By Jill Morley
GROUPON – 20 classes for $20
Might as well try it again.
Yoga Class #1
"Is anyone here new to yoga?" my lovely crunchy granola meets LuLu Lemon yoga instructor asks. I can smell a hint of Tofurkey on her breath so I know she’s legit.
A few hands raise.
"Brand spanking new?"
My hand creeps up. As usual, I am terrified to speak in front of a group of people I don't know, especially one in which I feel like an outsider. In boxing gyms, I feel right at home. It's a safehouse for ragtags. I know it's strange to feel more comfortable in a place that is predominantly male, where we pound the crap out of bags and each other, but it's familiar and has become Home.
I sputter, "I've tried it a few times and um,...I keep trying to like it."
Some people in the class laugh, a few won't even look at me and I am pretty sure I see an eye roll on a corner mat.
The instructor, Lola, brings over two "bricks" and a blanket. At first, I think that just from looking at me, she can tell I am special. That I can do all sorts of amazing things that the others most likely, cannot. After all, I am a boxer. I learn that the brick and blanket are to help extremely tight people get into poses. Shove a brick under a thigh that cannot reach the ground on its own, or a blanket under your butt if you cannot sit up straight. I later decide to call them the "brick and blanket of shame" and know that they will be with me for a long time.
I have flirted with yoga at different times throughout my life but while I long to love it, it's only resulted in one night stands. I usually found it boring, painful and bourgeois with a hint of spiritual arrogance. I remember a yoga teacher saying that he would never eat an apple that was sitting on a weight machine because it would have absorbed all the aggressive energy of the kind of people who lift weights. You know, "those people." Judge others much?
The people who take such pride in doing their extreme standing splits while I am in pain just trying to straighten one leg would also enrage me. I know from doing other sports that you have to start at a very humble place and be patient. You cannot expect results right away. You are not going to be Muhammad Ali after a week or two of boxing... or most likely ever, but you can become a force to be reckoned with if you work at it diligently over time. In Taekwondo, I remember being a white belt watching a black belt test and thoroughly doubting I could ever learn all those kicks, defensive moves, and especially that many katas. Four years later, I passed my own black belt test and resolved to always remember to not get overwhelmed by where I want to be when I am first starting something new. Ego is a bitch.
Yoga is supposed to be about "the journey." It's not a competition, but my competitive spirit has always gotten in the way of enjoying it. How can that skinny bitch jump her legs straight through her arms like an Olympic gymnast when I would most likely break my toes or become mangled in my own arms? As I get older, I am learning the value of letting myself be where I am and not judging it. Let her do her practice and let me do mine. “Stay on your own mat,” a wise yoga practitioner once told me. And it’s true. There is no trophy. No medal. No purse. It's just “practice.” I say knowing that this very evolved way of being eludes me often and I have to practice keeping my mind in this place. Yes, another thing to practice.
I'm probably trying too hard to do the poses right because I know how important technique is and my mind has a tendency to think random thoughts. What do these people do in their real lives? Are they in a cult? Why are there cushions on one side of the room with faux fur pillows? Do they have orgies here where they wear animal masks? Why can't I just concentrate and not think these things?
It doesn't help that the girl in front of me has on see through tights and is wearing no underwear. I am too jealous of her body to get any kind of thrill out of it. Damn me for being straight, but even so, my eyes keep wanting to look over as she downward dogs.
In boxing, when you get a combination wrong on the mitts or start to hurt from a strength exercise, it's not completely out of place to utter, "Fuck! Mother Fucker!" I can't say it's not frowned upon, but if it happens, it's not a big deal. However, in the candlelit room reeking of lavendar oil, a few whispery MFers escaped my lips when trying to straighten out a tight hamstring. I caught a dirty look from the woman on the left. I folded my lips in an effort to lock them closed and tried not to do it again. In my world, when I get super frustrated MF happens. Not yogi right. Yogi wrong.
"Everyone step forward, or if you want to challenge yourself, jump your legs through your arms," says Lola as she effortlessly hops through, her wavy hair bouncing like a Tresseme commercial. I chortle, "Yeah, right," and slowly step through. But the girls in front of me, next to me, and one of the guys up front jumps right through. I take comfort knowing I could beat the crap out of every one of them. White belt, I think to myself, and continue on.
"Plank position," Lola gently commands. Oh, it's like a push up position. I can do that.
"Into Chaturanga," Lola says as she lowers herself to the ground, but doesn't touch it. Her chin and elbows are near the floor, her back is flat and her toes and triceps are basically holding her up. Having done twenty million pushups and punches over the last few years, I do this with her. She sees how easily I execute, gets up and stands next to me.
"Plank," she says. I effortlessly push back up, pleased that she can see that I don't totally suck.
"Chaturanga," she says, watching. I lower myself back down slowly, almost in defiance. We do this a few times. The last time she says "Plank" I burst up with the loud grunt of a power lifter. Yogi wrong and for that matter, not very feminine. My arms start to shake and I look around to see if other people are planking. Some are in a "child's pose" (resting) and others have their knees to the ground, modifying the movement. I become embarrassed that to them, I am like the skinny bitch showing off by jumping through her yoga arms and slowly go into child's pose.
At the end of class, I am sweating and even though I haven't been pounding on bags, jumping rope or sparring, I feel invigorated. It's a different kind of invigoration. Perhaps because it's selectively strenuous and focuses on your breath with your movement. That, and you aren’t getting punched in the face.
At the end, there is always some sort of silent meditation and when you leave the room, you feel more centered, focused and charitable. After class, Lola tells me I am super strong and asks what kind of athlete I am, which makes me like her even more. I tell her I am a boxer. She hugs me and tells me to come back. Things will get easier. There is tea and water in the waiting area. I help myself to some tea and watch an older dorky guy get shot down by a very pretty 21 year old blonde.
"These chairs are really comfortable right?" he says.
“Your jeans?” She asks.
“No,” he says, “The chairs.”
She nods and goes back to texting.
I realize the older guy is probably my age and sigh. I smile at the other people in the studio as I leave. I peacefully go to the parking garage get in my car, take a breath and turn the key in the ignition. How long can I enjoy this contentment? There is a long line out the garage and I can already feeling my real world New York impatience waking up, cracking her knuckles and asking me what the hell is going on? Why is it taking so long to get out of here? Are these people in the booths mentally challenged? I remind myself, that I am not in a rush and let the traffic take its course. At home, I marvel at what a different culture this yoga thing is.
As strange as it is, I want to do it again.
YOGA CLASS #2
Inspired by the girl from my first class, to avoid unsightly panty lines, I decide to go to the second class commando. Unlike the girl from my first class class, my tights are opaque. I am open to new things and experiences, but this felt a little too "Free Wilma." Very difficult to be “mindful” when your petunia is not cradled by a piece of cloth. Next time, thong. Another bad wandering thought. Yogi wrong. I also decide to wear one of my favorite T-Shirts that says, "I Eat Lightning and Crap Thunder." Not sure if I'm doing it to be contrary or ironic.
The classes are always primarily women, which for some reason, makes me a little uncomfortable. I know at the boxing gym the guys aren’t looking at what label sweats I’m wearing or if my nails are properly manicured, but I know women pay attention to these things and become a little self conscious. Some things that go unnoticed in a boxing gym, might not fly here. For example, I might smell.
“Everyone sit up straight on the edge of your mat,” Lola purrs. “If you can’t sit up straight, put a blanket under your sitz bones. (ie. ass) That’s easy enough. I sit up straight sans blanket and see her staring at me. She starts walking over.
What’s the problem? I think to myself. She comes over and places a blanket under my butt.
“I’m fucking sitting up straight!” I want to yell at her. Perhaps my years of being hunched over a computer and shoulders rolled forward in a fighting stance has forced my body out of whack. I have to be open to that possibility. We sit like that for a while and I notice the girl next to me has on a Stella Artois T-Shirt and also cannot sit up straight without a blanket. I immediately know my people when I see them.
Even though it’s my second class, it’s already easier to go into downward dog. A space in my back has opened. My body needs this. I try to straighten my calves.
“Motherfucker!” escapes my lips in a whisper. The girl in the Stella Artois T-Shirt smiles at me and nods. An alliance has been formed. I am proud to announce that this Turrets like behaviour only happened once this class.
I think I am getting better.