tongue touching our palates, then exhaling to a particular but longer number of counts. If you try this, sitting cross legged and straight backed on a mat, you will relax. Guaranteed.
When first I came to this studio, understanding Mariko’s pronunciation and inflections was challenging. Even now, I don’t catch every word. Her classes are able to withstand this issue because, like most good teachers, she uses multiple forms and styles to communicate her craft. One will understand her well enough to receive a good Yoga/Pilates workout.
Mariko is exacting. She begins our sessions by sharing information about a muscle or muscle group (auditory). She stands to demonstrate what the proper posture, positioning, and movement of said muscle/s looks like (visual). Then she asks us to locate the muscle/s in our body (kinesthetic) and circulates the studio tweaking until she is certain that what she said and what we do are synced.
The minute changes she procures are anything but small. She helps us feel our core by having us lie down and push our lower backs, just above our rear ends, into an undersized yielding pillow. The result is a contraction of the abdominals deep inside the belly. It is, for me, the sensation of power and strength. Once we can locate and repeat this muscle usage at will – we are better able to incorporate the motion into our poses and practices.
Nearing the end of an almost 2 hour session, we ready ourselves for Shavasana by putting on our socks and sweatshirts. Our instructor massages our faces between the eyebrows and on the top of our heads and gently pushes our shoulders toward our mats before covering us with a blanket and scented (lavender) eye mask. She reads a short closing passage. Her touch is that of a healer. I relax into these final moments until we are asked to sit and sing one shared Om and Namaste. She bows to each student individually. Feeling honored and serene, I begin my day in a wholly different place.