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Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Love for My Daughter vs. Fear of Yoga

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The website for “Home for the Weekend — a yoga retreat in Idyllwild taking place in early November — could not be more charming. Soft-focus photos of a lovely log cabin (with rocking chairs on the porch!) trade places with pictures of gently flexible young women in yoga poses, a campy Idyllwild road sign and the majestic San Jacinto Mountains.

The reassuring copy of the website echoes the holistic vibe of the visuals. Participants are promised an experience that will return them home to themselves. There are hiking trails. One can gaze at the stars. There will be breath work and meditation. And, of course, there are the two yoga sessions per day, led by a trio of certified young yogis — Erin Ward, Leah Schlackman and Emma Goldman. No grungy hippie hangout, “Home for the Weekend” is upscale enough to provide catering provided by Honey Hi, the pre-eminent sustainable food eatery in Echo Park.

What Jewish woman could resist the prospect of returning home to herself after the monthlong rampage of holidays beginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Simchat Torah? 

And so I signed up. 

I enjoyed approximately five hours of happy anticipation only to find myself beset by galloping anxiety, my mind working overtime. What was I thinking? Me? An overly analytical New Yorker stuck in a high-altitude area with a cohort of cosmic (and skinny) Los Angeles millennials? 

After the initial glow of imagining myself sleeping a log cabin came the dread: What about the daytime? I would have to wear yoga pants in public, twist my body into painful contortions and eat overly virtuous food!

Would there be booze? Would there be anyone my age? Should I shlep a stash of coffee from Zabar’s? Where was the nearest hospital?

And that is how I found myself, during the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, sitting in a downtown Manhattan yoga studio known, minimalistically, as The Studio, wooden blocks beneath my butt, straps bound around my hips, shoulders thrust back. My daughter Emma — yes, the same one running the Idyllwild retreat with her pals Erin and Leah — trusses my upper arms behind my back, tight and yet tighter. Sitting in front of me, Abbie Galvin, a master restorative yoga instructor, nods her approval. As Emma pulls the straps, I envision myself as a carved figurehead on a ship from days of yore, chest defiantly greeting the wind, hair streaming behind me, sailing fearlessly into the future.

“Would there be booze at the yoga retreat? Should I shlep a stash of coffee from Zabar’s?

“So good!” exclaims Abbie, watching my face intently. “Look how you open up! How does that feel?”

Feel is exactly the right word. Since I entered Abbie’s realm, my hyperactive mind has put itself on snooze mode and I am awash with feeling. New feeling. Something profound has shifted within me. Though my limbs have been rearranged — and held in place — I feel comfortable and calm. Both lungs work in concert, drawing in air competently and evenly; a team effort. My shoulders relax, relieved of a great burden. A long-ago feeling of security blankets me.  

“Fantastic,” I report, with a smile. “I feel great.”

The private restorative yoga session with Abbie was an early birthday gift from Emma, who has studied with Abbie for years and intends to incorporate her restorative practice into “Home for the Weekend.” Noting my reaction to her upcoming retreat, Emma decided to take matters into her own hands and enlist Abbie.

The rest of the hour flows like warm honey. Abbie reads my body and posture, interpreting, gently correcting, guiding. Emma assists, lifting my hips, adjusting my shoulders, fixing the angle of my chin. 

“Wait a second,” I say to Emma as we bound down the stairs at the end of the hour. “This is yoga?”

“Yep,” says my yogafabulous daughter, my teacher, beaming with pride and happiness at my enthusiastic embrace of her practice. We walk together down the Bowery, Great Jones Street and West Fourth Street chattering.

“Feel less nervous?” Emma asks me as we enter Think Coffee. “Yes!” I sing out. She looks at me intently. “You know, you can take another private session with Abbie if you freak out anytime between now and November.”


Shira Dicker is a writer-at-large and publicist captivated by contemporary culture.

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