Near the corner of Loudoun and King Streets in downtown Leesburg, across from the pink elephants dancing at Delirium Cafe, the De Landtsheer Art Gallery often catches my eye. The flowing flower lights are whimsical and light in contrast to the heavy gunmetal steel look of Jan Desmarets’ sculptures that line the storefront window. The statues are fluid in that each time I glance at them I first see some other thing—it takes me at least a moment or three—to recognize the shapes for what they are: a dog with a pheasant in his mouth; a horse on its side with its head up; a rooster in some sort of terrific back bend with its heart open to the sky the manner attempted in upward dog.
The statues themselves are lovely things, full of motion even in stasis; the kind of art that makes you want to touch and trace the objects with your hands even though you know you shouldn’t. In the horse, I’ve seen a person on their side, in grief, a tumble of rags and hair and bone. I’ve seen a unicorn at rest or a griffin rising. Several times, I’ve thought the dog with the pheasants was actually a two- or three-headed creature. The rooster, at first, looks to me like a careful penguin with flippers stretched wide for balance. Mythical creatures, human sorrows, different animals entirely; all within the form of dog and horse and rooster. Somehow these sculptures have motion in them, even in their stillness. And I’ve come to love what things I’ve seen in them when just glancing. I love the mistakes my mind makes, the things it sees, the shapes it finds within the form of the sculpture.
We are shape shifters, too, I imagine, in our yoga classes. We take our poses, breathe differently in them on different days, and hit different angles. Some days I take old poses and feel new forms taking shape; others I know I’m just breathing, that I’m stiff and crooked and showing up anyway. We imagine we look one way, when maybe we look different to someone watching. If we’re lucky, as is so often the case at a Flow class, the teacher’s guidance is compassionate, encouraging, and transformative.
I remember starting yoga and finding down dog difficult to sustain. It was uncomfortable and my arms would shake. I knew most experienced yogis found the pose as restful and restorative for them as child’s pose could be for me. Down dog was a pose my teachers returned me to again and again. This repeated posture that my actual dog does so fully each morning with pleasure was difficult for me. But, eventually, I, too, got used to the pose and stopped noticing its difficulty. There were other, more difficult poses and I was learning flow and focus and breath.
I thought I knew and understood the shape I was making in the pose.
Then, during a class with Marcia Hoffheins, she gave a cue I hadn’t heard before while in down dog. She said to balance on our feet and our hands, in the same way.
“Would you stand on your feet that way?” she asked.
I had often heard cues about how to use our hands during a pose like down dog, but her question allowed my mind to let go and my body understood what she was saying. I felt my hands push flat, becoming flush with the floor. I matched the weight and pressure on my hands the way I’ve learned to do on my feet in mountain pose or any other standing posture. Such a small thing, and yet I felt myself shift. I couldn’t see it, but I could feel the shape change into something closer to true.
The gift of participating in a yoga class isn’t just the teacher’s guidance, but the kindness of the other yogis present on their own journey, honoring each other with their companionship. We are silent, but breathing, the work of the poses shifting us, and us shifting inside of them.
Now, when the sculptures I know so well catch my eye, I look harder. Perhaps it’s the same with our yoga practice and poses. There is always something more to notice, some other place to shift into, or reach. And they are also, always, exactly what they are. Shapes to return to, again and again, and in the familiarity we find the magic of the shift and recognizing the old familiar shapes becomes something new entirely.