I’ve never been much into mysticism. Meditation and the third eye are fine things… for other people. As for me, my brain is rooted in a world of practicality. I blame my Republican upbringing and excellent grasp of reality.
Still, I keep hearing all these amazing things about yoga. A former co-worker used to tell me how not only was it making her stronger, but she left classes feeling centered and at one with her world. I have plenty of friends on various ranges of what I call “The Hippy Dippy scale” that like yoga. Really, I never heard a negative remark about it. Since I too wanted to get my metaphorical shit together and become more fit, I made a half-hearted decision to try yoga some time without any real plan of follow through.
So far, California is my new world without excuses. While perusing the free fitness classes that my university provides, I saw yoga as an option. I should do that, I thought but didn’t get serious about attending until one of my friends in the MFA program said that she goes 3 days a week in the afternoon. With her encouragement, I went to my first class the other day.
When I think of yoga, I think of salt lamps and humid classrooms with new age music and soft lighting. That might help the third eye, but my two (real) ones were happy to see a normal looking fitness room at a normal looking gym filled with normal looking people. A wide variety of folks showed up to the class, from potentially meditative geniuses to giggling undergrads — all with various fitness levels. I was instantly comfortable with the crowd, and felt confident nobody was going to lecture me about the health benefits of kambucha after class.
The instructor herself was this tiny old woman with a patient, encouraging voice.
“There’s lots of incredible moves you can do from this position,” she’d coo as we all tried to hold a proper downward dog with shaking muscles. “You won’t be able to do any of that today, but stick with me and eventually you can.”
I liked the instructor, because she added as much encouragement as she did reminders for us to relax our shoulders and keep our lines straight. Encouragement is something I need when my flabby ass is precariously extended in the air towards a line of incredibly fit undergraduate students.
Yoga itself was far harder than I imagined it would be. The mental images I had of people sitting down, waving their arms around and humming “Ommmmm” were better suited in a mix of meditation and modern dance. In actuality, the positions we did in the class made me strain and tremble as sweat dripped down the back of my neck. I wasn’t the only one struggling. Even though my eyes were glued forward trying to watch the instructor to figure out what the hell I was supposed to be doing, I could hear periodic grunts across the room. It was hard for everyone — even the buff people.
Somewhere between planking and doing this hip flexor balancing exercise that she called “doggy peeing”, my third eye thought it might vomit. This wasn’t the heart pounding, terrible cardio of the fitness classes of my past… but it was just as hard. Balancing on one knee and one hand with your appendages struck straight out is harder than one might think.
At the end of the class, she had us lay down on the mat and concentrate on having each vertebrae of our spine touch the floor — deceivingly hard to do. As I tried to take my third eye and melt into the mat, the instructor started dipping into more meditation as the class winded down. For the first time in the hour, I shut my eyes. Every muscle in my body was yelling at me, but I breathed slowly and listened to her speak.
“I want you to think about something negative that’s occupying space in your brain.”
I couldn’t think of anything, even though I knew my brain was brimming with negativity.
“Maybe it was something you said to someone that you didn’t mean to, and it hurt their feelings.”
Immediately I thought about a comment I muttered in haste at a writing happy hour. Something that wasn’t merited, and wasn’t fair to a person near me who had been extremely kind to me more than once. I had been worrying since if they heard me or not.
“Take that negative thought, and push it out of your brain. Take it in a row boat in the ocean, and push it away into the sea. Watch it drift farther, and farther, and farther away until it’s almost gone. Take that thought, and tell it ‘I release you!’ Now it’s gone forever, out into the ocean.”
I sighed. The thought was not gone, and I was not in a boat. I smushed my spine back down on the mat. It had crept back up, like so many other things.
“Don’t focus on the negativity, but focus on the gifts. My gift is this breath, and I appreciate every one I get to take.”
I started to wonder if she appreciated breath more than me, because she had a lot fewer left.
“Now think of a person who is a source of positivity – either living or dead.”
Then I remembered. Nobody knows how many breaths we have left.
“Think of this person, and all that they did for you. Think of the times they encouraged you. Accepted you.”
I breathed faster.
“Think of everything they gave to you, and collect it together into the core of your body. Hold it there, and keep it. Keep it in a ball of light.”
I wanted to open my eyes, but I squeezed and forced them to say shut.
“Think of that person, and say thank you. Thank you for all you have given me. Thank you for everything I keep from you.”
I started to cry.
The tears slid down my cheeks, salty from sweat. I kept my eyes shut, and lie still on the mat. The only movement I made was occasionally tilting my pelvis back down to keep my spine flat on the ground.
And I was thankful. Am, really. Thankful, and very tired. Thankful, and sore the next day. Thankful, and a little bit hippy dippy.