YOGA FOR KNUCKLEHEADS #2: "NO LOOKING AROUND!"
My first class in the spacious room infused with soothing India music, surrounded by 18 bodies—I counted them before taking my position in back. Beside me is a woman around 40 with eyes closed and body like a slender noodle as she lays double-blanketed on her mat in preparation for our yoga instructor--mostly women between 30 and 75 and 3 men of various ages, none of whom I fear would ever venture to share a beer and exchange local gossip with me at the Schooner’s Wharf, my local watering hole.
I am NOT supposed to be looking around, or staring, or sneaking looks at my new yoga associates as they go through their rituals preceding class. They roll out their mats and collect blankets, rubber blocks, belts, etc. They stretch out in various positions, some with legs hiked against walls. Most bring their own mats, but I, like a few, have selected one from the rack in back. I try to look like a serious yoga guy as I unroll it. Most of these people appear to already be losing themselves into trances. My long-time good friend and tennis partner and experienced yoga maven, Ethan, has warned me not to go about my usual practice of observing and eaves-dropping on everybody. Yoga practitioners do NOT like being “spied on” he said. “They want to be at ease, content and secure in their own worlds, so don’t stare.”
I’m not staring, but since I don’t know what I am doing at this new endeavor, I observe to copy. While doing so, I feel the eyes of Samantha, our comely and sweet yoga instructor, who has great legs and a small chest, catching me red-handed committing the no-no in yoga tradition, but she shows no reaction. Secretly, I feel exposed like an open sore and intimidated as being on the very bottom of the yoga pecking order and easily the feeblest person in the room and doubtlessly a doltish misfit.
This is not exactly beginner yoga, as I was led to believe. All these people appear to have a firm grasp of the poses, to which the instructor moves us seamlessly after breathing exercises while squatting legs crossed in a sort of preying position with hands cupped at our hearts, for the love of God! I observe the instructed lifting of heads to inhale, the drop of chins to exhale, and copy, while not exactly breathing correctly, and already my lower back aches as well as the inside of my hip and as I spy an older woman in the corner merely sitting with legs bent before her, I copy—ahh yes!
My first real crisis comes with “down dog.” My left shoulder needs replacement according to my knee surgeon, and I lean too heavily on my right hand to compensate, so that I am not a perfectly symmetrical down dog but instead list horribly to the side as Samantha looks on. She slowly unwinds from an amazing position of ass up and one leg up and extended (like all others), stands and comes over and starts to correct me when I inform her that my left shoulder is worthless from football, so she sweetly has me lay on my side and sort of curl up like a sleeping dog, and I am so relieved to become a sleeping dog pulling his knees close to his chest like an embryo.
Soon I am on my knees curled up with stomach lowered in a “child’s pose,” head extended like a turtle trying to ooze out of his shell with my hands cupped in prayer position against the top of my head as instructed, and although my shoulder throbs I hang tough and peer up to see everybody stretched so low with asses down that I am jealous and attempt to scrunch down lower but cannot and I sort of shift around off balance and find myself panting when I should be following Samantha’s direction to inhale and exhale slowly and blow it out and dammit I am drooling on the mat again like a senile wreck.
I am so relieved everybody keeps their eyes closed and do not have to witness what a spectacle I have become as Samantha’s voice drones on in calm resonance, urging us to feel our hearts, urging us to open our hearts and attempt to attain “love.” Christ, all I want to do is fix my hip and lower back, not seek some deeper, religious appreciation of loving life, yet at the same time I do not want Samantha who so far likes me to find out I am a cynical atheist ousted from my gym for scandalous behavior and a past of mocking and deriding her love and life passion, yoga.
Mercifully, the time passes quickly and we are told to spend these last few minutes in any comfortable pose we choose so as to attain maximum results and feel “vibrations” from our yoga session. I spot two women rest their butts close to a wall and extend their legs up on the wall and I follow suit, like a guy with a clue, and feel much better about myself as Samantha squats Indian-chief-like and closes her eyes.
Minutes later, still soothed by the India music, Samantha rings a gong 3 times and we resume our legs-folded-before us position and she has us take a deep breath and ooooommmm…and everybody ooooomms. I try, but run out of breath soon after my exhalation and witness these women oooooomming so loudly and so long… Then Samantha delivers the final Indian word of thanks and we start folding up mats.
I try to feel like a regular yoga guy as I fold my mat. A lady passes me with her mat and offers a slim smile and I nod, now recognized as one of the group and not the cynical prick hated by every woman in the gym. A number of the women consult with always helpful Samantha, and after quickly stashing my gear and slipping into my sneakers, I sneak out the back way, avoiding the office where the crew, including the men, exchange pleasantries, like old friends.
As I walk to my car, I must admit I feel looser, lighter, airier, like something obstinate and crowding has been released from my innards. I’ll be back.