This week The Perri Institute for Mind and Body officially opens the doors to our new home at Gibney Dance Center at 280 Broadway. The opportunity to really have a “home,” a place of stability, structure, and support, is a new and exciting step for our student and teaching community, one that will hopefully allow us to grow in new and exciting ways.
The idea of home has been creeping up in my thoughts lately. As winter slowly turns to spring, I find myself itching to throw open the windows of my apartment and purge my own home of some clutter, cooped up energy, and let’s be real…some dust that has accumulated during the winter months. Gone are the instincts to hunker down and seek comfort in the warmth of my four walls; replacing them is the very present urge to spring clean and transform my home into something fresh and new.
Unlike most of my peers who moved to New York City, I somehow have managed to remain in the first apartment I moved into over 3 ½ years ago. In many ways, I love this because it means that a space that was, at least initially, truly just a space to hold me while I slept on a second-hand mattress in an empty room, is now a meaningful home in every sense of the word. I have bathed, worked, overslept, cooked, cried, decorated, redecorated, painted, thought about moving, practiced yoga, danced for joy around my bedroom, and done a million other things to make that apartment a meaningful place for me to come home to at night.
And yet, there are times when the memories and experiences that now come loaded with the idea of my apartment, even the happy ones, just seem like extra stuff that perhaps no longer serves me in the present moment. Sometimes we need the comfort of the familiar in our living space, and sometimes we need the freshness of something new. The beauty about homes is that while we think of them as something stable, they are always changing, always developing. People move in, people move out. Paint goes up, covering what once was visible. Chipped coffee mugs in the kitchen cabinets are replaced by new ones. Children grow up, and adults grow up even more.
I recently finished a book by Bill Bryson entitled, “Home: a Short History of Private Life”. In addition to learning about everything from the history of wigs to who discovered that Vitamin C cures scurvy, this amusing yet thought-provoking book has really brought my attention to what kind of rooms we live in, and even more interestingly, what type of stuff we put in them. In thinking about the nature of our homes, two ideas have stuck out to me: first, that the design, structure, and utilities of the building in which we live greatly affects how we live in them, and second, that our idea of what makes a home is changeable, fluid, and entirely different from one generation to the next.
For example, Bryson says that the idea of a “withdrawing” room, also known throughout time as a salon, parlor, or living room, didn’t exist until the late 1700s simply because the idea of “comfort” that it was intended for (found by sitting, reading, or making conversation) didn’t exist in the way we know it today. At the time, “comfort” meant to console someone in distress, and the idea of actively making a home “comfortable” would have been ludicrous. Well into the 19th century, a common practice among the English aristocracy was to keep a chamber pot hidden in a cupboard in the dining room, so that men could pull it out after dinner to use when the ladies left the room. According to Bryson, even after toilets were invented, it took years before people began building bathrooms in their homes and even more years before people preferred to relieve themselves in bathrooms instead of in chamber pots, or inside of stairwells, or outside of windows. Intriguingly, English dining rooms in the 1850s commonly had 3 matching casters on the table: one for pepper, one for salt, and as for the third, historians today have no idea what went inside that caster.
While some of these features may seem silly or trivial to us now, these were items and utilities and customs that people, or at least the aristocracy, considered necessary for optimal living in their home. Just as styles of hair and dress change from generation to generation, what people consider necessary aesthetic and practical choices for their homes also changes. Thomas Jefferson apparently detested the sight of staircases, so he built them in his home at Monticello in such a way that they are not only hidden from view, but extremely dangerous to climb. The concept of the dining room didn’t even exist in the Western world until a little over 300 years ago (people ate instead at small tables in any available room), and Jefferson was apparently quite bold to include a dining room in his plan for Monticello. This means that an entire stretch of human history lived, breathed, ate, loved, and died without ever sitting down to dinner in the way we do now.
Obviously, a “home” for business, practice, and study is an entirely different ballgame than people’s living quarters, but I think we can take some lessons from acknowledging our unique place in modern history to design and mold a space to suit our purposes. As we establish our new home at 280 Broadway, I’m excited to see how our environment and what we put it in will affect the work and study that we do. I’m certain that our community of mindful and talented teachers will treat the new space with the care, respect, and attention to detail that it deserves, and we will establish our own comforts and traditions in such a way that our home feels familiar and specific to the yoga tradition.
Even so, I think we can expect the power of change to infiltrate even our most careful choices. After all, the average family home today, that basic physical container that defines how most humans live out their lives, looks radically different than it did 500 years ago. The aesthetics and practicalities of our space for this current generation of teachers and students may be entirely different from what our future communities need, depending on how they work, what they read (or don’t), or even what they eat. Ten years from now, maybe even 50 years from now, the space at 280 Broadway will feel like an entirely different home for mind/body studies than it will to us during our first classes there this week.
There is one important link that can tie past to present here, and that is, despite changes in habit and taste and convenience, the actual idea of “home” as place of origin, as a place to return to each day, that idea has existed for a very long time. While having a material space at a specific geographical location for The Perri Institute for Mind and Body will help us grow in exponential ways, our supporting structures, the roots of our community, are not only located within the architecture of the building, but also within our minds and hearts. As such, our sense of community, tradition, and growth, all significant elements of a healthy home, are pieces of the Perri Institute that will develop and change over time.
When we practice at 280 Broadway for the first time this week, we can be completely certain that the cycles of time, people, and ideas will create a home for us there that is both familiar yet always changing.¬ During this exciting week ahead, let’s remind ourselves that our true place of origin, our real sense of home base, is actually not located in the external world, but in the yoga practice itself. Home is in our minds, our bodies, and in our breath.
- Katherine Moore
Photo by Sophie Kuller