(go ahead, laugh)
Years ago, I went to Iyengar Yoga with my mom. It was ok – I mean we got all stretchy, quiet and pensive at times. But it was just….stretching. It was just yoga.
Since then I’ve avoided it. Mostly because I stretch on my own and I avoid being in situations where you're supposed to pretend like you're all quiet and by yourself when really you are in a big cold room surrounded by 20 other people all making weird breathing noises and the occasional….toot.
Really, I heard it. It happened one time.
And it wasn't me!
Enter 2009. I figured it would be good for me to stretch a little more. And relax.
I started two weeks ago. Went to what I would call a yoga class that changed my life. In a word it was awesome. The instructor, the music, the stretches. It was everything you wanted yoga to be. It made me want to go back for more. It utterly kicked my ass and had me shaking at times but overall it was peaceful and restorative. The class ended with the instructor bowing her head and saying:
Honor yourself and honor your practice
And that saying gave me chills. It wasn’t about going faster or farther, it was about bringing it back to myself, inside myself and just letting me be. For an hour.
I was hooked. I couldn’t wait to go next. So I tried another yoga class. Our gym has a class called “Fitness Yoga” that takes place nearly 3 times a day. The only difference is the instructor. So the next class had a new instructor. I will call them Fidel.
This was militant yoga. No sooner did we get into Downward Dog than we were into Warrier Pose, Child Pose, Cobra, Tree and finding our Downward Dog again.
I got so confused and it moved so fast that at one point I just stopped. I sat on the mat. The bright lights, the constant commands, the coldness of the room. This isn’t yoga. This is a high intensity stretch led by communist Fidel.
Not only that but the yoga mat really smelled. I even got up to get another one in the middle of the class and it smelled too. So every time I had to touch the mat I freaked out because it smelled. Then I had to lay on the stanky thing and started to get really anxious that I would smell like the mat and that totally ruined the entire relax and breathe experience for me.
I’m getting my own yoga mat.
Then I attended yoga tonight. I brought Chris along. I was a little leary since my last experience but once again this was a new instructor so I had nothing to lose. Other than a hamstring from being overstretched.
The class was taught by a Scottish woman. I realized she was Scottish because she kept saying the word “belly” like Fat Bastard in Austin Powers when he said “GET INTO MY BEH-LEE!”
We were using our beh-lees. A lot.
Chris was on the mat in front of me and there we were in the remedial side of the room. Why? Because I realized I was surrounded by all men. Not that men can’t do yoga but they’ve got the blocks, the blankets, the bands, two mats and they still cannot reach their toes. And, you know because of this the instructor has an extra watchful eye on this side of the room.
We spend what feels like an entire day working on our breathing. Breathing in one-third, two-third, three-third. Somewhere along the way the math got off but this is yoga and we cannot talk so….whatever. Fine. Three-thirds it is. Whatever I’m bored. When do we stretch?
The instructor then reminds us to empty our heads of the thoughts of the day. Let them go. Not ignore them just push them aside for the time. To focus on the practice on the mat. To practice with intent.
What is your intent today?
I realize it’s rhetorical but I want to answer. She says that we do all things in life with intent. Why are you doing this? To concentrate on your purpose. To better yourself. What if I just want to stretch? Not good enough. I want to feel better about myself? Nope. I want to be grounded? Balanced and take time to stretch my mind out?
We start with the downward dog. Ok, yes, yes, I know this one. Next? Turns out that you do Downward Dog in yoga about 100 times each class. It’s a neutralizer. It brings you back to yourself. I get kind of tired of doing it but I play along.
Then we go through a series of stretches. The cues roll out of her mouth like there is a recording in her head that guides us along from pose to pose, shooting ankle back to knee forward to reaching arm over ahead. All this while she does the poses herself. Meanwhile I am shaking at times and struggling at others.
And then we reach the pigeon pose. We spend at least 5 minutes in this pose and you should know that a yoga minute is twice as long as a real minute. When I finally feel like my inner thigh will disconnect from my pelvis I sit on my mat and pick at my toe. Chris is still folded in pigeon pose along with the rest of the class. Then the instructor says:
“What comes into your mind when in pigeon pose? How you deal with the pain here is how you deal with things in life.”
Well that’s just great. I gave up on pigeon pose and instead picked my toe which apparently is a metaphor for my life. Here I am trying to do the ONE thing that doesn’t require evaluation against a clock, power meter or pace and I fail. How do you fail at yoga!?
I quickly get back into pigeon pose.
The instructor must have realized my willingness to just stop and pick my toe so she’s all over me. And Chris. All of a sudden she’s fixing my 200th downward dog (press your palms into the mat) and making Chris elongate his arms. If I’m suffering, he’s in the downright downward pain because he’s about 50% less flexible than I am. And we both did core yesterday.
We spend 90 minutes stretching and twisting and breathing before it’s finally time for corpse pose. It has some name that sounds like Sha-Na-Na which by the way was a fabulous show that I watched growing up. Weren’t Lenny and Squiggy part of it? Or were they strictly on Laverne and Shirley? Anyways, can you see where my mind wanders and why yoga is good for me?
We are laying like corpses now and the instructor closes the lights. She is talking at us in a quiet whisper of cues to shut our body down. Somewhere along the way I believe I started lucid dreaming about bike workouts and Jeff Keil. Jenni, dear, I’m not out to take your husband but he and I exchanged emails today about a bike workout and I guess it really stuck with me because when I finally emptied my mind I found it filling up with bike workouts, Jeff Keil and the sound of a bell…
Bell? School time? Dinner bell? Should I salivate? Oh, the instructor is ringing a bell to wake us up. How long was I out? And how inappropriate would it have been to wake around with my eyes closed in a zombie pose stepping on everyone’s mats?
We finish with an “ohm” and a Namaste. Honoring ourselves and our practice.
I’m sore, stretched, grounded and relaxed. I’m going to go back. To do a few more downward dogs and to hang out a little while longer in pigeon pose.
Plus I need a few more lessons from the mat. What you learn on the mat you take outside into the real world. There's more to be learned on the mat.
And for the record I am getting my own mat so it's not as smelly.