“Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.” ~Author Unknown
I used to be a fairly active person in my younger years. I hit the gym four or five times a week. I had a weekly group tennis lesson and played in a foursome every Sunday morning. Mind you, I was never an athlete, could never boast a low percentage of body fat, but at least I had … a shape.
But aging, lack of free time and intense laziness have all conspired against me. I feel very blob-like these days. The last time I worked out was, hmmm. Does strolling around our cul-de-sac with a dog that sniffs every blade of grass count? Probably not.
I had an appointment with the foot doctor on my 50th birthday. I waxed philosophical about reaching this half century marker, and we got to talking about exercise. He said, “You know, I tell my patients that your thirties are for running, your forties are for aerobics, and your fifties are for stretching.”
So be it. It took a while, but this summer I decided to start yoga classes.
With a purposeful bounce in my step, I showed up for my first class, excited at the prospect of transforming my body into a supple thing of beauty and discovering spiritual awareness and inner peace at the same time. The instructor, let’s call him Yogi, greeted me with a soul-searching, unblinking gaze. The scent of incense wafted through the air. Looking around at the class, I felt a little self-conscious in my baggy shorts and t-shirt.
“What are you looking for in this class?” he asked intently.
“Well, I’d like more flexibility, more strength … ” I began.
He stopped me right there. “You will NOT gain flexibility OR strength if you don’t practice on your own. No one –not me, not anyone — can make you strong. It’s up to YOU. Can you commit to that?”
“I guess so,” I whispered. My baggy shorts and t-shirt felt so wrong.
“OK then. Watch what I do and try to follow me,” he said, more kindly. “Everyone, on your mats, please.”
“Deep breath in through your nose,” Yogi instructed, “and whoooosshhhhh out through your mouth.” OK, I could do that. “And again. Deep breath in …. whoooosshhhhh.” So far, so good.
But my confidence evaporated like the beads of sweat dotting my brow as Yogi effortlessly contorted himself into twisted poses that defied the imagination. All around me were lithe bodies following suit. I did my best but this was way out of my element. I am about as flexible as a tree branch. A dried out, crackly one.
“Stand up slowly, hands above your head. Place your right foot onto your right calf. Let your mind leave your body,” Yogi intoned. “Close your eyes. Feel your spine lengthening. Relax your head, your neck, your jaw.”
Dutifully, I shut my eyes and tried to settle into the pose. I swayed and felt slightly nauseous. I opened one eye just a crack to check out my neighbor, who definitely seemed in the moment and perfectly balanced, in her fitted silver toned racer back top and tight calf-length black shorts.
Yogi walked around the room to check everyone’s positioning. “How are you doing?” he asked softly as he tried to align my hips.
Aaaayyyy ayyyyyy eeee yowwww ngangggggn nanggg, whined the piped-in new age music.
I thought of that kid’s game where you have to figure out where to put each body part. But no time to daydream. Must. Stay. Focused.
I learned how to do Downward Dog, Cobra, Plank and Hunter, and wasn’t quite as wobbly as I gained concentration. At the end of the class, the room was darkened and we lay on our backs in the Corpse pose (that was an easy one), eyes closed. The whiny music was replaced with a steady, reverberating “ommmm” that went on and on. But as I lay there corpse-like, I felt fluid and whole. The tightness had left my shoulders. I felt like I had just had a massage and gotten all the kinks worked out.
“Namaste,” we said in unison as we bowed, a salutation that means “The God/Goddess Spirit within me recognizes and honors the God/Goddess Spirit within you.”
Gathering up my things, I told Yogi I enjoyed the class. “You did fine,” he told me. “Are you relaxed? Do you feel refreshed?” I nodded. “Then you have successfully practiced yoga.”
Feeling stretched and sublime, I headed home, inhaling and exhaling rhythmically.