Around the beginning of each new year, I feel more open to trying new things. This will be the year I say yes to every opportunity offered to me, I tell myself. So when Lou asked me if I wanted to go to yoga class with her, I quickly agreed.
I didn’t have much yoga experience.
In the 90s, when I had a real job and pretensions of respectability, I belonged to a fancy, expensive gym. I joined primarily to participate in the popular boxing workout class, but one night I wandered into a yoga class for reason now obscured by my foggy memory. The class was fine, until we were told to curl our tongues and breathe through those curled tongues in order to detoxify our livers. I was skeptical then, and I’m skeptical now. How is that even possible? How does breath moving through a curled tongue detoxify? How does the liver know the detoxification is for it? If the breath passing through a curled tongue led to detoxification, wouldn’t it be a general, overall, full body, every organ detox?
I never went back to yoga there, partially because I was turned off by the woo-woo liver detox method, but mostly because I was busy being 25 years old.
Several years later, I tried yoga a couple more times when I met a grad student who was also a trained yoga instructor. She was trying to spread the word of yoga and make some extra bucks by holding yoga classes in her living room a few times a week. One problem was that the living room in her small house couldn’t accommodate many stretching students; if there were more than two people in attendance, we all felt cramped and constrained. The other problem for me was that the yoga classes were held across town from my home, and I often didn’t want to bike there (and home again) in the cold or the dark or after several hours of doing my job as a dishwasher.
I did enjoy the few classes I attended. The grad student was a patient yoga teacher. She didn’t throw around lingo I didn’t understand, she helped me get my body into the correct positions, and at the end of class, we always got to close our eyes and relax.
So when Lou invited me to join her for a yoga class, I wasn’t an absolute beginner.
One giant perk of the yoga class was that it was free for first time students. I’d rolled into town with no more than $10 to my name. I’d made some money dog sitting and house cleaning for a woman I’d found on a Craigslist ad, so I wasn’t totally without funds, but I didn’t have much disposable income. Free entertainment was good entertainment as far as I was concerned.
Upon arrival at the studio, Lou checked us in as first time students. We took off our shoes, went into the big empty room with all the mirrors, and laid out our mats.
Amidst the hubbub of setup, a hugely pregnant woman in workout clothes came into the room. She announced herself as the teacher. She was about 9 and 1/2 months pregnant she told us, liable to go into labor at any moment. She was going to take it easy during the class, she told us, and not bounce around too much. However, she said, she was going to work the class hard because she knew people in lunchtime classes were looking for really good workouts.
Oh shit! How had I gotten confused for someone who wanted a really good workout? I mostly wanted to do some gentle stretches and relax.
(A few weeks later, I went to a free [of course] lecture on tantra at the same yoga studio. The guy giving the talk mentioned as a side note that yoga developed as a spiritual practice and the idea of yoga as a workout was quite an American [although he may have said Western] phenomenon. I didn’t [and don’t] know much about how and/or why yoga developed, but I wasn’t surprised by what the man said. I wouldn’t be shocked to find out some enterprising American has turned the stand, sit, stand, kneel, stand routine of a Catholic mass into a workout.)
Lou is a trained yoga instructor herself, and when we left the studio, she told me the yoga class had been hard. If she thought it was difficult, imagine how I felt.
The instructor did say at the beginning of the class that we should each do our own workout and not compete with anyone there. I tried to do as she instructed. I didn’t bounce from one pose to another. (Although the instructor said she wasn’t going to bounce, due to her delicate condition, by the end of the class she was certainly bouncing out of one pose into another.) I tried to gauge my abilities so I could push myself a little further, but not far enough to injure myself. I was trying to concentrate on my own practice, but if I already felt like a loser because I could barely keep up with other members of the class, the hugely pregnant woman kicking ass at the front of the room did not make me feel more competent or capable.
It didn’t help that I don’t speak the language of yoga. Oh sure, I know the downward dog and the child’s pose, but this instructor was using lots of terms I’d never encountered: The eagle? The spread eagle? The split beaver? Most of her references meant nothing to me.
Finally, the workout part of the class ended, and we all lay on our backs with our eyes closed and relaxed. I don’t know what that pose was called, but it was my favorite part of the day.
The last few times I saw Lou, she suggested we go together to a hot (bikram) yoga class. It was April or May by then and my beginning-of-the-year enthusiasm had waned. She liked to go before work, she said, around six o’clock in the morning, to get her day started with physical activity. (Lou and I are very different. I like to start my day after the sun has risen, with breakfast tacos and a good book to linger over. Well, Lou does like breakfast tacos, so I guess we are not totally different.) I was already leaning towards declining, but then Lou told me sometimes people vomit during hot yoga class. At that point I said, Forget it! Throwing up is never fun, even for free!