Posts Tagged 'yoga'

Yoga is fun, so they say

Went to a yoga class last night.

I decided to try it again after some gentle encouragement from Jackie. She is a yoga fanatic. Much like my daily habit of visiting the athletic club gym, Jackie lives and breathes yoga. A day without it affects her much like a coffee addict who has failed to meet her daily quota of caffeine at Java and Joe…only worse, much worse.

Our first date was a private yoga class at Jackie’s house. I struggled to achieve poses that for her were second nature. It was as though my aging ligaments had been replaced with inelastic twelve-gauge wire. My back hurt. My ego was bruised. I was a failure looking for a graceful exit. A tough first date.

During the last year I have tried to redeem myself. I participated in Robert’s yoga class at the club. Robert is an excellent trainer who teaches yoga to punish people like me who think they can master the art. He takes no prisoners. I spent the better part of his class watching others do things that seemed second nature. Attempting to emulate their contortions left me several minutes behind the thirty more experienced participants. I drew menacing stares from the women on either side of me as I violated their space, awkwardly fumbled with bolsters, blocks and straps, and made impermissible contact with their body parts. I was the poster boy of yoga, reaching out for help and release from a self-imposed sentence. It was the longest hour of my life. I promised myself never again.

Like all other resolutions, events conspire to make a mockery of them. The athletic club houses a bevy of yogis, predominantly women, who enter the facility with their personalized yoga mats tucked under their arms. They are serious about their yoga; especially their lungs.  For them breathing is not just a way to stay alive, it is a religion that puts one in spiritual contact with mind and body. Failure to breathe properly dooms one to eternal purgatory.

Over the last seven decades, I have developed some familiarity with breathing. Never thought about it much. It either happens, or it doesn’t. That laissez-faire attitude began to crumble when Robert became my trainer. Lifting weights on Tuesday and Thursday required a change of thinking. Breathing is no longer a mindless exercise. Lift and breathe in. Relax and breathe out. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Or is it breathe in through the mouth when lifting and out through nose when relaxing? Sorting through these choices occasionally causes me to hold my breath and black out, making further yoga participation highly questionable.

Yet I have ongoing exposure to yoga in every form, necessitated by the coordination of my schedule with Jackie’s. It would be easy if her sessions were limited to one yoga venue. There are a multitude of yoga studios in Ojai. Add Ventura and it multiplies ten-fold. Selection of the studio-of-the-day is further compounded by the choice of yoga instructor within the studio. Evaluations of the various instructors are at times as intense as the awarding of a Nobel Prize. The focus of the chosen instructor’s class is the final ingredient in the selection process. Healthy Joints, Yoga RX, Postural Restoration, Yin Yoga and Chakra Flow (in multiple levels) hardly scratch the surface of the available flavors of the day. A recent arrival, particularly appealing to someone with lizard-like skin, is Hot Yoga. Locked in a room super-heated to 110 degrees, yoga takes on the punishing characteristics heretofore only available on Devil’s Island.

When not doing yoga, one is often seriously absorbed in discussing it. Community newcomers offering their own unique specialties are often the subject du jour. The reasons causing the departure of old studios are often dissected and, at times, lamented. Yoga instructors are microscopically investigated and, at times, discarded as over the hill, out-of-touch and attitudinally defective. Others are embraced on the same order as the messiah.

So, much like the pastor’s wife, I am involved with but not participating in yoga. However, being immersed vicariously tends to wear away my resistance. Always seeking ways for self-improvement, and with Jackie’s continuing search for the holy grail, I found a Start Yoga five session course at Ojai Yoga Shala. Session one was last evening.

I arrived and was welcomed by the instructor, Alana Mitnick. She scanned her attendance sheet and identified me as Fred. Not difficult, as I was the only male in attendance. Four women rounded out the class, none of whom had yoga experience exceeding my own. I was also the oldest participant, giving me a built-in handicap in the event that I messed up. This was going to be my coming out party.

I collected my equipment, mats, bolsters, blocks and straps. So far so good. On to breathing, something I had practiced in anticipation of the class. Moving my hands up and down my body, while erotic, did little to reveal the mysteries that surely lay ahead. Lifting my tailbone, thrusting my pelvis and arching my back seemed all in a day’s work. Feel anything yet, like a revelation?

Leg and arm stretch, bending and kneeling, balancing and rocking. My ability to earn an A+ was only limited by my ability to hear Alana’s instructions. A lovely young lady with Mother Teresa’s warmth, she was blessed with a gentle voice. A voice that limited hearing much of what she was saying. Surreptitiously spying on my neighbors’ poses filled the gaps.

Alana’s long day at the mats revealed itself when she regularly praised the group without opening her eyes to look at us. Despite this chink in the armor, her lithe movements made me yearn for similar results, knowing full well that I probably would not live long enough to emulate her.

The session ended well beyond its advertised time. I did not celebrate its end like someone who can’t wait for a bad movie to be over. I had neither soiled nor disgraced myself. Neither had I found Nirvana. But I had found enough to bring me back next week.

More than Yoga

Jackie organized a yoga retreat last Saturday. It was held at my house which, biased though I may be, is an excellent setting for anyone who wants a calming atmosphere, great views of the Topa-Topa mountains and a silence that makes one feel that they are no longer in Kansas.

A multi-year yoga fanatic and sometime teacher of the mysterious art, Jackie would rather organize retreats than eat pastrami sandwiches. Although based upon our recent visit to Nate and Al’s in Beverly Hills, pastrami is a close second. And if you add crispy French fries, a dill pickle and soda from a real Coca Cola bottle, the contest most definitely becomes a toss-up.

The retreat had the benefit of Jackie’s organizing skills and unlimited ability to focus on something until  every bit of it surrendered to her unalterable vision. No half-measures here, only the best will satisfy this petite wonder-woman. A slick website announcing the retreat, complete with the ability to sign up and pay, was merely the beginning. Heaps of gluten-free food from Rainbow Bridge, dozens of personalized ball point pens, fragile eco-friendly glass water bottles, a notable professional yoga instructor, a personable hiking guide from the Ojai Athletic Club. and a flavor-filled flask of my organically grown olive oil would assure the participants that they would receive more than their money’s worth.

Up before dawn on the day of the event, I inflated four bright red balloons. I put them in strategic positions along the road that would lead the participants to the place where all their dreams would be fulfilled. No matter that it was thirty-six degrees outside. I would nevertheless cope with the challenge of tying a very small knot in the neck of each balloon to assure that the inflated markers would last for the next hour or two. After that, the miserable little bastards could shrivel up like my penis in a below zero Chicago winter.

I had not intended to participate in the two yoga classes scheduled for the day. My lack of skill and grace as I waddled and stumbled through two prior failed attempts at discovering the mystery of yoga caused me to studiously avoid a third encounter. I thought this resolution was inviolate until Jackie, in that sweet, yet overpowering whisper said “Oh, please join us. It’ll be such fun.” My lack of resolve quickly melted like a Hagen-Daz chocolate ice cream bar on a hot summer’s day.

The first of many challenges to succeeding at a semblance of yoga involved the proper selection and placement of the various toys that are part of the ritual. The floor mat that every hard-core yogi carries to yoga classes and perhaps, it seemed, to weddings and funerals, was obvious as to its purpose. Hard book-shaped support blocks that reminded me of the nail beds that yogis are known to lie upon for hours riveted my attention; had no one ever heard of rounded corners?

These accoutrements were followed by a relatively stiff but yielding bolster that would, I hoped, only be used for naps. Next, a long-buckled strap that might otherwise be useful in a particularly active sexual encounter left me with no clue as to its real purpose. Several blankets, neatly folded in a manner I was not destined to emulate, offered some hope that they were intended to create a welcoming sleepy time environment like my kindergarten days at Hibbard elementary school. The final toy was a weighted eyeshade that was. I thought, only to be used when the group leader felt that I should be relieved by a firing squad of my self-inflicted agony.

I joined in the fun. Abundantly aware that I was surrounded by nine women, I tried to emulate the poses, twists, bends and other contortions that are representative of the yoga experience. I struggled to convince myself that my inability to reasonably replicate even one of the poses could be generally attributed to my extraordinarily long legs. My failure to maintain what would otherwise be called a push-up was inexcusable. Unable to accurately ascertain my left side from my right side usually brought me face to face with another more knowledgeable participant. I gradually found myself separated from the rest of the crowd who were obviously not enamored by my occasional poking them in their up till now private parts.

“Restorative” was the adjective appended to “yoga” in the final hour of an excruciatingly long day. I was ready to pack it in but the smile on Jackie’s face and the occasional “good boy” that emanated from her sweet lips gave me the will to carry on in the face of what otherwise might be called “Fred’s Folly.”

The hour consisted of a series of comparatively restful poses. Lying on my back with the bolster tucked under my legs, blankets covering my body and the eyeshade shutting me off from the rest of the world proved to be my favorite. I could have spent the entire day like that and become a lifetime advocate of yoga.

When I thought that the blessed lying on my back might be unhappily stripped from my grasp, the sound of a flute filled the otherwise silent space. It had a calming influence that could be compared to a mother’s love for her child. As my eyes were covered, sound was the only sense that I experienced. It seemed familiar. And then, as if a revelation, I knew it was Charles.

At Ila’s funeral nearly seven months ago, Charles had appeared unbidden at the side of her plain oak casket. Dressed in immaculate white linen, his hair neatly groomed and holding an American Indian flute, he proceeded to turn what was until then an unsurprising farewell to my love of fifty-seven years into an event that many would long remember. The notes emanating from the instrument were slow, sweet and in perfect tempo. I was sure that Ila must be hearing what was intended as both a fond adieu and a loving thank you for many years of a meaningful relationship.

And here we were again, this time at the end of a day that I thought might conclude with no particular memory. Lying there, thoughts of what had been flowed out of my memory like the playing of a video of our life together. A life that is fading a bit. A life that is yielding to new relationships and history yet to be written.

But as long as the sound of the flute is heard, I will remember.


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