I’m late. What’s new? I’m late to everything these days. I haven’t slept well in months (thanks to a certain non-sleeping baby) and yet, I look like I just rolled out of bed. Then again, I always look like that these days. I can’t think about that now. I have to go, I have to do this. So what if it’s been a long time? I’ll be alright. Right?
Shit, I’m nervous.
I pull into the parking garage of a swanky downtown high-rise. All the cars I can see are either Mercedes, BMW, Lexus or Jaguar. It dawns on me that I forgot to brush my teeth today. I search, in vain, for gum.
I ride up the elevator from the parking garage and emerge into a glass atrium. I find the appropriate suite and check in at the front desk. I fill out some paperwork and they tell me where to go. The whole place is dimly lit (thank god) maybe no one will notice the bags under my eyes. The decor is minimalist with blocks of muted colors and lots of right angles. I feel out-of-place like a small-town tourist gawking at Tiffany’s on 5th Avenue. Maybe this was a mistake.
I wind around a long, u-shaped corridor. The ceilings are high with hanging, pendent lights making little spotlights on the ground every ten feet. The feeling is ominous like I’m going to my doom. Maybe I am? At the end of the corridor there is a set of tall, heavy, black doors. The entrance to hell? I still have a chance to turn around. I open them. I’m blasted with a heat that feels like I stepped too close to a camp fire… or hell. There’s no turning back now. My pride is taking over in the face of all these people in the room and now I must take a seat.
The room is even darker (thank god again). Maybe no one will notice my bumpy, frizzy ponytail or my underarm flab. It’s a long, rectangular space with a wall of windows facing another wall of mirrors. The floor and ceiling are black. We are on the 3rd floor looking out onto a courtyard. There are Christmas lights on the trees, how festive. There is another set of double doors at the other end of the room. There is an empty space in the middle where no one is sitting. I’m late, I can’t be choosy, I hustle to it and set down my mat, water and hand towel. I notice that everyone else has a full-size towel. That’s a bad sign.
The instructor walks in. She is the tiniest Asian woman I’ve ever seen which is saying a lot considering I live in a town that’s nearly 40% Asian. Her booming, drill sergeant voice is incongruent with her size. “Who’s new here tonight?” She asks while looking at me. I nonchalantly scan the room for raised hands. One fit, older woman with gray hair and toned arms sitting kitty-corner to me raises her hand and smiles. I don’t do either. The little Asian instructor gives me a knowing look and it isn’t nice. I look away.
Look little lady, I’m just here so that I’m not at my house where a gang of super-dependent human beings live. I’d like to be left alone to find some zen and I don’t need your help to do that so thanks, but no thanks. Is what I’m thinking.
We start with deep breathing exercises. The sticky, hot air burns like bad whiskey going down. I’m shocked at how hard it is to inhale fully. I know it’s 105 degrees, but damn, it feels like 1005. I’m worried that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew and we haven’t even really started. I am barely four months postpartum and I haven’t worked up to this sort of thing yet. What was I thinking? I shouldn’t be here right now. Damn, I should have brought more water.
“Breathe with your whole body.” She says. Ha! I’m trying to just breathe with my lungs. I think.
Right away they start in with some full-body, pretzel-twist bullshit that’s supposed to look like this:
I look in the mirror to check my form. I look like I’m sitting in an imaginary chair hugging myself with my ankle on my knee. The instructor says, “sit deeper, go deeper, push yourself.” She adds. “And don’t forget to breathe.” I want to hurt her. I’m sure I could, I’m probably three times her size.
I’m suddenly hyper-aware that rivulets of water are cascading down my back, a sensation I normally only feel in the shower…when I’m naked… and yet I’m not… I’m in public… in a room full of similarly wet people. It feels surreal, like walls you can see through. Speaking of walls, I’m trying as little as possible to look into the wall of mirrors in front of me. I can tell that my naturally curly hair is somewhere between Richard Pryor circa 1978 and Richard Simmons circa now. I look. It’s worse, it’s Carrot Top. I also happen to notice that grandma has barely broken a sweat.
I get up into it well enough. I’m there for a second but I’m so focused on keeping a grip on my ankle, that feels like I just slathered it in Crisco, that I fall right out. “The secret is to push just as hard as you pull.” She says. “If you do both with equal effort, you will not fall.”
Fine. I try it again. This time I don’t focus on my ankle, I reach and kick in equal measures and I don’t fall. Hm? She was right. It worked. Equal measures.
We’re now 7, 8, hell, maybe 15 poses in? I don’t know. I’m in a fair amount of discomfort which has caused me to lose all concept of time. Pain and heat will do that to you. I want to leave so bad. The heat is claustrophobic. If I were by the door, I would definitely leave.
I look in the stupid mirror. I look exactly like that twisty pretzel thing from earlier. She walks in front of me. I try to pretend like I’m focused. I stare straight ahead and try to maintain what little balance I have. I check out grandma again. Son-of-a-bitch, her’s looks better than mine. The second I think that, I fall. My little Asian nemesis leans into me and says, “The moment you take the focus off yourself and place it on other people, you will fall.”
When I try it again, focused only on what I can do. It still doesn’t look right, but I don’t fall.
The room has reached a temperature that I’m sure should set off some type of alarm because I feel like I’m going to spontaneously combust into flames at any moment. Apparently, I’m not the only one. The mini drill sergeant goes to one door and opens it letting a rush of cool air in that I can faintly feel. Then she crosses the room to the other set of doors and opens them. I suddenly realize why no one was sitting in the middle of the room. It’s hotter than Hades in the middle.
Okay, now you’ve just lost your damn mind if you think that’s happening:
You want me wrists to turn how? Ow! Ow! Oh my god if I didn’t have carpel tunnel when I got here, I do now! “Don’t forget to breathe.” She says. How can I breathe when I’m crushing my lungs and my face is planted into my mat? Isn’t that like the OPPOSITE of breathing?
“Yoga is like life.” She says in a shrill, demanding voice. “You have to learn to breathe through the pain and discomfort. Always, breathing”
We’ve got to be at the end now. I don’t think I can do another pose. I can’t feel anything except the burning of my skin and the heavy wetness of my clothes. She utters that magic word, the reason why I even do this shit in the first place… the one word I’ve been waiting to hear for 90 excruciating minutes.
Now THAT I can do. I melt into my mat. Now I can feel my entire body breathing, or maybe it’s heaving? It takes a few minutes, but the pace finally slows. It’s quiet. Aw, how I’ve missed quiet. I’m relaxed, gooey, warm and peaceful like waking from a good dream. A smile crosses my face.
I did it. I did the whole thing and I didn’t leave. I’m alright. Hm? I wonder what else I can do?
I’m nearly the last one to get up. I gather my things and walk toward the door. I make my way down the same, intimidating, utilitarian corridor from whence I came. I’m even more disheveled now but this time I hold my head high. I OWN this corridor. This corridor is my bitch!
The little Asian woman looks at me as I leave and says without much of an expression, “Thank you for coming. I hope you come back soon.”
“Definitely.” I say as I reach for the door. But before I open it I turn and say, “And thanks, you were a big help.”
She smiles and holds her hands in prayer over her heart and says, “Namaste.”