Chapter One

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Brahmamuhurtha is 'the divine time' for meditation and yoga practise, and it occurs approximately one and a half hours before sunrise, which is convenient as that's the time I usually wake up anyway.

My best friend, Sorsha Neary, likes to joke that I wake up earlier than the birds on the lot. When Sorsha and I shared this dorm space, I had to slip out to the women's common lounge here in the bunkhouse or walk all the way to Prac Shed Two if I wanted to stretch first thing in the morning. But Sorsha moved out with her boyfriend, Colm Mackay, so the room is all mine now.

I could get up at five a.m. and dance around in my pyjamas, if I wanted to. Usually I just practise, though.

Pale light from the dawn outside spills through the window as I finish saying good morning to my body. I've put the space heater on, because the floor is cold. But the best thing about my craft is that I don't need any other equipment. No wires, no weights or pulleys; no trapeze bars or knives or silks. Just the mat on the floor, and me. And a generous helping of self-discipline. Contortion is as much about discipline as it is about art or a science.

All the self-discipline in the world won't ease this constriction in my chest, though. I lean deeply into padmasana, make a few adjustments. Nope. My lungs still feel tight, high on both left and right. It's a weird feeling–sticky, somehow. Like these red breathing sacs inside me have caught on a snag. What snag? I don't know. I can expand my chest, but it hurts.

As the pulmonary specialist explained, 'It's only been a month. Smoke inhalation is tricky, Ren. Don't force it.'

I want to force it. This sticky-lung business is annoying the crap out of me.

I try to ignore it. Bend to my feet, press my seat forward and push into my legs. Breathe. Extend my arms, stretch back, reach high to open my shoulders. Clasp my hands, circle my wrists. Breathe. Make a long line of my neck, work the kinks out. Open my arms wide, swoop forward again, rest my chin on my ankles. Breathe.

My chest is still tight. Brengsek.

I need to stop stressing about it. The wise sage, Patanjali, once said, 'Yoga is the cessation of the movements of the mind'. So I try to stop my mind from moving. Think of nothing at all.

It's not actually that easy.

My father, another wise sage–well, he's an academic–once said, 'Pikiran Ren seperti seekor kodok'. That my mind is like a jumping frog. Unflattering, but true. I am an orderly person, a disciplined person, but my brain has a terrible habit of leaping all over the place.

My mind wants to continue turning over the sticky-lung business. I re-direct it away from that subject. Roll to stand up, and bring myself into a straight pike–soles of my feet flat on the floor, stomach to thighs, chest to knees, collar to shins, chin to ankles. My arms wrap around my legs, like I'm giving them a hug.

Now my wandering mind wants to contemplate my course of study. Specifically, my exam preparations. But that will only lead to list-making and anxious thoughts, so I push it away from that subject, too. Take my weight forward over my fingers. Tighten the muscles in my back and butt and thighs, curl my legs up until my toes touch the crown of my head–the shape of a fern frond. It's not a proper bend, I'm just loosening up.

Then my brain circles back to the subject of the fire, at which point I give up. Eh, I'm really not very good at this mental-control thing. I uncurl myself, lie on the mat in corpse pose and think.

The Spiegeltent fire is old news now. I still find the memories of it unsettling. Also, embarrassing; for the last month, people have been telling me how brave I was, how traumatic it must have been, to go back to help a friend then find myself mysteriously short of oxygen.

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