When the first yoga student levitated, Ashley didn’t know what to do. It happened during her Friday class, when everyone was settled into Savasana, the Corpse Pose, for the final relaxation. Ashley sat cross-legged on a cushion at the front of the room, and two minutes into the relaxation, a man named Brian quietly floated off his mat and hovered eight inches above the floor. She stared in shock at the floating man. Everyone else stayed on the floor with their eyes closed, some with towels or shirts haphazardly tossed over their faces to block the noon sun.
Ashley slowly reached for the Tibetan Bells that rested on the floor in front of her. She held the string delicately with both hands and watched Brian as she clicked the bells together. The sweet vibration rang through the room and she chimed the bells twice more. Brian floated effortlessly down to his mat and Ashley waited a moment before she cued the students out of relaxation.
After class, Ashley sat at the lobby computer, double checking the digital sign-in against the scribbled signatures on the clipboard. People shuffled around, going in and out of dressing rooms, putting on shoes and jackets, picking through the rack of tie-dye yoga pants and the shelf of miniature Ganesha statues. Brian came out of the dressing room and sat on the bench to put on his shoes. Ashley waited for him to say something, but he only waved at her, said, “Great class!” and walked out.
No one levitated in any of her other classes, and Ashley thought she must have imagined it. But the next Friday lunchtime class, it happened again. This time, there were two floating students. Brian lifted off his mat and hovered just like before. On the mat beside him, a woman floated up half as high as Brian, her body hovering in space like a magician’s assistant, her hair falling to the floor in a blonde waterfall. She settled back to the floor after a moment, but Brian stayed up.
Ashley was unnerved. Sure, she’d heard the stories about yogis in India who could transcend physics, but those were ascetic monks in rural ashrams, not urban Americans on lunch break. Ashley rang the Tibetan Bells, clanging them together a bit too hard.
She sat at the computer again, watching everyone from the corner of her eye, suspicious of some elaborate prank. She waited for Brian, and when he sat on the bench she rolled her chair toward him.
“Brian,” she said, making a conscious effort to keep her voice steady, “I just wanted to say that your practice has really been improving.”
Brian pulled a shoe on and smiled at her, the corners of his eyes crinkling to show he was older than he looked. He reminded Ashley of her dad. Not the old man dying of liver cancer, who left cryptic apologies on her voicemail. Not the one with yellow skin she saw at the open-casket funeral. Brian looked like she always wanted to remember her dad. The one who carried her on his shoulders, who taught her to throw a softball. The one who was invincible.
“Thank you, Ashley, that means a lot to me coming from you,” Brian said.
Ashley leaned close to him, elbows on her thighs, back curved in the type of posture her parents used to scold her for.
“Have you been doing anything different recently? A new meditation, maybe?”
Brian pulled on his other shoe and tied the lace.
“Nope,” he said, “Just following what I’ve learned here at the studio.”
“I ask because,” Ashley looked at the other students lingering in the lobby and dropped her voice until she was practically whispering, “You were kind of…floating off your mat in Savasana.”
Brian finished tying his shoe. He chuckled.
“Sure did feel like it,” he said, as he stood up. “See you next week, alright?”
He didn’t seem to understand she was serious, and offered no sign that he was hiding some secret method of transcendence.
“Yeah,” Ashley said. She straightened up and rolled the chair back to the computer. “Yeah, sure. Have a nice weekend.”
When Ashley started teaching yoga, she was overwhelmed by the beauty and joy of the ancient form. She practiced on her own for at least an hour every day, easily slipping into bliss in the most challenging arm balance or the most relaxing restorative pose.
Now, she taught nine classes per week and worked part time at a store that sold expensive yoga clothing and athletic gear. She always warmed up before her classes, but she was lucky to fit in two full home sessions each week.
It was Saturday, and Ashley flowed through one of those rare home sessions. She moved fluidly through Sun Salutations, standing poses and back bends. She stood on her hands, stood on her head. She cooled down and rested on her mat for Savasana: flat on the floor, legs and arms stretched out, palms up, eyes closed. Savasana, the Corpse Pose, is meant to be a few minutes of total relaxation, when both body and mind settle into stillness.
Ashley’s body was fine. She’d stretched and counter-stretched every muscle, flushed new blood into hard-to-reach ligaments, challenged her muscles’ strength and endurance. But her mind would not be still. She was thinking about the sequence for her next class, wondering when to do laundry, imagining a conversation she wished she’d had with her dad. Her mind was crowded, cluttered, and it chattered away in Savasana for two minutes before she gave up and rolled to her side. It had been this way for six months now, since just after her dad passed away, and was steadily growing worse. She knew some techniques that could help, breathing exercises and concentration rituals, but they took time. She sat up and looked at the clock. It was time to leave for the studio.
After her Saturday class, Ashley cleaned the dressing rooms while Cheryl, the studio owner, taught kid’s yoga. She finished just before the class ended, and she still was still holding the bottle of eco-friendly cleaning spray as the kids rushed into the lobby. Cheryl walked out with two five-year-olds holding her hands. She saw Ashley and said, “Could you enter the new students into the computer? The cards are on top of the keyboard.”
“Of course,” Ashley said. She stashed the cleaning spray under the desk. Cheryl chatted with the parents waiting in the lobby.
When all the kids had cleared out, Cheryl plopped down on one of the benches. Ashley was still typing.
“These kids wear me out,” Cheryl said.
“Was that barking I heard in there?”
“Barking, hissing, mooing. We make sound effects for all the animal poses.”
“That’s fun,” Ashley said.
As a kid, Ashley would climb on her dad’s back while he scuffed across the living room carpet, snorting and whinnying like a horse. She always wanted him to be a unicorn, but he refused.
“I’m a bronco,” he would say and stand on his knees so she had to cling to his neck, screeching.
Ashley smiled, straightened the stack of new student cards and started on the last one.
Cheryl rolled onto her back, stretching across the bench and yawning. Ashley dropped the student cards into a drawer and logged off the computer. She turned to Cheryl.
“Cheryl, have you ever seen someone levitate?”
Cheryl turned onto her side to look at her.
“What, like David Blaine?”
“Well, yeah,” Ashley said, “But I mean, like, in yoga.”
Cheryl waved her hand dismissively and rolled onto her back again.
“None of that stuff’s real,” she said.
Ashley looked down at the keyboard, brushed a speck of dust away. “No,” she said, “Of course it’s not.”
“It’s certainly nothing I’m doing,” Ashley thought as she watched Brian drift off his mat for the third Friday in a row. She’d bumbled through class, reversing lefts and rights, forgetting pose names. The whole hour, she watched Brian closely. His alignment was impeccable, but he was definitely not the most advanced student, always opting out of the advanced versions and still working on getting into his first Crow Pose.
When it was time for Savasana, Ashley did a breathing exercise to calm her nerves. She felt her heartbeat slow, felt the energy in her tingling arms subside. She opened her eyes. Now every student whose mat was next to Brian’s was also floating, as if whatever magic he had accessed was leaking out to those around him. None floated as high as Brian, but space stretched between their bodies and mats, and each face had an expression of total bliss.
The next week the yoga studio buzzed with anticipation. Cheryl had booked a famous yoga teacher to do a series of workshops and classes. All of Ashley’s regular classes that week were canceled and the workshops were sold out.
Ashley hadn’t been to another teacher’s class in months, and she felt strange walking into the room and rolling out her mat next to everyone else. She hoped she could talk to the famous teacher after class, ask her about levitation, see if she was skeptical like Cheryl, or if maybe she knew something. Ashley sat cross-legged on the mat and closed her eyes.
“Hey, can I squeeze in here?”
Ashley opened her eyes to see Brian standing there with his rolled up mat. She couldn’t even look at him anymore without seeing her dad, though her dad had never touched a yoga mat, didn’t even know what it was when she started practicing. She quickly shifted her mat to make space for Brian and he sat down beside her.
The famous teacher came in then, and the whole room hushed. She was one of the yoga stars, with two DVD releases, photos on the covers of magazines, a line of yoga pants with her name on them. This was the type of person who could inspire thousands with a simple Sun Salutation.
For the first part of class, Ashley was not inspired. There was nothing in the workshop she hadn’t already heard, no revolutions of anatomy or philosophy. Ashley kept watching Brian, but he wasn’t doing anything special either. Midway through class she almost lost her balance in a basic lunge, so she stopped watching Brian, stopped analyzing the teacher, and allowed herself to be absorbed in the flow of postures. The rest of the class flew by, and she was settled into Savasana before she even realized it.
Her whole body hummed with the vibrations of the practice, and her mind was, for once, completely clear. Her body became lighter and lighter, until it didn’t feel like she had a body at all. Just a bliss-body, free from the boundaries of skin and sense.
Ashley didn’t know she had levitated. Later, after she settled down to the floor, after she rolled up to a comfortable seat and sang “Om” with the rest of the class, after Brian smiled at her with those soft crinkles around his familiar eyes, she knew then. She didn’t need to talk about it anymore. She closed her eyes, found one of those strands of bliss still swirling through her being, and tucked it away where she could find it again later.