Purple Rain, Purple Rain.
*Originally posted April 23, 2016.
Friday morning I woke up early to walk the 38 minutes to the yoga studio to take the 10am. Yes there is a bus that I can take as well. But the bus takes about as long so why not walk. I felt a bleary from the night before. Tom (that’s my boyfriend) came out with me to a comedy show and after we went out for drinks. We rarely just go out for a drink anymore, instead opting for the cheaper and quite alternative of a bottle of wine and our own couch. But it was fun being out. Loud crowded bars can be fun if you rarely go to them. To recover from my evening of Guinness and mirth I thought the walk would be perfect to pep me up…the walk and the coffee that is…and the coffee with full fat cream…
Hey! Guess what happens when you spend all evening drinking then go into Bikram Yoga with just coffee as your breakfast? You feel likeshiiiiiiiiit!! We didn’t make it through the second set of breathing before I thought to myself, “What the fuck was I thinking?” I know better that this.” At one point I stuck out my own tongue during class to inspect it. It had a brown film on it from the morning dose of caffeine. So there I was in the front row, with horrible coffee breath, sweating booze. I bet I smelled like an old man.
I got through the class and I didn’t sit out a posture. Since I could tell right from the go this was going to be a rough one, I opted for taking it really,really easy. I didn’t go as deep in a posture and I didn’t kill myself. Because of that I was able to do everything a little bit but with the right form. This seemed a better option then crumpling in a heap and staying there for 90 minutes.
The class ended as it always does, and to commemorate the life of Prince the teacher, Ana, played Purple Rain while we laid in Savasana. It was clear Ana was a big fan of his and as we laid there listening to the song it occurred to me. I don’t really care about Prince. In fact I don’t really care about any celebrity that dies. When a celebrity dies I’m well aware that the world lost a great artist, and I’m sorry for their families. But be it Prince, Alan Rickman, Bowie, or Victoria Wood; none of these losses hit my core. I didn’t know any of them personally and thought I’ll look back fondly on the New Years I stayed up all night dancing to 1999 with my friends; it was hardly a pivotal moment in my life. I’m don’t mean to diminish anyone’s love for a celebrity. Maybe Prince’s music was there for you when nothing else was. But when I watch people wail and cry over the loss via social media I can’t help but think, “This is a bit much.” One friend declared that with the large amount of celebrity deaths this year it’s “the worst year ever.” In 2015 six people from my life died. Two old school friends, 3 colleagues from comedy, my step mother, and a man who was like a grandfather to me. You wouldn’t know about this because I kept silent on social media about it. It felt somehow inappropriate to mourn their death’s publicly. Tacky almost. But then again, these people did have a impact on me. They shaped my life sometimes in small ways sometimes in big ways. I can think of a specific reason why I’m thankful for knowing each one of them. Lying on my mat after class I started to think back at other people who shaped me for the better. Those people who have come into my life then left and all that I’m have of them is a fond memory. Not multitudes of Facebook posts, or catalogs of their past work; just a memory and gratitude.
At 18 I moved to New York City to major in musical theatre. By far the most practical degree to have and I’m not joking.
Walking to my classes at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy I’d pass a yoga studio on 72nd Street. It was on the second floor w/ big windows displaying chic, cool New Yorkers doing cool, chic New York yoga. After a month of walking past thinking, “I think I saw that on an episode of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. That looks fun.” I went in and asked about classes. Turns out it wasn’t cool chic yoga. It was hot chic yoga. Bikram Yoga. I got all the information I needed, woke up the next morning and took my first ever class at 7am.
*A note to the reader: I was a morning person for about two years of my life. Those two years have passed. And though I’m told that if I would resume my my old early morning habits I’d have more time in the day, I will never go back.The earlier I wake up the more time I have to check Facebook and twitter. I don’t use the time wisely so believe me, it’s best spent getting a full nights sleep then getting up early and pretending “I feel so refreshed!” I go to bed at 2am and wake up at 9am. As a stand up comedian without a day job, that’s not bad. In fact, a fellow comedian referred to me once as an “early riser.” I asked her to please cross-stitch that into a pillow so I could send it to my mother. She thought I was joking…burden of the profession.
At 7am, I walked into the Studio. If you’ve never been to a Bikram Studio they have a very distinctive smell. Tea Tree Oil, Sweat, and burning. That smell when you’re radiator has been on for a long time. The tea tree oil is supposed to masked the other two. Instead they mix all together making a sweet, pungent perfume. Most people find it a bit gross at first. I’m so used to it now, I don’t really notice it when I’m practicing regularly. When I take a long break from Yoga, and then come back, the odor is nostalgic. Like the smell ofmy mother’s home-cooking or my father’s Speed Stick deodorant. It’s pleasant because it’s home. But on my first day, it was not home. It was like stepping into an alternate universe. Yes, I can see it’s a fall day in New York, but everyone on this side of the window is in a bikini or tiny shorts, and everyone looks like they stepped out of a pool. Where’s the pool? A pool would be nice right now. But there was no pool. In Bikram Yoga, there’s never a pool.
Sitting on my rental may in the very back of the room, I told the teacher my name. She was a tall french woman named Bernadette. For those who have no idea how to pronounce the name on the cover of this book it’s “a-bih-gol-lie-ah. It rhymes with Jumbalya. Bernadette called me Abigail-ee-ah that day in class and continued to call me that for the coming years. I never corrected her because, I I didn’t know if she was saying it like that because of her accent or because she didn’t understand me in the first place. I still don’t know. I never asked.
In the early wicked hours of the morning I breathed, I stretched, did backbends, front bends, sweated, felt confused, dizzy, out of my depth and tired. After an hour we did a posture called toe-stand and then were told to lie on the floor. There I laid in a puddle of my own sweat and thought, “Wow. I did it. It was hard. But amazing and I did it.” Then Bernadette said w/ her adorable french accent, “Okay, now we ve’ll began with zee floor zeries.” ShitFuckWHAT?!?! I had no clue the class was 90 minutes. We finished the class for real and I’ve never felt so depleted in my life. I remember eating a bowl of fruit and then falling asleep for the rest of the day. I woke up the following morning, and then again for the next 5 days in a row.
I signed up to work at the studio for one day a week in exchange for free classes. I did my first 30 day challenge, where you practice yoga everyday for a month. I lose weight. I wasn’t trying to lose weight. I didn’t do anything particular with my food. I didn’t even notice until my teachers at school told me. It’s the first time I was ever aware oflosing weight. How much, I don’t know, I didn’t own a scale; I do know I had to buy new clothes. I was just enjoying this new found yoga. I liked, and still do, the puzzle solving aspect of it. Make your body into that shape. Ok. Go.
In those early days of my yoga adventures I’d take Bernadette’s class quite a bit. Some days I’d be all over the place. ALL over the place. She’d giggle at me kindly as she corrected my pose. She’d kept the room warmer than other teachers. She was a tough teacher in the best way possible. When I was working at the yoga studio on Sunday mornings she’d share her raw almonds and fresh squeezed Fairway orange juice. She’d give my the almonds in wee fistfuls and the orange juice in a cup like the one a dentist gives you to rinse out your mouth. Basically, she fed me in very small portions. As I stated earlier I’m from the Midwest. The only place that does things bigger than us is Texas. I found Bernadette’s portion sizes baffling. She wasn’t chic. She was quite plain, with a sweet laugh and a fierce standing-head to knee pose. She also practiced Darma Yoga and never went for the expensive $60.00 yoga shorts and tops. Instead she bought bathing suits, shorts, and leggings second hand, explaining to me, “It just gets sweaty and ruined anyway.” She once told me she didn’t have an air condition in her New York apartment so when it got unbearably hot, she’d grab her mat and sleep on the fire escape.
Once I graduated from the New School University with my BFA in Musical Theatre I immediately went for my teaching certification in Bikram Yoga. Four years of drama schoolto get certified as a Yoga Instructor. Four years of learning public speaking and communication skills then landed a job to uniquely apply them. (See I told you it was a useful degree.) Through the years my body and outlook on Yoga has changed . I’m not a person who started practicing, lost a lot of weight, saw the light and never looked back. My practice has varied in intensity and frequency. I’ve practice at my fattest and my thinnest. I’ve been depressed, stable, lazy, motivated, angry, and happy. With the exception of my family, the longest relationship I’ve had with anything has been Yoga. I’ve loved it. I’ve hated it. There’s been timed I’ve walked away from it thinking “If have to go into that tea tree smelling hell one more time I’m gonna scream! What the hell’s a tea tree anyway?! What kinda tea smells like that!??! None I tell ya! This is bullshit!” But, eventually found myself back in that room. Because when it feels good. It’s what feels the best.
After becoming a teacher I saw Bernadette less and less in New York. Last I heard she was spending a lot of time in France taking care of her parents. By 2013 I hadn’t seen her in a couple of years. And I was told that she had been sick for sometime and died of cancer. I was shocked. People like Bernadette don’t get cancer let alone DIE from it. She ate raw almonds and orange juice by the thimble full. She was a yoga instructor forfuck’s sake!
She still crosses my mind quite a bit. I think about her because, though our relationship was friendly we were never friends. We never grabbed coffee outside of the studio. (She probably didn’t drink coffee come to think of it.) We only saw each other at yoga related events. Because that was our one common interest; touching our toes in a heated room. That was our thing. And even though we weren’t besties, on October 30th 2004 I took her class . That class changed my life. It launched me into a yoga practice & opened my eyes up to the whole fitness & wellness world. In that 90 minutes Bernadette planted a seed that shaped me into the person I am today. And for that. I’ll always be grateful and I’ll never forget her. She lived simple and simply lived. She was great.
As I laid on that mat Friday morning, a little less hung-over than when I walked in, listening to Purple Rain; I was sad Prince had died but it wasBernadette I mourned for.