“Yoga is an art and science of living.” - Indra Devi
Then someone said to me: “You should do yoga.”
And coffee came out my nose.
“I have done yoga,” I told them, “but I found it very confusing.”
“Well, I took a Beaker yoga class and didn’t understand a thing the guy was saying.”
“You mean bikram yoga,” she kindly corrected me.
“No,” I said, “Beaker yoga. It’s a yoga class taught by Beaker from the Muppet Show, you know, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew’s long suffering assistant.”
She didn’t laugh and the idea of yoga vanished like breath into the wind and all was right with the world.
Then, someone said, “You should take a yoga class, try it out, it may help with your …” and they made some vague hand gesture that encompassed my entire being, felt good caring about me and walked away. So, once again, yoga was in my mind.
Look, I’ll be honest, I’m not in shape. I am A Shape. In the catalogue I go as spherical. I’m not a runner, a biker, a hiker. I like the great outdoors, as long as it remains great and outdoors and doesn’t ask much of me. I’m a reader, a writer, a bearlike creature of simple needs. One need is to not be in pain. To me yoga was a gathering of strangers in a room for a dose of pain. That you paid for! Life hands me buckets of pain for free, why go to a studio and pay for it, was my wise and economical thinking. Yoga, to me, was a lot of chanting while lithe, toned bodies moved in mystically synchronized harmony to some spiritual inner voice. Basically, it’s a room full of “after” pictures to my constant “before” picture. Yoga seems to work for people but, it looked like a living nightmare to me. I’m not nimble or limber. I’m as flexible as the mind of a 95 year old Catholic nun. It was incense and chimes, twisting my body in unnatural ways, people judging my girth and inflexibility and, besides, I didn’t have anything cute to wear.
Still, I took a yoga class.
I chose SLPY, Salt Lake Power Yoga, for my first foray into probable humiliation and self induced torture. It had very good reviews, albeit from people who did yoga regularly and knew the language and such still, they appeared to be welcoming to people new to the yoga game. Off I went, dressed in a very old pair of sweatpants, a t-shirt and carrying a yoga mat that a friend let me borrow, after she fell to the floor laughing and needed to be rushed to the hospital and have a team of surgeons resuscitate her. I was ready to yoga … be yoga-d .. have yoga upon me.
At first I thought I’d take a Little Yogi class. This seemed perfect to me as I figured it was either a small dose of yoga, like yoga tapas or, a class taught by Yogi Bear. I later learned that it was a class for kids and, for obvious reasons, I was not allowed to take that class. Side note, no bears taught this class.
I settled on a beginners commUNITY class for the very reasonable price of 7 bucks. The UNITY part of the word is all uppercase on purpose. Look, I need to come clean on this right now, as much as I am non-athletic, I mean I’ve been beaten in a foot race by concrete, I’m equally non-spiritual. The whole unity, community, namaste, group hug way of life is not my style and I’m a cynic so I always think there’s something going on underneath. Some kind of nefarious weirdness that will swiftly digress into selling candles in a Dickensian pyramid scheme. I was braced for this sort of thing when I entered the studio. I was wrong. The room was full of people. Like, people, people. People of various shapes and sizes. Oh, there were the picture of perfect yoga people, tanned bodies, tattoos, hemp bracelets, you know, the yoga cool kids and there were people vaguely similar to me.
I scouted out a place in the back, avoiding a clot of cool kids, having high school flashbacks of eating lunch alone and having my books dumped in the hall. Last thing I needed was to have my chi splayed across a yoga studio floor and a bunch of healthy strangers om at me with derision. Then something strange happened. One of the yoga cool kids, a ridiculously good looking guy, set his mat beside mine, introduced himself and started some kind of pre-yoga stretching ritual. Right beside me. A new yoga guy, a non-cool yoga newbie. No joke here, it was pretty cool.
The class started, the instructor, a very nice, well spoken woman, cautioned us to take our time, know our limits and just have fun. I tried. I did. I honestly tried. But, I was very self conscious, very aware of the people around me who were able to move and bend and twist with no effort at all while I grunted and grimace away. I imagined yoga police coming in and dragging me off to India to be mocked by a guy who has had his right arm stuck straight in the air for 75 years. Or, I expected at some point the teacher would stop, point at me as an example of how not to do it. Not just the yoga pose but, all of life, the whole thing. That didn’t happen and I trembled my way to the end of the class.
If you’re looking for a story of magical joy and revelation that will be the next hit Broadway musical, I’m sorry to disappoint. I was in pain. I discovered muscles I didn’t know I had. Muscles which now have restraining orders out on me. But, as I lay there in a child’s pool sized puddle of my own sweat, in corpse pose, thinking they should really call this panting like a St. Bernard after a mile run in Death Valley, pose, I felt ...ok. Inhumanly good looking yoga cool guy reached out a hand and helped me off the floor, gave me a hug and said good class. People smiled at me, there was a serenity in the room and, it was real. Even my deep cynic had to admit, the smiles, the vibe, the serenity, it was all real and happening in spontaneous response to the class that we just experienced together. Yes, I said it, together, as a community.
I took a yoga class. I’m not going to be one of those people who takes a class and thens says, well, you know, I do yoga, it’s really changed my life. But, I will admit that I am thinking about taking another yoga class. All my ideas about yoga and what a yoga class is like have been heartily dispelled. I don’t know if it’s just that way at SLPY but, I felt welcomed and encouraged. No one dumped my chi, no one smirked at my lack of ability and no one patted me on the head like a dog and said: “You did so good, yes you did, you should be proud.” I left the class feeling physically drained but emotionally replenished, and trust me, even writing that sentence makes me want to find a lawyer and divorce myself but, it is the best way to describe it, emotionally replenished. I see now why people like this so much. I see what it can do for the inner and outer being. I mean, if you ever see me packed into a pair of yoga pants I freely encourage you to drive a ten penny nail directly into my medulla oblongata but, my old Brandeis sweatpants, my Red Sox T-shirt and my spherical being just might be back on a mat in a yoga studio some time soon.
So, I took a yoga class.