My Soul-Mat, Part 2

A split-second recap of “My Soul-Mat, Part 1”: I suck at sports.

Sloth found it intolerable that I didn’t want to rollerblade, scuba dive or ski with him.  He couldn’t relate at all to my phobia, and thanks to his harping, I came to think of my un-athletic nature as a serious manufacturer’s defect, and remain extremely sensitive about it.

Then I started spending time with the super-sweet K.  He is a true and versatile athlete. He runs. He surfs. He does something called urban rebounding. In high school, he was on the football, wrestling and track and field teams. He is in amazing shape and I couldn’t imagine that he’d ever speak to me again if he knew the full extent of my un-coordination.

The other day, he asked me if I wanted to join him for an afternoon yoga class at his gym.

Oh well. This was nice while it lasted.

The truth is, I’d always wanted to try yoga.  Multiple gym-going friends told me they thought I’d like it, on account of its ability to reduce tension and the fact that I am somewhat flexible. Then, when I read “Eat, Pray, Love” last fall, I became curious about the balance and clarity it’s supposed to cultivate.  Yoga sounded like the perfect thinking woman’s sport. But, being somewhat sloth-like myself, I never motivated.

So this would be my virgin experience. There was a 200 percent chance that I would look like a complete jackass in front of K. Was it worth the risk? WHY, for the love of God, had I not gone with Dave when he’d asked me a bazillion times in Philly? I’d have been a high-ranking yogi with my own ashram by now.

I knew I had to do this. And I wanted to. I was just a smidge anxious.

The first challenge was finding something to wear. I hesitated to even open the drawer in which I keep my limited stash of workout clothes, for fear that doing so would unleash a cartoon dust cloud. I did find a pair of faded black yoga pants that would have been perfectly reasonable had their left thigh not been adorned with some kind of oil stain, most likely from pizza. Ew. But what choice did I have? There was no time to shop for stylin’ yoga gear and skinny jeans were bound to hinder my bending ability.

So, in my flawed Old Navy pantalones and tank top, I headed east. The class started at 5:45. At about 5:30, K told me very matter-of-factly that this particular type of yoga – EarthRise yoga – involved elements of martial arts. A feeling much like the one I get before dentist appointments came over me.

“You mean like, ‘Wax-on-wax-off’ martial arts?” I asked nervously.

“Don’t worry. It’s unlikely you’ll have to smash your head into a block of wood,” he told me reassuringly.

I imagined that at some point in the next hour, smashing my head into a block of wood might seem merciful.  But first I had to figure out which side of the yoga mat was supposed to face up. I prayed I would guess correctly, and called upon my intimate knowledge of Dr. Scholl’s shoe inserts, whose material sort of reminded me of the mat’s. Luck was on my side.

Then we sat (in the back, which I felt was safer), as one after another toned, Lululemon-clad girls piled into the room and began to stretch. It seemed unwise for me to expend any energy before the class even started, lest I use it all up. Furthermore, I didn’t know any official stretches, beyond the type that accompanies a yawn.  But staring into space made me look creepy, so I compromised by sitting Indian-style on the mat and then bending my head down to my knees.

As I was wondering about the impact of that position on my intracranial pressure and the germ population on the borrowed yoga mat, K commented that most of the other attendees had brought personal water bottles with them. I looked up and saw that the nearest water fountain was about three miles away in the corner of the studio. Getting to it would require me to walk across several rows of experienced yoga-doers, all of whom would then know that I was too thirsty and too clumsy to hold the Crane pose.

Just then I heard the ceiling fans shut off.  Crappy McCrapperstein: was this one of those “hot” Bikram yoga classes I’d heard about?! Fabulous. They were going to twist my torso into a pretzel, smash my head into a piece of mahogany and then smoke me out.

Enter the instructor, who is actually the creator of  EarthRise yoga. He was covered in tattoos and, on first glance, rather menacing-looking. I watched as he showed off some of the newly inked masterpieces he’d just acquired on his wrists. And I couldn’t tell for sure, but from where I sat, it looked like one of them said, “R.I.P. Traci.”

A very heavy woman came and put her mat down next to mine.  I’m really not saying that to be cruel – she was, empirically, “in charge,” as K said later. But she was also an inspiration – I figured that if she could do it, I could too.

And I have to say that it felt great once we got started. The instructor was not at all scary and in fact, very helpful.  It was challenging, but do-able, and my muscles were thrilled to be in use.  This wasn’t a beginner’s class, so most people knew the poses already. I was at a slight disadvantage because I had to survey the crowd and then try to copy whatever they were doing, which meant that by the time I got into one position, I was supposed to be on the next already. But some of the poses – or asanas, as I learned they were called in the yoga realm – were easy for me (as I assume they would be for anyone).  I was quite proud of my performance on Upward-Facing Dog, Downward-Facing Dog, Pigeon and Chair.  Others made my legs shake and underscored the sad reality that I’m not nearly as flexible as I thought I was, and not even remotely balanced. I almost toppled over onto K a few times.

But it was a fascinating experience, and I was in awe of what some of the people in the class were able to do with their bodies.  I loved the soft, soothing music in the background, the breathing and the fact that I didn’t have to worry about accidentally scoring for the opposing team or missing a ball that was thrown directly at me. If I screwed up, it was just my own spine that would pay the price. It was the first time I had ever engaged in anything physical and not felt like a complete moron. I could actually do this again!

Wow. Yoga could change my life! This could be the start of a new, healthier me! After 36.5 years of trying, I might actually find inner peace.  As I rolled from an “Up Dog” to a “Down Dog,” I marveled at how well I’d held up. Sure, I was out of breath and sweating in parts of my body I didn’t know I had, but the class was almost over, I was still conscious and I had overcome my phobia.

“OKAY!,” the instructor said. “Great warm-up!”

My Soul-Mat, Part 2

My Soul-Mat, Part 1

Note: This is a long post, so I’ve broken it into two riveting parts for your reading convenience.  I’d also like to give a special shout-out to my homie R in Rockville.  Carry on.

It is surprising to me that this blog has not yet touched on my athletic prowess.  Then again, that’s probably because I have none.  My past attempts at physical fitness have been marked by humiliation, injury and unintended comedic relief.

I probably don’t need to tell you the point at which I was picked for any “team” in third grade, but I will: never. I am not above admitting that on more than one occasion, I had to be the teacher’s partner, and on those occasions, even the teacher wasn’t too happy about it. But every buck-toothed eight-year-old has her breaking point (literally), and one day, I vowed that things were going to change: I would lead my kickball team to victory. And I would do it in a skirt and Buster Brown shoes that had a habit of coming untied mid-step.

I geared up for my moment of glory all morning, and finally, the time came.  A boy named Whitney kicked the ball with the force of a nuclear bomb.  Normally, I would have run for my life in the opposite direction, but this time, I ran TOWARD it as fast as I could.  I would be the hero! I would be popular! I would … trip on the blacktop, fall flat on my face and land on my front teeth, which in turn, would promptly snap in half.  Ick – I still remember the horrible moment of impact. But the good news is that my upper central incisors still bear their original 1981 bonding. I’m a dental relic.

Cut to a gym class Frisbee game in high school. I thought I was making a valiant effort until the he-she teacher pulled me aside.

“Listen – I want you to cut out these shenanigans IMMEDIATELY or I’m giving you detention. You’re being completely disrespectful to me, and to the game of Frisbee.”

Whoa. Shenanigans?! That was a LOW blow.  A girl of my ilk and GPA did not engage in “shenanigans.” And far be it from me to dis Frisbee. WTF?

It took me a minute to realize that I looked so palsied trying to throw and catch the Frisbee that she assumed I was being obnoxious. She simply couldn’t comprehend that anyone could be so uncoordinated.

Next up: the infamous Near-Drowning Incident of 1994.  To graduate from my college, everyone had to pass a swim test.  Don’t ask me why.  I really do know how to swim, but have no stamina whatsoever.  It never occurred to me that stamina would really come in handy in an Olympic-sized pool.

A week or two before graduation, I finally headed down to gym, envisioning a backyard-sized pool.

Hmm, I thought when I saw it. This pool looks freakishly long. Perhaps it’s an optical illusion of some sort?

It wasn’t. And about three-quarters into the first lap, I realized I was going to die.

Frick on a chlorine-treated stick.

I started to panic, and when I panic, I can’t breathe. Gasping, I gave up on my graceless breast stroke and tried to doggie paddle.  The swim coach thought I was drowning and dove in to rescue me. This was not at all mortifying.  Nor was the fact that at the same time, all of Zeta Beta Tau was in the pool taking a lifesaving class. I’ll spare you the details of what happened next, but suffice it to say that I do have a bachelor’s degree.

So you can sort of understand why sports have never been among my favorite pastimes. It’s not that I don’t WANT to buy expensive work-out clothes at Lululemon or sport the rock-hard ass of a gym junkie.  And I do walk as much as I can.  It’s just that I have a bad track record (no pun intended) in this realm and as a result am a fitness-phobe. I have always viewed this phobia as one of my greatest shortcomings and a huge hindrance to my social life. My friends play tennis, ski and go on bike rides together, but I can’t keep up.  My boyfriends were cursed with an abnormally clumsy, sedentary companion. Not everyone is willing to take that on – it can be a real problem.

To be continued …

My Soul-Mat, Part 1