While trotting or nearly tumbling down the steps of the Eiffel Tower, harsh wind reddening my cheeks and nose, I pressed past fellow tourists and glanced only briefly at the signs on each level which revealed random historical and architectural facts about that grand, iconic structure, the quintessential destination of Paris, France. I was in a hurry because I wanted to make it on time to an afternoon yoga class in another part of town. Though I know how counterintuitive it sounds to rush through what could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience to do something I do every day, I don’t regret it. I found out that day how yoga could take me home, even if I was over five thousand miles away from California.
After descending the entire Eiffel Tower on foot (a faster option than waiting for a ride on one of its massive lifts) I navigated through a couple stops on the metro and hurried down a busy avenue to the Center de Yoga Iyengar de Paris. For a moment, I wondered if I had the right address. From the outside, there was nothing to reveal that this was in fact a yoga studio—just a plain façade of balconied windows and an iron door like all the rest. I pushed my way inside anyways and, after some confusion with the man at the front desk regarding how to spell my name (vowels don’t easily cross the language barrier), I finally arrived. The room was completely white and, like most things in Paris, very old. As I settled into a seated posture, I wondered what this building had once been. There was parquet flooring and on one side of the room, an actual mantel and fireplace. The double windows opened directly onto Avenue Victor Hugo, just a short distance from the Arc de Triomphe, and I could hear the hustle of cars and pedestrians right along with the sound of my breath. Though it was undoubtedly different from the studios back home, I was so happy to be there, just in time for the start of class.
What happened next was enthralling and delightful. We began the class by OMing three times. Within the span of those three reverberating syllables, I felt my frenzy, my homesickness, and my isolation all dissipate. I was no longer a stranger in a foreign county, no longer distinguishable from the Parisian practitioners around me, no longer lost amidst unfamiliar streets and sounds. Suddenly, I was speaking the same language and I was completely at home within the present moment. Years later, this realization echoes within me each time I chant that sacred syllable.
Teachers remind us all the time that yoga means union, that this practice to which we humbly return day after day has more to do with the connections we forge, with ourselves and with one another, than it does with physical prowess. Yet sometimes, it takes a simple moment like this, sitting in a room full of strangers, for that truth to really take root in our mind. As I observed the teacher and the other students, the differences between us dissolved into the realization that at our core, we are actually the same. Though I highly recommend practicing yoga any time you’re out of town, maybe you don’t have to travel as far as I did to make this kind of discovery. Coming home to your true nature just might happen spontaneously, if only you close your eyes, take a deep breath, and begin to OM.