Ah, Yoga. I've always thought that it sounded interesting. According to the Peoria Park District activity guide that I received in the mail, it's the fusing of mind, spirit, and body to create a state of relaxation and inner peace. "Umm, sounds good to me," I thought as I paged through the flyer. We all can use a little relaxation and peace.
Besides, I read that it was good for arthritis and helped keep people limber. I'm getting a little stiff in my old age; maybe I'll try it.
Let's see, what do I have to do? Yoga, turn to page 33. I guess I just show up to class at the Franciscan Center in West Peoria with my money in hand and soon I'll become a yoga master.
I closed my eyes and lapsed into a daydream. I can see it all now. I'll gracefully float into rooms, an aura of peace, love, and tranquility surrounding me. People will flock to my side to hear my pearls of wisdom. When situations get tense, I'll be able to put myself above the fray with a few deep breathes and a mantra. My body will be so limber that I'll be doing backbends again. I opened my eyes and smiled. "Ahh," I rubbed my hands together with anticipation, "I can hardly wait.'
I'm excited now that I've made up my mind. I started reading everything that I could find about yoga. A yoga site on the Internet suggested keeping a journal of your "Yoga Journey". I want the whole experience, so I decided to write down every detail.
My first class is tonight. I had a hard time deciding what to wear. Someone told me that for yoga, clothing needed to be as loose as possible, so I dug out some oversized man's jogging pants and a tee shirt two sizes too big. I looked in the mirror. A frumpy bag lady stared back. I frowned. Maybe I'd look better if I tied my hair up. Then I reasoned, "I look fine. I imagine everyone will look like this." I ran down stairs, grabbed my car keys and left.
I pulled into the parking lot at the Franciscan Center, hopped out of my car, and sprinted up the curved sidewalk to the front door. I felt excited and full of energy. This was going to be a great experience.
At the registration desk, I smiled at the teen-aged receptionist as I paid my fee, and signed in on the Yoga form. "I'm starting Yoga," I babbled enthusiastically. "I think it will change my life."
"Ya, whatever," she mumbled as she plopped back down on her chair, twisting a strand of her shiny black hair around her finger as she concentrated on her computer. "Have fun."
I turned and followed the signs down the steps to the basement. "Well, she didn't seem very excited for me." I thought. "But I guess she sees lots of people come and go. She probably thinks that I won't follow through, but just wait. She'll see. Someday I'll be teaching here."
I beamed at the thought.
Walking down a brightly-lit hallway, I arrived at the classroom and opened the door. There were no lights on. I couldn't see a thing until my eyes adjusted, so I stood in the doorway, car keys dangling in my fingers. Soft music floated through the air and I could smell the faint odor of incense.
Soon, I made out the forms of people sitting on the floor on rubber mats. A person sitting on the floor at the front of the room facing everyone was saying in a soothing voice, "Close your eyes. Forget about all the stress of your day. Clear you mind."
I looked around for the mats that everyone seemed to have. As my vision became clearer, I saw a box full of them at the other side of the long carpeted room. Picking my way carefully through the maze of meditating bodies, I reached the box and selected a rolled up mat from the pile, running my hand up and down its surface. It was made of rubbery stuff that reminded me of the sticky Rubbermaid cabinet liners you can buy that keeps things from sliding around.
I spotted an empty space on the floor and headed for it. Bending over, I grabbed my mat on one end and flung it outward sharply. There was a loud ripping noise that echoed through the quiet room, like the sound of yanking apart Velcro, but unfortunately, the mat went no where. Only partially unrolled, it hung down from my fingers, swaying slowly back and forth in time to the new-age music flowing out from the boom box on the floor next to the instructor.
Several people interrupted their meditations to open their eyes and look my direction. I smiled apologetically. "Sorry," I said as I kneeled on the floor to try another tactic. This time I got on all fours and rolled out the sticky rubber pad slowly, and inch at a time. The horrible ripping noise was still there, only this time it was drawn out and seemed to last an eternity. When I got to the end of the mat, and it was nice and straight, I plopped down in the middle cross-legged. Both sides promptly rolled up and hit me on the knees.
Now the stares turned into open glares.
Meanwhile, I noticed others coming in, swiftly and quietly rolling out their mats, and assuming the meditative position. Mine must be defective.
Ignoring the rubber curled up against each leg, I tried to sit and empty my mind of all thought. This wasn't as easy as I imagined. I noticed the mat against my legs, the itch I had in the very middle of my back, the fact that my pants were riding up; but most of all the reality that my body was not amused by the cross-legged position and not only had my legs gone to sleep but my hips were threatening to pop out of their sockets. It's hard to clear your mind when it is screaming in pain.
Peering through slit eyes, I also noticed that no one else had gone for the bag-lady look. Most the younger class members were wearing slick little spandex outfits that fit their “size two” bodies like they were born with them on. The older women were wearing neat knit exercise suits. I was the only one who looked like she came in on a freight train with a knapsack over my back. Oh well, live and learn.
Finally, the instructor told us all to stand up slowly and start the session with the "sun salute". Creaking, I slowly untangled my legs, stood, hands clasped above my head, and raised to the sky. I was on my way.
The rest of the first session was a blur. "Downward facing dog, upward facing dog, cow, cat, proud warrior," I repeated the position names to myself as I huffed and puffed, hoping to commit them to memory.
At the end of the class, we were instructed to lie on our mats, sink into the floor, clear our minds, and relax. It's called "corpse position". At last, a position I could excel at.
I dozed off. When I opened my eyes, the room was empty. Everyone had gone.
Slowly standing up, I had to hold on to the wall for support. My legs felt like rubber. I didn't know if I was relaxed, or exhausted. I hobbled out to my car, carefully lowered myself into the seat, and headed home.
This time, I arrived early so I wouldn't disturb anyone with my mat. I rolled it out, and then flipped it upside down so it wouldn't roll back up. Ha, I'm catching on. There are tricks to every trade. I went out, bought knit exercise pants, and had them on with a cute Tee shirt. I was ready to yoga.
As people trickled in, I smiled and nodded. The instructor arrived and again asked us to clear our minds as we sat on the floor, only this time to put the soles of our feet together, sit up straight with our hands on the tops of our feet, and push our knees down as far as we could towards the mat. This was the "butterfly". She had to be kidding. If my hip joints didn't like sitting cross-legged, they were going to freak at this position. How could everyone look so serene?
The next hour flew by. Stand up, sit down, touch the floor, my mind was reeling. My body was about to go on strike.
Then came the tree pose. Everyone lifted their right leg and tucked it snugly against the inside of the left upper thigh. They stretched their arms out to the side and stood swaying gracefully like a beautiful tree in the breeze. I hoisted my leg to calf level, lifted my arms, and promptly and ungracefully fell over, like a tree in a tornado. Believe me, when my tree fell in the forest, there was a sound, and everyone could hear it.
Will I ever get this stuff? Where the heck was my inner peace?
Everything seems to be going a little better today. My hips aren't gripping as much about sitting in the "butterfly" position, and my tree fell in the forest, but not as hard as before. Maybe I'm catching on.
Now the instructor is telling us that she has something a little challenging for us today. Oh no. I don't like the sound of that. I have a feeling it's going to hurt.
"This is called the "cow face". When you are finished, the view from your back will look like a cow's face. Get on all fours and take your right leg and cross it in front of your left leg," she smiles tranquilly as she demonstrates. "Make sure your legs are tight together, and then sit back on your left heel, back straight up. Take your right hand and put it on your back, pushing down as far as possible. Now take your left hand and place it at waist level, pushing up as far as you can to touch your right hand. Sit straight and still, meditating on the feel of your body." " Holy cowface," I thought. "She looks like a pretzel."
"OK, I'll be a trooper and give it a try," I mumble. I take my left hand, grab my right leg, and yank it across my left leg. Carefully I sit back on my heel. So far, so good, next my arms.
I slowly raise my right arm over my back. As I try to bring up my left arm, my body begins to shake, and then rock uncontrollably. I can't get my legs apart, and I fall over with a dull thump on the carpeted floor. Oh no, I'm stuck, My legs are in a knot and I can't untangle them. I can't move.
Everyone else is in deep meditation, with blissful smiles on their peaceful faces. I don't want to yell and interrupt them. I try to will my legs apart, but nothing happens. They're numb now. My one arm is caught under my body and is also asleep. I might as well give up until someone notices me.
I close my eyes and lay there, daydreaming of peace, tranquility, and limber backbends, while pearls of wisdom drip from every pore. DSS
Pepper L. Bauer, 61, of Mapleton, IL. directs a church food pantry and is a feature writer for the Limestone Independent News. She's president of the Peoria Area Anti-Hunger Coalition, and has received may awards for her work for women and the environment.
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