As part of a program to expand my horizons, my current wife talked me into taking yoga classes every day for a month. We were told that such an immersion would develop a “life-long” habit of daily mind-body meditation and healthy living through yoga. It’s possible that this was simply a marketing pitch, as the guy who made this statement owns the yoga studio. He did, however, seem very laid back, healthy and semi-stoned in a yoga-ish, meditative sorta way.
I made no resistance. I could picture a waif-like ascetic yogi in a fashion-forward diaper seated in a restful, cross-legged pose, fingers touching thumbs and hands resting, palms up, on knees. Heck, give me something to lean against and I could do that for hours. Sign me up.
An additional draw was that yoga is a “non-equipment” activity, one of the reasons that it is so popular with waif-like, south Asian ascetics with squat to their names except inner peace and that diaper. If these guys had more money they would probably be playing golf. Of course, “inner peace” would take a real shellacking in that scenario.
Reality has a way of reminding me that I am a complete idiot. First, yoga classes cost real money, especially if one is committed to 30 straight days. Multiply that fee by two to include the current wife. Then, one needs a yoga mat. Not some el cheapo, environmentally unfriendly piece of foam from Target or WalMart but a special all-natural rubber, eco-friendly, meditation-inducing expensive mat, which they just happen to sell at the yoga studio. Multiply by two again. Finally, one needs appropriate yoga attire. Fashion-forward diapers are frowned on in U.S. yoga circles. What is preferred is something snug, not too revealing and comfortable. They also just happen to have those items for sale at the studio. Multiply by two.
Whip out the charge card while the helpful receptionist tallies the tab…let’s see, the classes, the mat, clothing, multiply by two, add the sales tax and…yowzer! For this kind of money I could have bought uniforms for an entire little league team and had some left over for a new set of irons. The waif-like yogi in my mind’s eye was laughing so hard that milk was squirting out of his nose. I hope it was milk.
The following day was our first class. Picture this: a large, open, hardwood-floored, dimly lit room with mirrors on one wall, the scent of a joss stick burning somewhere and Windham-Hill music playing softly. The room has 20+ people scattered about, quietly at rest, eyes closed, in yoga-like postures including sitting and lying down. Almost all of these students are women. I quickly unroll my mat and lie down on my back, close my eyes and breath rhythmically.
Now comes the second part of reality 101.
On the hour, a very pleasant voice encourages us to “breathe and be aware of our breath as it reaches into our center core and calms us” and to “soften our eyes”. While breathing, I also try to look like one of those sad, big eyed children in a black velvet painting. So far so good. After a few minutes of this delightful position, we are asked to come to a sitting position, legs crossed, back straight and reach our arms to the ceiling. From that moment, and for the next eighty-five minutes, the voice guided us through a series of postures that are completely at odds with what a normal body would ever do and which belied our instructor’s soothing, soft-spoken demeanor. The woman should work in an enhanced interrogation unit at Guantanamo.
Yoga has deceptive names for its various poses: garland, pyramid, mountain, sun salutation, child, table, downward facing dog, warrior, etc. Let me assure you, my dog could never assume the “downward facing dog” yoga posture in spite of the fact that she is flexible enough to lick her own rear end (usually when we have company). The “sun salutation” series of moves is in the same pain category as staring directly at the sun for several minutes without squinting.
And, while I was uselessly trying to balance on one knee and the opposite hand while lifting my other leg straight (well, not exactly straight in my case) back and raising my free arm and face to the ceiling, Yanni was oozing from the stereo speakers. Wisely, the owners had mounted the speakers high on the walls so that students like me couldn’t simply walk over and rip them down mid-session. If I ever come face-to-face with Yanni, I plan to put that flute where the sun never gets a salutation.
By the time we reach the 45 minute mark, I’m sweating like Orson Welles in a Turkish bath. I have cramps in my upper back and both hamstrings. While I’m trying not to whimper, the soothing instructor tells us to “concentrate on the cleansing air filling up your lungs and belly.” Breathing, I want to scream at her, is not something with which I am currently having trouble. I would have except that I couldn’t catch my breath.
To assure me that I was not alone in this misery, the other man in the class was grunting, moaning and muttering the occasional sotto voce curse. He didn’t seem to be in that reflective peaceful place that yoga promises.
As we closed in on the final minutes, we were directed back to our original resting postures and to “feel the weight of gravity pulling our bodies down deep into the floor” where we would find “transcendent peace”. Try as I might, there was no transcendence, only sweat, cramps and relief.
Finally, as a signature yoga gesture, our instructor offered a plate of freshly sliced oranges, apples and grapes. This was akin to offering a Guantanamo prisoner some doughnut holes following water-boarding, a modest treat so that we would have some reason to look forward to the next session.
Observoid of the Day: A body in motion tends to stay in motion. A body at rest tends to doze off.