The first time I fell in love with Pittsburgh was in the Strip District. Engaged and head over heels in love with my future husband, I was still apprehensive about leaving the blue ridge mountains behind for a gritty grey post industrial city still stained with soot. Casey took on the challenge, and spent a long visit showing me how amazing the city could be. Last week I wrote about our first trip to the Carnegie Library in Oakland. The next morning, he surpassed that by taking me to the Strip. The Strip District is a blur of authentic ethnic food shops, restaurants, street vendors selling cheap pashminas and huge bright earrings, coffee roasters, street musicians, fresh flowers, a fish market with huge tanks of lobsters and other marine life, a gorgeous Polish church, nightclubs, gritty industrial warehouses, and a produce terminal six blocks long. The produce terminal is at the heart of the Strip. The loading docks and laborers smoking in between loading bins of melons made my produce girl heart sing. The hustle and bustling streets and the availability of an incredible marketplace of affordable and beautiful items from all over the world amazed me. Casey looked at me with my mouth and eyes wide open and shook his head. He couldn’t believe that produce vendors were what finally won my heart.
There are also a couple yoga studios in the Strip District- of course. I always noticed the people toting designer yoga mats and glowing with virtuous sweat floating past the many stalls of Steeler merchandise and tables of cream horns and whoopie pies. To be honest, I wanted to join them. What could be more urban than riding a bicycle along back alleys (a la Flashdance) to attend a yoga class in the Strip District?
This summer, this dream has become a reality- thanks to my husband, who brought my Grandfather’s Schwinn bike up from the basement and oiled it and filled up the tires, found an incredible Groupon coupon for Bikram yoga classes, picked up the baby in his arms, and sent me on my way. This has been an incredible gift to me. It is so powerful to fly along on that bicycle with the blue sky above and the wind rushing past me, to park beside the most beautiful Polish church I have ever seen, and to walk past the Mexican food street vendors and up the stairs into a space where for 90 minutes all that I need to do is get on a yoga mat and breathe. Well- breathe while stretching, balancing, and sweating through 26 poses in a 104 degree room with 40% humidity.
I love Bikram yoga. I love the intensity of the environment. I love the peace that I feel after sweating for 90 minutes, and the lessons I am learning about humility and tranquility. I am amazed anew at the beauty and intricacy of the body that God created, and the possibility for healing and release through movement. We hold on to so much tension in our bodies- in the set of our shoulders, our jaws, deep in our abdomen. In my work teaching dance and gentle stretching at a nursing home, I have been struck again and again by the power of breathing, and stretching, and using these simple and powerful things to ease tension, increase range of movement, and open up lives.
And so I love Bikram yoga, but I love it far more because it is in the Strip District, and when the windows are open the strains of mariachi music and the scent of fresh tortillas drift up from the Mexican street stand beneath. Last weekend a marching band struck up a jaunty tune outside and our teacher informed us that it was the Procession of St. Anthony being paraded around the block and back into the Polish church, which was full of Italians that day. I left the class and was delighted to wander into a street carnival with sharp dressed Italian men in black and white suits, beer tents, street food, and white haired old women bustling about in full Medieval Italian garb with lace headresses. It was spectacular. So was the morning when I pedaled away from class, yoga mat on my back, wind in my hair, and turned to glance back across the loading docks of the produce terminal. The downtown shimmered in a slight haze against the deep blue sky, and to the right the blue and white striped tents of the Cirque du Soleil swept up to the heavens promising carnival and spectacle. I loved the fact that the downtown and the circus were there as I pedaled away and back home, breathing deeply and full of love for the Strip, the yoga, my husband and the baby, and the city of Pittsburgh.