I’ve been practicing and teaching more vinyasa-style yoga lately, which has dovetailed with a move from a two-bedroom 13th-floor apartment in the congested D.C. burbs into a light, airy three-bedroom house (with a “finished” bonus room!) back on our home turf in North Carolina. My husband and I tried to downsize and declutter before heading south, making several trips to a thrift store to let go of things that had gone unpacked or unused from our last move six years ago. We’re finding it challenging to arrange our stuff in our new-to-us space. It’s a nice “problem” to have, of course, but one irony of streamlining is that we need to get more furniture to organize and store what we do have in the different configuration.
Vinyasa is known as “flow” yoga, although “vinyasa” simply means to link poses in a thoughtful way. The idea is to create harmonious and sensible sequences, and movements are done with the breath — generally inhaling on an expansion, exhaling on a contraction. In flow yoga, unlike in, say, Iyengar yoga, poses are typically not held for great lengths of time. (Although I promise there is nothing static about Iyengar yoga.) So in decorating our house, we’re trying to figure out how to create the best dynamic flow, within rooms and also from room to room. The interior itself has a nice “flow,” with an open kitchen and living area. The upstairs area has its quirks, but the overall space is efficiently designed. And we’re still purging — I took bags of books (*gasp* oh, the horror) to Goodwill this week, finally releasing most of my college comp lit collection. I brushed aside those little stabby pains of nostalgia, because really, Carlos Fuentes? Just a guy I read once upon a tiempo. But Gabriel Garcia Marquez? He stays. A girl is allowed certain inviolate standards, after all.
It turns out that decorating a house is a lot like building a vinyasa sequence, and organizing a room is a lot like breaking down a pose. Think about the anatomy of a house, with its foundation (feet), beams (legs), walls (spiny bits, ribs), hallways and windows (circulatory and nervous systems). The heart and soul, well, those are more ethereal. Our house is nearly 19 years old, so it has had time to “breathe” and settle, and it’s showing normal wear-and-tear signs of aging (a new roof is in our future). As I play with certain poses to figure out how best to teach them, I break them down as if building a moving puzzle with body parts. As I arrange objects in our house, I’m doing much the same thing — adding details here and there, excising what we don’t need.
I get stuck frequently in both processes: How can I bend more in my front knee in Warrior I? Where the heck am I going to put the linens? Ooh! I forgot I even had that hip trick/trinket. How do I thoughtfully remove obstacles along those paths? Houses are built from the ground up. They’re also furnished that way: Matthew and I put the big things in place first, like the couch and bed, and will worry about non-essentials later. So, too, with yoga: You have to build the foundation of a pose or a sequence from the ground up, literally and figuratively.
The private, backstage work I do for teaching resembles the process of organizing the house and trying to get it comfortable for us and presentable for guests. The point of both exercises is to achieve clarity — of design, intention and use. In vinyasa yoga, with enough practice, the breath can become as natural as it usually is off the mat. Through yoga of any kind, you can come learn how to move mindfully and naturally from one action to another, from one pose to another, as if gliding effortlessly from one pleasing room to the next. In theory.