I have signed up for my first yoga class. After years of doctors telling me that all I need to do is learn relax and everything else will fall into place, so I make the leap, or more accurately, the stretches. As a new retiree, I am still trying to figure out new past times for my abundance of leisure time. Several decades after my hipper friends, I will discover how to put my life in perspective using yoga and meditation.
We sign up, my husband and I, at a nearby Community Center with a thick catalog of lectures and exercise programs. I search the catalog, page by page, looking through the culturally uplifting classes to keep our senior brains active and engaged, even though it may be a little late for that. In our marriage, it now takes both of us to complete a single thought. I then circle back to the pages of exercises. Silver Sneakers? Broadway Dance? I want activities for both of us, but getting my husband into an exercise program is a losing proposition. I carefully read class descriptions and come to the conclusion that most of the dance and pilates classes will be beyond my capacity to stand upright. I have been known, over the years, as someone capable of falling down on an absolutely clear floor. I also have the unique ability to fall up a flight of stairs. I look carefully for the word the word “beginning” in each yoga class description. No Hatha Flow or Vinyasas for me. Anything requiring grace and flow is beyond my natural ability. I want to be surrounded by other people who are as brittle and unbending as I am in the ways when I try to learn yoga positions. I want to fade into a crowd of novices so that I won’t be singled out for my lack of balance and flexibility.
I dig out a pair of leggings that still sort of fit if I suck in my gut. Sadly, I cannot suck in my thighs. I find a souvenir New York City Ballet t-shirt that makes me look official. Some stupid part of my brain thinks that if I dress the part my body will naturally follow. I’ve tried this technique with other movement classes, over the years, and it has never worked once but still I persist.
I line up in the hall outside the studio with about a dozen other people, each one older than I am by at least ten years. Piece of cake, I think. Certainly I have an age advantage if nothing else. It pleases me to see that there are no Lulumas in the group. I will not be going up against women my daughter’s age who are perfectly toned and who fearlessly flaunt their flat midriffs and washboard butts in status yoga gear. This group, however, is age appropriate and seems oblivious to their bulges and their jiggling butts. At last, I have found my exercise tribe.
Immediately, a slim woman approaches me and, spotting my shirt, asks me if I am a former dancer as she is. Drat! I’ve been outed before the class even begins. She is surprised that I so readily admit to my clumsiness. As for me, I now know that there is one person in this class that can wipe the floor with me.
In the studio, I plop my mat down next to a wall. I haven’t consciously picked this spot, but it turns out to be fortuitous because I can touch the wall to maintain my uncertain balance. It does appear that I am the only true beginner in the studio. Everyone seems to know the teacher by name. She doesn’t feel it necessary to introduce herself. Everyone folds easily into a modified lotus position, more like “criss-cross applesauce,” adapted to individual flexibility. Then the teacher suggests one minute of meditation. I know I’m supposed to clear my mind, which is a little hard when your folded legs are beginning to cramp. I know you are supposed to breathe to the sound of “Om,” but my mind won’t clear. The studio is freezing and I’m getting goose bumps. Comfort cancels out focus.
I hardly have time to finish breathing out and in when the teacher gets down to the class. No warm ups here. We are immediately assuming Warrior Pose and Downward Facing Dog. I can handle these although the former dancer, two rows over, is doing an unimaginable leg extension at a perfect 45 degree angle to her body. Oh well. This isn’t a competition although all of my type A-ness is rising to the surface and I’m thinking, “Is her leg still hinged to her body?” We progress through some doable exercises until we get to a stork thing where you stand on one leg and wrap the other foot around your leg and balance. I feel the shaking start in my legs and I know I am about to go down. Although everyone else is managing just fine, I creep my fingers over to the wall to steady myself. However, if I don’t get two feet down on the floor soon, I know my next position will be in a heap on the floor.
Finally, the teacher releases us from the torturous position and tells us to get down in Child Pose. Oh, I know this one! This is the one that teachers tell you to retreat to when you can’t keep up with the class. Legs extended forward, head bowed forward, I can relax in this position and no part of my body trembles or stresses. The teacher walks toward the back of the room and I know she’s going to stop and tell me that I should just sit in Child Pose for the rest of the hour, but she passes me by and I breathe out, a true release of tension.
At this point, the teacher makes a huge mistake, at least as far as I’m concerned. She points out the clock on the far wall. I hadn’t seen the clock before and I thought that more time had passed than JUST TWELVE MINUTES. How can it be JUST TWELVE MINUTES when it feels like I’ve been at this for hours? I will now be checking that clock every two minutes in real time.
We move into Downward Facing Dog, four on the floor and rump in the air. Honestly, I have never seen any of my dogs in that particular position. We are then supposed to extend one leg out in back and the opposite arm out in front. I try to imagine situations in which this would be a useful position. Perhaps I might have to hold the door closed with my foot while trying to steady a falling bureau in front of me. It could happen, I suppose. This is hard, really hard. The wall is my steady friend, strong and unmoving where as I am being consumed by a personal earthquake. My legs shake, my thighs shake, my arms tremble like a quaking aspen. I don’t know how much longer I can stand like a pointer dog. I should be focusing on my body parts but my eyes keep wandering to the clock. Is this going to be a true hour-long class? I can only hope that the teacher has a lunch date or has to pick up her kids at daycare immediately after class.
Right at the stroke of 11:30, the teacher blessedly announces that we are done. I roll up my mat. I put my yoga blocks on the shelf, I take an inventory of all my body parts. My thighs hurt and will hurt more the next day. The tendons in the back of my ankles are trying to shrink back into place. I’m generally stretched and aching everywhere. However, the good news is I’ve survived. I’m no more experienced than when I started the class but I know I will be back for another session and one after that. In a month or maybe six, I will have improved my stretches and will not retreat to Child Pose when faced with each new challenge. I’ve pushed myself to my personal limits and it’s all good. The clock on the wall will move faster, next time and I will build my skills, if not immediately, then after a few sessions. I’m committed to learning this new skill even if it takes longer than an hour.
Now, home to a warm bath and a comforting dog. To all a heartfelt “Namaste.” I bow to you as a sign of respect, and wish you peace.