Learning to Practice Yoga in Paris Without the Glamour

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I brought my yoga mat with me to Paris even though it cost me an extra forty bucks to take it on the plane. Sure, I could have just tossed the mat and gotten a new one in the city, but somehow that felt cruel. My mat had always supported me. Through work stresses, backaches, breakups, boredom and general life anxiety.

On the mat I’d allowed myself to really get present, to become more aware of my mind chatter and even silence it from time to time. I’d learned how to do headstands, build upper arm strength and salute the sun. I’d encountered fellow yogis and aspects of myself that were so inspiring, I had a tattoo artist imprint the sacred OM on my inner right wrist just so I’d never forget.

So what’s forty bucks?

When I arrived at the apartment near Gare du Nord, a place I would call home for as long as my visa (and savings) allowed me, I set my mat by the door and looked around. The room I had rented was modest, but so was the price. It contained a mattress on the floor, a small desk, a chair and a lamp. The windows overlooked the car park and dumpsters, clotheslines hung with laundry, and various kitchens and bedrooms in other apartments. It wasn’t what I’d imagined when I’d finally decided to check the “Live in Paris” box off my bucket list, but it was cozy nonetheless.

That first week I tried to find yoga classes by asking the locals. I was directed to a few studios, but after looking these up on the Internet, I realized they were all in French and my knowledge of the language was unfortunately slim. With the help of various expat websites, I located some that were instructed in English, but these were held during the day when I’d be glued to my computer working on ad copy for my job in New York. They’d been generous enough to let me work from afar when I explained my insatiable wanderlust to my boss and, once this arrangement was made, my obvious first new home would be Paris.

Weeks passed and my mat remained exactly where I’d placed it upon arrival. My yoga routine was quickly replaced with a work-and-play routine. I wrote in my room during the day and went out at night, indulging in food, wine and the occasional romance. On weekends, I went to the museums, shopped or pampered myself at spas. Financially, I knew I was a living a bit too luxuriously for my own good and that my credit card statements would haunt me later, but I also knew that living in Paris was a temporary thing. So I gorged myself.

But as good as the food was, as handsome the men, as moving the Seine, something was missing. My spirits were high and I was full of energy. But this energy too often turned into worry. My mind raced. How much time do I have left? What should I do next? What if I don’t see it all? When will I come back? I was so pleased with Paris and myself for being there that the thought of being without terrified me. I didn’t want to miss out on anything.

In attempting to taste and see and do it all, I soon found myself only halfway inside moments. I’d think about what I’d recommend to people back home when it came to steak-frites (le Relais de l’Entrecote). Or I’d pick out a new neighborhood to live in for “next time,” if I was lucky enough to have a next time in Paris (St. Germain des Pres).

When I returned home after my city jaunts, I’d be exhausted, but sleep was no friend. I could lay there for an hour, sometimes two or three, thinking about the day, or the day before, or the day after. Then I’d wake late the next day, drink far too much coffee and do it all again.

Months in, I was working on my laptop and downing coffee in my modest bedroom. My mind erratically hopped from one worry to the next. From my laundry to my shopping list to my finances to my plans after Paris. I shifted my gaze from the computer screen to the window and back again, finding it hard to concentrate on one thought. Let alone one self-serving thought. I then looked over at my mat, still there in its canvas bag by the door where I’d placed it. I thought: Why haven’t I found a yoga class by now? Could it really be so hard to follow in French? Have I not looked hard enough?

Taking a breath, I sat back in my chair. A moment passed before it occurred to me. The room was small, but not too small to practice. So I got up, unzipped the bag and rolled my mat out in front of the window. Sure enough there was just the right amount of space. And after years of classes, I knew the poses without instruction. My body led me through it.

From one downward-dog pose to the next, I quickly found myself calmer than I’d been in some time. My shoulders loosened, my heart opened, my mind quieted. And when I gazed out the window, I saw all those ordinary things. The car park with its dumpsters, the clotheslines hung with laundry, and various kitchens and bedrooms. As ordinary as it was, I realized there was something charming about the view just then. Perhaps the ordinariness itself.

Looking out, I knew it wasn’t what I’d pictured in all my previous longings for a life in Paris. But it wasn’t disappointing either. After all, the view was no longer imagined, but real, in front of me, and mine. And for that I was very grateful.

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Editor’s note:  This is a guest post by Erica Garza.  Erica is a writer living in San Diego, California. Her essays have been published by Salon, HelloGiggles and numerous literary magazines and journals. She is currently working on a memoir called Hairywoman and writes for the feminist website Luna Luna. Read more at www.ericagarza.com.

Photo credit: lululemon on Instagram

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