Yesterday we were baptized by our first Gijon galerna, a meteorological event common in this area in the spring and fall and characterized by sudden gusts of cold wind and rain. Primarily associated with the area around the Cantabrian Sea and Bay of Biscay, it blows between the west and northwest and also affects the Atlantic coast of France. It’s also referred to as tormenta perfecta, or perfect storm.
Rocky was walking home after getting his hair cut by his favorite barber, Nacho. (Seriously, Nacho is his name. Either it’s a very hip nickname or his mom had a serious case of the munchies when he was born.) Anyway, Rocky was halfway home walking in a light rain when all of a sudden a ferocious wind that felt like the second or third cousin of a hurricane, turned his umbrella inside out and pelted him with a cold, strong rain. Looking around, he noticed everyone else on the street fighting with their own umbrellas which, as though synchronized, had simultaneously everted and were trying to flee from their frantic owners.
I was at home when the outdoor patio furniture began to rattle loudly moving across the deck. Suddenly, Wilma’s faux grass garden flew into a ball in the corner of the terrace like a tumble weed running for cover. Remember the scene in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy is overwrought because a tornado is coming and she’s got to grab Toto and get to the storm shelter? That was Wilma and I. The wind noise surrounding our 8th floor apartment was so loud that it sounded like a twister had landed on our terrace. I would not have been surprised if the patio table took flight. Wilma was barking and running in circles while I texted Rocky and asked him if he was hiding someplace safe? Of course, he did not hear the text because he was busy wrestling with his umbrella and trying to get home.
Wilma and I huddled together in the doorframe of the bedroom. I flashed back to the tornado parties we used to have in our basement in Indiana when I was in middle school. Wilma, as usual, was hoping for some cheese. Her usual response to everything.
Just then, Rocky arrived, completely drenched and looking as concerned by this change in the weather as we were. Miraculously though, his hair appeared untouched, as though he had just left Nacho’s chair! You know that phrase, 50 mile-an-hour hairdo? I’m guessing someone living in Northern Spain came up with that! Rocky said Nacho used some type of powder in his hair to achieve this state of permanence. All I could think was, “I’ve got to get some of that stuff!”
Obviously with gale force winds and a downpour, there would be no outdoor yoga class in the afternoon so I planned to do my own practice. An hour later though, I got an email from my teacher saying the waterfront class was canceled but that the local community center where she taught before COVID was open now and we could meet there instead. By that time, the freaky storm had passed but everything outside remained very wet.
Turns out the community center is only a five minute walk from our apartment. On the way, I laughed to see several broken umbrellas sticking out of the trash cans, remnants of the earlier storm. The community center is housed in a historic building called La Casa de Chino, which had been the home of the first Chinese person in Gijon. Now it is a three story rec center that offers Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi and women’s defense classes. I climbed to the third floor where I could hear the sound of people gathering and found a big open room with a pitched ceiling, well-loved hard wood flooring, multiple sky lights and a small dining table and kitchen space off to one side. Floor to ceiling mirrors covered two of the four walls and a colorful tapestry of Ganesh, the elephant headed deity known to be the remover of obstacles, was prominently displayed behind my teacher’s mat.
My teacher, Eva, had some familiar mantra music playing in the background although I couldn’t recall the artist. The sweet smell of incense was wafting around the room. I scanned the room and noticed the prop wall was totally organized and all of the blankets were folded nicely. Those of you who know me well, know what a welcoming site that was for me.
I placed my mat in the front row, hoping I had not taken anyone’s usual place. A circle sticker with the reminder to stay 2 meters away from each other marked the spot. As I unrolled my mat, a little dried grass scattered across the floor reminding me that the last class I attended was a yoga and brunch workshop in the garden of the North Surfhouse in Gijon. This was my first yoga class indoors since arriving from Seattle nine weeks ago.
As we began class, I noticed how much easier it was to focus while indoors without the distraction of fishermen casting their lines from the pier, dogs barking and pulling on their leashes, rollerbladers zipping by and friends caught up in loud conversation walking by our outdoor class. I loved being outdoors and didn’t really mind the diversions but noticed that now I could hear Eva’s cues more easily, her melodic voice no longer competing with the wind.
When we began to practice Surya Namaskar, the Salute to the Sun, the sun broke through the clouds and splashed onto my mat through the skylight above me. By the second round of the salute, my transition glasses had darkened as though we were still practicing outside. My footing was more solid without the uneven terrain of the garden or the rough cement of the pier. The floor echoed with the squeaks and groans characteristic of old wood, reminding me of the same sounds that I heard occasionally at Three Trees Yoga, my former studio in Washington State.
The only thing I wasn’t accustomed to were the mirrored walls. My alignment was easier to check but I found I kept looking at myself instead of looking inward. Without my own students’ bodies to focus on, I was forced to reckon with my own. “Oh, that’s what I look like doing downward dog. Jeez.”
Then I caught Ganesh’s eye, peeking at me from behind my teacher’s back. He has the reputation for not only being the remover of obstacles but he also places obstacles in your path as a way to help you grow. I started to laugh at myself. For weeks while doing the outdoor classes, I had been reminding myself to keep my eyes on my own mat. As a long time yoga teacher, I have spent years looking at other people’s bodies during class so that I could support them with modifications or adjust my alignment cues. As a student, I have to be careful to focus only on myself. Much as I feel drawn to help, it is not my job when someone else is teaching. Placing my mat in the front row helped in the outdoor classes because I couldn’t see the rest of the students as easily.
Now, I found myself surrounded by mirrors. Ganesh was encouraging me take the discipline to the next level, I guess! I would need to focus more on my inner practice and try not to be drawn in by the siren call of the mirrors reflecting my own body as well as those of the rest of the students’.
When it came time to do a forearm balance, pincha mayurasana, I had to make peace with my new reflective nemesis. The mirrored walls were the only places to kick up against but could I do so without breaking the mirror? I certainly didn’t want to incur seven years of mala suerte (bad luck.) Eva assured me that it would be fine but I could feel the resistance and unease in myself. As a result, it took me more than 5 times of kicking up to finally reach a pose that usually feels easily accesible. When I finally did kick up, I saw Ganesh, the trickster, grinning at me from my new upside down perspective.
That reminded me of a Rumi quote I love, “Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning you upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?”
Eva finished the class with a restorative posture, having us use a blanket roll behind the spine as a make shift bolster. She handed out eye pillows and spritzed a citrus essential oil blend above us, luxuries we had not had outdoors. She guided us so deeply into relaxation that I was surprised it was still light outside when I removed the eye pillow at the end of savasana.
After class, I watched as the students lined up without being prompted, to spray their blankets and props and put them away with care. Someone had trained them well!! Some of the students who knew me from the outdoor classes were curious how I liked the space. I told them I really felt at home which seemed to make them very happy. The exchange felt as natural as the many after-class chats I used to have at Three Trees Yoga. While La Casa de Chino could never replace Three Trees Yoga, maybe it could be the start of something equally enjoyable?
As for the galerna that started the day, maybe it really was a “perfect” storm. After all, it blew me in a new direction that felt a lot like coming home.