By Steve Koepp
Until one Sunday evening six months ago, I had always been yoga-resistant. The more ubiquitous it was, with the armies of yogis carrying their mats over their shoulders like bandoliers, the more I wouldn’t go along. On top of it all, my wife Lesley is a devotee with a yoga-teaching certificate, so the prospect of having her “adjust” my yoga positions to perfection, as teachers do, was not for me. I was inflexible about gaining any more flexibility.
That is, until lockdown came and there was nothing else to do–at least when it came to the usual mind-and-body pursuits. On the sidewalks of Brooklyn, even jogging had become controversial as runners contended with pedestrians for safe space. But then came a way for me to gracefully give up my yoga resistance. My wife suggested to my niece Rachel Maki, an expert with her own teaching practice in Rockaway Park, Queens, that she start an easy Zoom-hosted class that newbies like me would be tempted to join. Thus began “Sunday Funday Family Yoga,” as my brother-in-law Hans has called it.
Every Sunday at 5:30 pm EDT, family and friends roll out their mats at home for the one-hour class. Part of the fun is seeing who’s there when we log in. Faces pop up from around the country. My sister Cathy in Minneapolis (Rachel’s mom) never misses, while her stepson Jake in Portland, Ore., has made appearances as well. On display are new babies (Sawyer) and old dogs (Patrick). “I’ve been loving this class because it allows me to share my passion with the people closest to me at heart, but not in location,” says our teacher Rachel. “It’s great to have a reason to get together every week.”
The journey is a gentle one. While Rachel teaches at many levels, this class is more meditative than athletic. (There are sportier ones on weekdays.) In one of our first sessions, she introduced a slightly more challenging pose with the advice that if we can’t achieve it perfectly, “It’s not a big deal.” In the darker days of the lockdown, when life’s normal expectations were hard to meet, “It’s not a big deal” was a cliché with a new context. Around our house, it became a consoling mantra when things needed to be put in perspective. “She is encouraging, forgiving and funny, which also helps me outside of class,” says my sister, who is a high-school teacher herself. “In a time when it is difficult to be the best version of yourself, yoga with Rachel consistently helps me keep moving in that direction. Also, I feel stronger and more flexible, which is pretty great at 61!”
As Rachel teaches it, the class is inclusive in the sense that everyone is arriving with different stresses and strains. Rachel’s sister Kate participated far into her pregnancy. “It has been super beneficial for not only my mind, but body pre- and post-partum,” says Kate. “As an instructor Rachel has been wonderfully accommodating to my ever-changing need for pose modifications.” My son Charlie, a high-school senior, says it helps rejuvenate him after hours of remote learning. Hans, for his part, is recovering from a hip replacement and welcomes yoga for its restorative qualities after rigorous physical therapy. But at one point, he asked Rachel, “When are you going to have a class for old and inflexible guys?” To which she replied, “Isn’t that what this is?”
As for me, this was an opportunity to relieve anxiety and learn something new without embarrassing my competitive side. True to form, after just a few sessions, I declared myself to be “an intermediate,” which drew laughs, along with reminders that yoga is not graded on a competitive level like skiing or karate.
Especially during a time when we were shut-in, yoga became like a trip outside, or at least a psychic connection with nature. We pose as mountains and trees, trying to achieve balance. I especially relate to the animal poses, which seem a bit like acting class. Poses like the crow or rooster are way beyond me, but I can manage aspects of the pigeon (which looks a bit like NYC roadkill, if you ask me). Our dog usually wakes up from a nap during class and seems to want to join in. He knows only two poses, of course (upward and downward dog), but he is well-practiced in his limited repertoire.
While I started doing yoga as kind of a novelty, I realize that it’s better appreciated as a path. Everything around us may be uncertain and ambiguous at the moment, but yoga has a clear, positive purpose. Says Cathy: “Rachel leads us on a journey that is forgiving, challenging and ultimately restoring. She cheers us on and helps us stretch to be better. Literally!”
As for the true yogis in the family, I imagine they feel validated to see the rest of us embrace the practice. I wouldn’t say they’re having the last laugh, because they’re too Zen for that, but it must be gratifying after waiting so patiently for the rest of us to see the light. Says my wife: “I love having my family engage in a practice I have loved for years, but that they previously thought was too hard–or too woo-woo.” By the way, as part of my evolution, I have come to appreciate the little “adjustments.”
Fellow Insiders are welcome to the class and can inquire with Rachel here.
Steve Koepp is a co-founder of From Day One. Previously, he was editorial director of Time Inc. Books, executive editor of Fortune and deputy managing editor of Time.