The Yoga Class
On Sunday I took the beginning class at my neighborhood yoga studio. You enter a yoga studio, and you enter an inner sanctum–a place where the competitive fast-paced world supposedly doesn’t exist. The nose-pierced woman who checked me in looked for my name in the computer, but she struggled with the key board. It was as if she was trying to pet the keyboard. Perhaps she thought tapping the keys would cause it pain.
I wondered if I should spell my name for her or teach her how to use a keyboard; finally she asked for payment. But I knew I’d paid, so I looked concerned. Did they not accept regular money here? Was this her way of requesting karmic tokens or beads instead of dollars? Did she expect me to barter, offer her hand-woven scrunchies in exchange? If she did, we were in quite a predicament because I have no practical skills besides microwaving.
I didn’t want to disturb her zen or near comatose state, so we just stared at each other. Eventually she turned back to the screen. “It’s with a K. No?”
“No, just a ‘C’ as in ‘Cat’ and ‘Cantaloupe.'” The fruit reference really threw her for a loop. I imagined she was wondering if I was organic or wind-fallen. Eventually we figured it out. I realized that this woman could probably only ever work in yoga studios. Only in a peaceful, accepting environment (in California) would people accept her “skills.” Had she been a doctor or waitress she would have been considered incompetent rather than “accepting of herself.”
I questioned my judgement of her; only in a yoga studio would I feel guilty for noticing when someone’s terrible at their job. Her status as a space cadet and my guilt were part of the atmosphere: signs that we’d entered an ancient world, ruled by the body, the search for truth and the power of breathing.
After the “om” chanting, which I still struggle with (I end up just holding one long note, hoping it harmonizes in some way with the rest of the class), our ex-ballerina teacher has us focus on our breath. In yoga land something I take for granted becomes a challenge. Am I breathing deeply enough? Am I exhaling and inhaling long enough? Of course the thinking process isn’t as exaggerated, mostly it’s a relaxing experience, but the yoga world has it’s moments of stress.
Things we do to relax, especially in my family (remind me to write a blog about our camping trips), can often be the source of more stress. I took a class with one woman who kept nervously laughing and staring at the people around her. My mom manages to turn yoga into a competitive sport. When I ask her how her classes are, she always complains about the other people in the class. “They aren’t doing it right. They don’t take it seriously.” I’ve also witnessed a teacher tailor an entire class around the one student who had never taken yoga before. Poor dude spent the whole class apologizing for slowing us down.
Then there are the bodily malfunctions (my inner yogi requests that I point out that actually they’re not malfunctions. These incidents are perfectly natural and nothing to be ashamed of). I was upside down with my legs up the wall when my instructor came by to make a correction. Eventually she helped me down and out of the pose, and suddenly without any warning, I was loudly farting. I was so shocked that I made a loud almost hiccup sound. She smiled and thankfully didn’t say anything, so I could pretend she hadn’t heard. But if she hadn’t noticed, she would wonder why I suddenly made such a loud sound. Either way I was embarrassed.
In another class, I’d made the mistake of eating before at a street festival. As we started the class with spinal twists, which are “really good for digestion,” I realized I was about to experience food poisoning. I rolled up my mat and made my way through the obstacle course of bodies towards the props. I threw my props down, and then made way back across the sea of bodies towards the door, pointing to my stomach and hoping that was enough of an explanation for the teacher.
Yoga teachers also always announce which poses are not to be done by those who have just started menstruating, so when you don’t do the pose, everyone knows that you’re experiencing “your moon cycle.” I’ve also been behind a man who was wearing short shorts, and every time we did a forward bend I would see his balls. I really felt connected with the group after that.
I suppose this is all part of the yoga experience. We’re supposed to accept our bodies and bodily functions. Most of the time we ignore our bodies and expect them to do as we tell them. Only in yoga do I quiet my mind enough to listen to my body…well sometimes. Other times I’m wondering if the sweating woman next to me bathes in garlic and if our monotone teacher is an alien sent to examine human anatomy. I hear that if you do enough yoga, these things fade…you too become a convert.