I had lost all sense of time, but we must have been on our seventh or eighth pose when the buttery smell of French toast that had been wafting up from the diner below the studio all class turned more acrid. We were in child's pose, I remember. The woman next to me had fallen asleep two poses ago. That tended to happen in these classes. I sniffed slightly before beginning my next inhale. Yes, something was definitely burning.
"Resolve to be still," said the instructor softly. Her assistant in the corner banged a gong and rubbed a mallet along the rim of a singing bowl.
I thought. I started to do a body scan to ground myself in the moment. There were my outstretched fingers tugging ever so gently against the thin ridges of the rented yoga mat. I was still upset that they charged extra for the mat. I suppose that's why you see people walking around with their own mats all the time. It couldn't possibly cost the studio that much to wipe them down after every class. They did wipe them down right? I let my head sink lower down. That was important, to let it sink, let gravity do the work. I exhaled and allowed gravity to lower my head to the mat. Yes, it smelled like artificial lavender and rubber. The smell of burnt cinnamon was still in the air though and growing stronger.
The gong reverberated. Where was I? Fingers. Palms. My palms were moist, but not uncomfortably so. It was warm in the room. I checked in on my wrists, forearms and elbows. I resisted the urge to wiggle anything. Sometimes I felt like I couldn't really feel my arms unless I moved them. They were there though, I assured myself. I resolved to be still. Like a spotlight on a watchtower, I moved my focus to my shoulders. My shoulders were definitely there. They were sore from yesterday's workout class.
"Relax into the pose," said the instructor. As my butt sank lower to the ground, I imagined the coils and knots of tension and anxiety ease their way out of my stomach and into the floor. Here I was.
"Remember today's mantra," said the instructor. "I am exactly where I need to be."
I am exactly where I need to be,
I thought. There were screams coming from downstairs; there was no longer a hint of cinnamon in the air, just foul smoke. I opened my eyes briefly. In front of me, no one had moved. I closed my eyes. I was exactly where I needed to be. I examined each of my vertebrae, gently willing them to separate farther and farther.
It was time for the next pose. Slowly, we walked our hands in and raised our seats into table top pose. We paused there and then lowered into sphinx pose. The woman next to me woke up with a start. She looked around, screamed and fled the room. She had left her mat. I hoped she would come back for it later. It was a nice mat, not a cheap rental like mine.
"I am exactly where I need to be," said the instructor. I repeated the mantra to myself. There was no gong or singing bowl this time. The assistant had gone. The room felt warmer. At the back of my mind, I started to feel something like fear take shape. It nagged at me, but I let it flow down and out of my body. The fire was not in the studio.
Soon though, it was. Thick smoke filled the air. Each deep, slow breath became harder. Someone behind me started coughing. The pale blue curtains that decorated the front wall were ablaze. There must have been a fire alarm going off, but I never heard it.
"Resolve to be still," said the instructor. Her voice had become raspy. "I am exactly where I need to be."
"I am exactly where I need to be," the class repeated together.
said a voice in my head.
But I was relaxed. I was where I needed to be. I continued my body scan. There was my lumbar. I could really feel it in this pose. It felt good. My butt was clenched. I let the muscles relax. My inner eye drifted down my legs. My left calf was on fire. One of the ceiling tiles had fallen on it, I think. My acrylic leggings were burning quickly. The pain was sharp. Class wasn't over, but it was probably time to leave. I rose slowly to table top pose and crawled out of the room.
When I woke up in a hospital room some time later, I continued my body scan where I had left off. With closed eyes, I looked at my toes. I couldn't feel them. I tried to wiggle them, but nothing wiggled. I couldn't feel anything at all. I screamed, but by now, it was too late to panic.