By Kara Douglas
Eyes closed, I hear the wind hollering on the far side of my studio walls, spitting sleet and rain against the windows. The building – an old Maine barn – trembles with the impact. I’m sitting cross-legged on the floor of what was once a hayloft, refocusing my distracted attention on Yoganand’s voice as he guides us through another round of pranayama and the weather outside grows wilder.
“At the top of the inhale, pause,” he says. “Let the hunger for breath grow. Feel it as a wanting, an aliveness. Become the stillness that holds this aliveness, then, when the need for breath becomes stronger than your ability to witness, let go.”
Another gust of wind. The lights flicker, but stay on. I exhale, trembling as the breath pours out of me, arms descending from their overhead reach. Another gust of wind and then, darkness save for the candle burning nearby.
I quickly unplug my laptop and stuff it into a bag, along with overnight gear prepared in advance for just this possibility. Flashlight in hand, I scurry down the stairs and through the barn to the house where I shout to my family, “I’m heading into town! Be back when the power comes back on.”
As I back down the driveway, my husband – a volunteer firefighter – flags me down with radio in hand. “Be careful,” he says. “Sounds like a few trees are down across the road.”
He jumps in his truck and heads to the fire station. I squint into the storm and start the 12-mile drive up the Harpswell Neck peninsula into nearby Brunswick, where my friends own an antique shop on Maine Street, complete with a quiet basement, working electricity and an internet connection.
As I get closer to town, the rain turns to a slippery mix of ice and snow. Six trees lay across the only road out, but none of them entirely block the way. Two swing in wires that caught them on the descent. I pull over where the shoulder widens and check the internet connection on my phone. A minute later, Yoganand’s voice comes through as he guides the rest of the class through posture practice. I listen as I drive, his voice a metronome that keeps me focused and on the road. I wonder if this counts as raising energy.
When I opened my studio six years ago, I was slowly plugging along on the 300-hour training with Pranakriya. I had completed my 200-hour training at Kripalu in 2005, then went on to teach, write, have two daughters and slowly renovate the barn that now houses Fishmoon Yoga. The barn renovation alone took three years of evenings and weekends. Very much a householder, I slipped my 300-hour courses in wherever and whenever I was able.
When Covid closed our busy schedules down, I found myself on the edge of a new precipice. No one in their right mind would ever devise a business plan that relied on teaching yoga classes via the glitchy internet on a peninsula that juts 12 miles into the Gulf of Maine, where power outages are as common as traffic jams are in more populous places. But then, none of us were in our right minds. We were all trying to hold ourselves together. We didn’t know if it would work, but we did it anyway.
Half-way through my 300-hour training, with travel to host studios impossible, I decided to try taking courses online, too. I was edgy at first. Everyone seemed so remote. During lunch breaks, I’d hop on my bike and ride as far and fast as I could in order to endure the remaining hours of learning and connecting through a screen. When the course ended, I needed a day off to recover. The screen itself pressed all my sympathetic nervous system buttons: what if the power goes out, what if I lose my internet connection, I miss doing this in person, who are these people, anyway?
In July, a few days before the start of the Kids’ Anatomy course, my daughter and I were swimming in a nearby cove. When we got out, a neighbor came by, flustered. “Stay out of the water,” she said. “A woman was just killed by a shark in Mackerel Cove.”
I don’t think I blinked for about a minute while my brain tried to sort out what she was telling me. No one gets attacked by sharks in Harpswell. It must be a pandemic rumor, I thought, people feeling overwhelmed by isolation and uncertainty. We swim in these waters all the time.
Details emerged in the following days. There was, in fact, a great white shark spotted in Mackerel Cove. The woman was simply swimming with her daughter. It came up from below. The daughter made it to shore, unharmed, but her mother didn’t. The stuff that nightmares are made of.
I logged into the zoom class and William’s face appeared on the screen. Suddenly, it was a relief to see someone familiar who wasn’t from here. I looked at the eyes of everyone whose faces appeared in the Brady Bunch squares and told myself, “Be here. Even if it feels remote. Even if the internet goes down. Just this. Savor every word.”
My restlessness persisted, but taking classes remotely got a little easier. The constellation of faces on the screen became more familiar course by course. By the time December rolled around and the power did go out, I had a back-up plan. Taking Asanas as Spiritual Doorways in a damp fifty-degree antique shop basement wasn’t ideal, but it was possible. And sometimes, the possible is worth doing. Sometimes, we close our eyes and curate the breath until there’s so much aliveness that the temporary world of causes and conditions becomes a ripple on the water. It moves through and dissipates. We see this and hold a steady gaze.
Within three days, the power and internet lines were restored. The trees that did eventually block travel down the peninsula were cleared and I could go home. I found myself looking forward to the next training, calmer for having weathered the storm of my own worst-case-scenario fears, which amounted to little more than an adventurous drive and a weekend in a damp basement.
I will always love taking Pranakriya courses in person. The travel, the sense of togetherness, the conversations that happen between sessions: these are things most people worldwide are missing these days. Focusing on completing my 300-hour training and committing to see it through – come restlessness or screen fatigue – revealed a thread of practice, consistency and connection that helped me move away from catastrophizing and back to, “just this.”
In her Meditative Postures class, Pam posed a question: “Who would you be if all existing structures fell away?” The past year has been a study in this. My sincere thanks for those who’ve travelled alongside with your own trembling hearts and questioning minds.
As we respond to our lives and regenerate ourselves, who are we calling forth from our deepest waters?