yoga proved more painful than popcorn

Dear Uma: After more than a year of talking about it, I went to a yoga class. I was in Superstore in Whitehorse, doing the monthly grocery…

Dear Uma:

After more than a year of talking about it, I went to a yoga class.

I was in Superstore in Whitehorse, doing the monthly grocery shopping; it’s also where I do a great deal of socializing.

I’ve made the acquaintance of several Whitehorse residents by now and one or two are usually in the store.

Then, no matter what day or hour I am shopping, there seems to be Lakers there and we do what we do at home when we meet — we stop and chat.

On this occasion one of the people I met was the Whitehorse woman, Rita, who’d introduced me to the pleasures and benefits of reiki. She was going to a class that night and invited me along.

Taken by surprise, I immediately do what I do when presented with a new experience; I began listing all the reasons I probably could not, should not, go.

My lack of appropriate attire was my first attempt; Rita laughed and told me I was wearing perfect yoga attire – sweat pants and matching (sort of matching; not the same age or material, but the same hue) sweatshirt. My wardrobe choices reveal my desire for harmony and ease, as well as establishing my level of self-knowledge, all characteristics of someone who is certain to love yoga, she told me firmly.

When I mentioned my traditional Whitehorse evening of a movie, she inquired which one I was planning on seeing. Of course I had no idea; I just go to a movie. It doesn’t matter what’s on the screen, I hunker down with my popcorn and candy and enjoy whatever is moving. My well-intentioned friend reminded me of a recent e-mail I’d sent her in which I’d confided my resolve to not go to movies any more due to my weak will around popcorn and candy, both being the main, if not the sole, reason for going to a movie.

Rita knows me fairly well and is a woman of great determination. She is too powerful a personality for me to try some of my other favoured excuses; I am growing my hair out, or being short, or developing facial wrinkles.

It was agreed she would pick me up at the hotel at 6:30 p.m. There was to be no escape.

The yoga room is called a studio, I learned, and not one of the women there was wearing sweatpants or a sweatshirt, including my friend who, shedding her parka, was revealed in sleek black “yoga pants” and a form-fitting T-shirt — like the other women.

I was dressed more like the four men who were there, though their sweat suits lacked the crumpled, stained look of mine.

The instructor was quietly introduced and quietly made me welcome, loaning me a yoga mat and assuring me though the class was an intermediate one there were no expectations; I was to do what I could and be gentle with myself. There is no right way or wrong way, I was told; I was to find the place in each “asana” where I was comfortable, concentrate on my breathing, and simply enjoy the sensations of my body.

The hushed atmosphere of the studio was a trifle disturbed as I reached the floor and my unrolled mat with an audible thump, and a little more so when I let out an involuntary moan as I attempted to arrange my limbs in the “lotus” position.

In seconds, the calm was irrevocably shattered at my full-throated shriek of pain. Rita and the instructor were on their feet and at my side, with the rest of the class exhibiting a variety of emotions ranging from sympathy to disbelief as I rolled from side to side with my right foot snugged securely into the left side of my groin.

Not only did this hurt like hell, but there was some degree of mental anguish at seeing my body in such a grotesque and unnatural position; very like the time I broke my arm, Uma, remember? The way my forearm was bent between the wrist and elbow in a manner utterly foreign to the capabilities of the limb was more distressing than the pain. At least I didn’t throw up this time.

Rita had to hold me still while the instructor grasped my foot and lifted it away from my stomach, a move that resulted in instant relief — to everyone present.

It was suggested I try to sit in a “semi-lotus” position, simply folded, crossed legs, rather than attempt a full lotus.

Already wishing I’d driven myself here and could simply get up and leave, I apologized to the room in general and scrunched into a cross-legged sit.

From here we did some breathing through the nose and I was pretty good at that, I must say, though perhaps a little louder than the others.

The breathing was accompanied by lovely gestures with hands, floating from a prayer position to foreheads and out and around. I began to feel graceful and calm.

The other seated poses were beyond me, involving dramatic bends that resulted in noses pressed into the mats, or knees beside ears with ankles over the head on the floor (that was the “plow”, I think, and it reminded me of a movie I saw in Bangkok some years ago involving two women and a dwarf; images that were hard to shed and still sometimes haunt.) Whilst the members of the class obediently and without apparent discomfort bent themselves into various pretzel-like positions, I happily breathed through my nose and enjoyed the strange humming sounds, interspersed with bells, playing softly in the air.

Next, some standing poses. The first one made me feel yoga might become my favourite form of exercise: we stood with our feet apart and our hands at our sides. I did this one very well. Then, we put our arms straight up over our heads, hands clasped, forefingers pointing up, and feet together. Again, I was successful in achieving the asana and was doing exactly what the instructor had recommended; I was enjoying the sensation of my body being really good at this.

Without warning, the pose was changed. One foot was lifted from the floor, toes pointed down, and the lifted foot was placed on the inside of the opposite knee. Sound simple? Try it while standing with both arms stretched overhead with hands clasped and forefingers pointing and breathing through your nose. I lowered my arms, quit breathing, and still couldn’t do it, though I gamely kept trying.

When every member of the class except me then straightened that bent knee and lifted the leg to shoulder height, holding the foot with the corresponding hand and keeping the other hand outstretched — all happening while standing on one leg I felt my spirit softly break.

That sensation was instantly followed by more pain as I fell heavily to the floor.

Rita and the instructor had a whispered consultation and Rita drove me to the hotel. Observing a silent agreement not to discuss the class, we chatted about other things, like the dog I would get when Pete came home next time, and the weather.

When I got out of her car, so did she, coming around to give me a hug and to leave me with the words

“Those who want to sing will find a song” — a message that I am still puzzling over: what does it mean in regard to an aborted yoga class? Is it a yogic saying of encouragement? She sounded kind when she said it. Or was she suggesting I forgo yoga in favour of singing?

I have decided on my own message; one which I shall take to heart and live by from now on.

“Beware the jub jub bird and shun the frumious Bandersnatch.”



Heather Bennett is a writer

who lives in Watson Lake.