Thursday, March 29, 2012

Après Yoga

I was talking with my high school friend Toni recently during our annual birthday call (our birthdays are three days apart), and she mentioned her daily hour and a half commute to her office in Washington, DC. She’s a successful businesswoman and is thankful to have weathered the economic downturn better than many, but leaving the house at 6:30 am and getting home after 8 pm day after day is wearing on her. It got me thinking about my commute, which is down the stairs to my home office. While I sometimes miss the camaraderie of a workplace, mostly I feel enormously grateful to work from home. One of the many benefits is being able to walk a few blocks to the Old Bristol High School to attend a morning yoga class on a weekly basis, and then swing by the Bristol Bakery and Café on my way home.

Janet Chill’s Tuesday morning class is an eclectic group. We’re usually about a dozen people, one-third of whom are men. Some attend every week; others more sporadically. The New Year always brings in a surge of new faces, but within a month most of them drop off, leaving our core group intact. I have to confess that I don’t know everyone’s name, but for an hour and fifteen minutes we’re all experiencing this very powerful thing together, led by our inspiring instructor Janet. While there are many talented yoga instructors in the area, something about Janet’s class always brings me back for more.

Janet practices Kripalu yoga but, to be honest, I don’t have much knowledge about the various yogic teachings and philosophies. It’s hard for me to keep them all straight, let alone pronounce them (this applies to the postures as well). All I know is that Janet’s particular style works for me, and that I leave floating. Some of you may remember the New Yorker cartoon in which a woman mentions to her husband the yogasm she experienced earlier in the day. People who are passionate about yoga usually find that cartoon very funny.

Much of yoga involves stretching, strengthening, balance, and controlled breathing. It’s an intense workout, and I don’t think it’s unrelated that I’ve grown a half inch in the ten years I’ve been practicing. But yoga is about a lot more than that. It’s a spiritual experience too. Sure, sometimes someone will lose his or her balance and make a joke, but mostly we’re quiet, listening to Janet’s soothing but insistent voice asking us to go deep inside as we hold a pose a little longer, or to open up our hearts as we twist to the ceiling. She always asks us at the beginning to keep an intention in mind, either for ourselves or for someone else; as we do our practice, we are to keep coming back to that intention: to focus. One of the most difficult things about yoga is clearing the mind of all the clutter and simply focusing on one thought (or no thoughts, for those who really want a challenge) for a sustained amount of time.

Janet usually closes the class by reading a poem or a quote. Last time it was a quote by Rumi: “May the beauty that you love be what you do.” With these words in mind I float across the Town Green to the Bristol Bakery, our local boulangerie/café.  

In business since 1977, the Bristol Bakery is where we go instead of Starbucks. There have been a few different owners, and around ten years ago it underwent a controversial renovation more than doubling its size, but it’s a well-loved destination in the village, often drawing people from neighboring towns as well. The Bakery, as it’s commonly called, attracts professionals with their laptops, parents of young children, solitary readers and writers, and groups large and small, who come as much for the community ambiance as they do for the tasty offerings: coffee drinks, whole grain breads, distinctive bagels and pasties, and hearty breakfasts, lunches, and brunches.

The fresh and flavorful soups, sandwiches, salads, and egg creations attest to the fact that the owners, Kevin Harper and Jenn Parker, strive to use local products whenever possible. They bake a variety of breads that are each featured on a different day of the week: Sourdough (the most popular and available everyday), Challah, Brown Rice and Walnut, Vermont Cheddar and Parmesan, Honey Oat, Rye, Sourdough Bobcat Café Beer Bread (made with beer from the Brew Pub across the street), and my favorite, Multigrain.

My most frequent purchase however, and I do mean frequent, is their hand-rolled bagels. Bagels were celebrated in the house I grew up in and, since my mom is from just outside New York City, we were bagel snobs. New York City bagels were beyond comparison. Whenever my Aunt Stanis and her family came to visit, they always brought us a giant bag reeking of garlic and onions. My sister Lynne and I would shove each other out of the way to get to them first. Bagels from NYC are still beyond compare, but Bristol bagels are the next best thing. And I must admit, scandalous though it may be to some members of my family, in some ways they’re even better.

For one thing, they’re healthier. I have one of their cracked wheat bagels nearly every morning for breakfast. Since I need to watch the butter, I toast it and drizzle it with a little extra virgin olive oil, which makes for a very satisfying way to start the day. When I feel like splurging, I’ll smear it with one of the Bakery’s signature cream cheeses; roasted red pepper and garlic, most likely.

I mix it up sometimes and opt for the Vermonter bagel. It’s whiter than the cracked wheat, but topped with a nutrient-rich mix of flaked bran and seeds, including flax, sesame, and sunflower. Chris’s favorite is the Salt and Pepper, and my daughters often vie for the tops of the Jalapeno Cheddar, although thankfully not as forcefully as my sister and I used to over garlic bagels.

The Bakery space itself is also, of course, a world away from the nondescript interior of a typical NYC bagel shop (although I do always seem to make my way into one whenever I visit the city). Light streams in from the large windows fronting the street, and the high, pressed tin ceiling gives the interior an airy feel. Rotating local art adorns a long brick wall, this month featuring Medieval letters painted by Bristol Elementary School students.

A mural graces the opposite wall, painted years ago by a beloved, now deceased, local artist. It depicts the town as it looked in 1910, when the Bristol Inn stood in the space now occupied by a drugstore and parking lot.

History, art, community, and high quality, locally sourced food: the Bristol Bakery embodies some of the best aspects of the town, and of the state for that matter. I can think of very few better ways to start my day than with yoga and a Bristol Bakery bagel.

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