So I finally attended my first yoga class last weekend. Always the cynic, I have held a skeptical view of the calm followers of this incredibly popular form of exercise and meditation for as long as I can remember. Maybe it was encouragement from friends, or the fact that I have resolved to be less of an intolerant individual that led me to go. I’m sure it had nothing to do with seeing Jennifer Aniston, a huge fan of yoga, looking amazing in a dress at a recent awards ceremony on TV. Nuthin’ at all…
To be fair, I don’t really need to switch on NBC to see people reaping the benefits. My sister-in-law Danni attends regularly, and she’s so flexible you could roll her up, toast her, cover her in coarse salt and call her a pretzel. Another friend of mine, Dale, swears by the classes, hasn’t got an ounce of fat on him and you could bounce a quarter off his biceps. He’s also one of the most even-tempered, almost sickeningly tranquil people I’ve ever met. The glass is full and overflowing – you know the type. There had to be something to this yoga lark, and last Saturday I got to the bottom of it.
I had been warned to get there early – Bliss yoga studio is particularly popular on the days when most people are hitting the hardware stores. I was wearing my usual workout clothes and carrying a purse. As I crossed the parking lot I noticed others wearing more form-fitting outfits and carrying their own yoga mats. I shoulda worn my T-shirt with “NEW KID” stamped on the front. There was already a short line of people with infinitely more paraphernalia in their hands than I had, and some big bottles of water. As the bunch in the class before ours started filing out of the studio, I could see why. They were smiling, cheery, chatty and absolutely drenched in sweat. I had to borrow a mat, rent a towel and beg a big glass of water. I know how to make myself instantly popular.
Danni had just left a class, but seeing me struggling at reception was enough for her to take pity and join me on my new journey as I took those first tentative steps…shoeless. Did I mention that yoga is sans footwear? We entered the studio doors and I was hit with a faceful of hot air. Apparently they turn up the heat in some of these sessions to warm the muscles. I was already perspiring and the class hadn’t even started yet. “Is the A/C broken?” I loudly questioned an almost-full room, which collectively responded with polite smiles – clearly they had heard this one before from cocky upstarts like me. I need new material. The girl next to me had a tattoo on the top of her foot in some Chinese writing (I’m guessing – my Mandarin is rusty) and she absolutely looked like she belonged there. Note to self: Buy myself a string bracelet. Everyone seemed pretty serene yet excited. I was just hot.
Our instructor Janelle appeared unsatisfied with the level of warmth and cranked up the humidity. I craned my neck to see puffs of steam join the already Amazonian temperatures and was struck by fond memories of the thermometer in my living room post-Ivan/pre-electricity. Everyone else was stretching but me, and so I began sneaking looks at more accomplished others and half-heartedly copying their movements so I didn’t stick out like a red sore thumb.
It all began with breathing, and just as cows have more than one stomach, so all but me seemed to have an extra set of lungs, with suction that would rival a Dyson bagless. I was already in last place and all we were doing was converting oxygen to carbon dioxide.
Once the controlled breathing was over, the poses began. I can tell you firsthand that if, like me, you always thought that yoga looked relatively simple and not much of a workout, you’d be in for a shock. I quickly realized that a) I had the natural balance of an elephant on a rollerskate; and b) This was definitely going to be exercise. I can’t touch my toes, why I don’t know. Maybe I have abnormally tight hamstrings, or the hinge in my hips needs some WD-40; whatever the reason, I figured I was going to be at a disadvantage. Funnily enough I was more capable of some poses than others, and at least Janelle was extremely encouraging. “That’s very good Vicki,” brought a single tear to my eye; or maybe it was a bead of sweat. Regardless, I found the atmosphere and the instruction very encouraging, and even though I had to take a break a few times, I surprised myself with how much I could push my flexibility (or lack thereof.) I certainly wasn’t alone in the sweating department either – every mat was a rectangle of DNA by the end of the hour.
That yoga class really opened my eyes to a few things – don’t judge until you’ve given something a try. I left with a whole lot of respect for anyone who can keep up with ease. It may be a great reliever of stress, but you can’t deny the fitness benefits. It seriously works those muscles. I also silently thanked the inventor of deodorant – kudos to you wherever you may be.
It’s going to take a while before I can do The Tree without hurtling sideways, and I don’t know that I’ll ever attain the heights of excellence necessary to become a master. Up until recently the only Yogi with whom I was familiar was that most lovable of bears inhabiting Jellystone Park with a weakness for pic-a-nic baskets. Nevertheless, it’s a new experience to add to my list of Things to Do Before I Die. Next up: Skydiving.
Namaste…’n’ all that jaz