My earliest memory of yoga is probably Rodney Yee in my living room.
Not the real Rodney, thankfully. Just him on DVD, a light breeze tugging playfully at his long black braid.
My mom was a devotee. She had the books, the blocks, the strap, the mat. And to 15-year-old me, it was funny, OK? There was my mom, wearing a unitard, sticking her butt up in the living room alongside some nearly naked dude.
She tried to convince me that I should try it. No dice. She couldn’t make the argument that I needed to be active, because I was swimming five hours a day and doing all the conditioning and strength training work that went along with that. Besides, I was so “type A” and she was so NOT. Of course she could sit there and listen to the pan flutes and clear her mind. Meditation: fine if that’s your thing, but not for me.
So I nurtured my natural obsession with detail by immersing myself in a sport that’s calibrated to a hundredth of a second, where two seconds is the difference between hot, shameful tears of disappointment and ebullient, free-floating joy. I stretched because I wanted to avoid the first scenario, and because it felt nice. And I forgot all about yoga.
But a few years and many couch sessions and late-night snacks later, a thyroid problem sent me in search of a gym. I needed exercise, I was informed.
Gamely, I signed up and tried out some of the cardio classes. They were OK, but I fell over my feet trying to learn the choreography. I am not that coordinated.
But further down on the list was a section called “mind/body.”
Well, I have a mind. I have a body. What else did I need?
Armed with a $9.99 flowered yoga mat, some stretch pants forklifted from the depths of my closet and a shirt that I sincerely hoped wouldn’t pool around my head if I went upside down, I headed to class.
I spent the first 20 minutes sneaking furtive looks from all kinds of vantage points — between my legs, over my shoulders, under my armpit — at what others in the class were doing. If I was embarrassing myself, I needed to know.
As I scanned the room — in total stealth mode, I’m sure — I found that some people were better than I was. Some were a LOT better than I. Others weren’t very flexible. Some weren’t very strong. Some couldn’t remember which asana came next. One or two teetered and fell as we attempted poses that involved balance. But the one thing they all had in common was this: Not one of them was looking at me. They were all focused on themselves.
That’s when I decided to do the same thing. Clearing my mind still seemed impossible, but I started to look at the poses as a challenge. (A sometimes ridiculous challenge, absolutely.)
My teacher strolled the rows of yoga-ing students, pausing occasionally to lightly adjust an arm here or relax a neck there. She demonstrated what we needed to know, then guided us through.
And it looked so easy when she did it. But once it was our turn, I had no idea how to get my leg facing that way, or my chest down near the mat like that. My mind was most definitely not clear — it was full of “I’m sorry which leg WHERE” and “wtf no” and “hahahahahahahaha.”
I twisted. I turned. I found myself sweating. I wobbled. I put my feet down too early because I thought I would fall. I got hair in my eyes. I slipped on my mat a little.
I was not graceful. But I got through it.
And as I rolled up my mat at the end of class, it occurred to me that not once had I thought about work or obligations. Not once had I reminded myself that it was rent week, or that I needed to call the cable company. I realized that although I was not good at the poses themselves, I had — in one class! — succeeded where I never thought I could: being fully present for every moment.
Now I’m hooked. (Incidentally, so is my mother, 10 years later. And I’m pretty sure Rodney is, too.)
I do see the difference in my strength, balance and flexibility. But the biggest change is how much better I am able to work and focus during the day after I’ve taken a yoga class — mind/body, indeed! I like a lot of things about yoga. But mainly, I like to get barefoot on my lime green mat and know that for the next hour, it’s the only place I need to be.