Wednesday, January 28, 2009

w.o.k. wednesday: yoga humility (or, stopping the flow)

Humility is definitely one of my favorite things, which makes it a perfect candidate for Whiskers-on-Kittens Wednesday, when I hold forth on the things I love most. And, as I said before, I love humility.

But actually, wait. Let me rephrase that. I love the IDEA of humility, especially when it happens to other people who so clearly deserve a good dose of it. I can personally do without the experience quite nicely, thanks.

So, I’m sitting in a waiting room not too long ago, reading about Jennifer Aniston, who is about to be 40 and who maintains her 19-year-old A-list bod by practicing Yoga several times a week. Now, I was born just a few years after the Summer of Love, and I was raised just a few miles north of the Golden Gate. I went to school at UC Santa Cruz, for crying out loud. So, I’ve kinda been there done that where stuff like Yoga and Tai Chi – all those kinder and gentler forms of physical discipline - are concerned. Which made it a no-brainer to show up for a class called Flow Yoga at the athletic club this morning – a class that just happened to be starting a few minutes after I arrived for my workout. I recently took another Yoga class there – Pillow and Blanket Yoga, that one was called. And it was lovely: Dimmed lights, warm room, the soft, droning voice of the instructor. You could almost feel your chakras being given a colon cleanse, and afterward you felt so…At One with the Universe.

So, this morning I went ahead and removed my shoes and socks, unrolled my Yoga mat and began stretching while eagerly anticipating the arrival of Universal Oneness. It was a very small class compared to the Pillow and Blanket Yoga, a fact I chalked up to the time of day (late morning rather than lunchtime). Also, I noticed that the other people there just had that Yoga “look.” You know the one I’m talking about: Long, braided hair, no makeup, and SERENITY written all over their faces with indelible rainbow marker, which – now that I think about it – should have been a red flag. The Flow Yoga instructor turned out to be the same guy who taught the other class. He greeted some of the people in the room by name, and he soon had us all stretching and bending and assuming some of the more basic poses like Downward-Facing Dog and Chair pose. It was a breeze.

And then something went horribly, horribly wrong.

We had just come out of the Plank pose – breathing in as we looked up toward the ceiling and then breathing out as we assumed the butt-high DF Dog pose. “Raise your right leg up behind you,” the instructor cooed. So far so good. “Now bend it at the knee, so your right foot falls toward your left hip.” I had to look around at the other folks to see exactly what he meant by this, but I figured it out fairly quickly. Finding my balance thusly was a bit challenging, but in a peacefully exhilarating kind of way, the way I imagine Mahatma Gandhi felt taking a cold shower.

Then the instructor said, “Now grab your right ankle behind you with your left hand.”

I’m sorry?

Just turning my head to check what the Yoga goddess to my right was doing was hard enough, let alone removing one of my main pillars of balance from the floor. But she was doing just that – balancing on one foot and one hand while contortioning the rest of her body into a completely unnatural (and possibly unbiblical) shape. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I’ll just wait quietly until this pose passes, I thought to myself, not wanting to cause a scene by actually attempting the maneuver. I mean, how much worse could it get?

“Now back to Downward-Facing Dog and into Warrior Two pose,” the instructor said. Phew. THOSE I could do.

“Now into Airbus on the Hudson.”

Okay, so that’s not exactly what he said, but it may as well have been. I kid you not: My classmates were actually balancing on their hands alone, knees tucked under their armpits.

“Now Inverted Gorilla with Athletes Foot Lashed to a Hot-Air Balloon. Good, Maya.”

At which point I simply sat on my haunches and resigned myself to being the lone squatter in a room full of levitating pretzels. After a couple minutes of this, I realized that it was not going to get any better and that I had two options: I could either sit there wearing the Dunce Cap of Oneness Failure for the next twenty minutes until class was over, or I could excuse myself as discreetly as possible. Needless to say, I chose option 2, wincing as I hastily rolled up the Yoga mat, then grabbing my shoes and socks and heading toward the door.

Apparently, you’re supposed to bow to your instructor any time you leave a Yoga class having lost 95% of your dignity less than halfway through. Who knew? As he bowed at me with sorrowful eyes and went to hold the door open, my arms were so full of stuff that the most I could manage was a sort of cringing nod of my head. So, I figure my karma has officially been flushed down the toilet to boot.

Be sure to turn in next Wednesday, when you’ll hear Nicole say, “But I’m sure I wasn’t Ivan the Terrible in a past life!”


  1. This is laugh out loud—I think the hip say LOL—I mean real snorting, where you have to wipe your nose.

    Could you go back for a picture? I think you should feel a little proud of your fleeting eruptions of humility, though I couldn't help but think of a word you taught me when you mentioned SERENITY look: would that be a little "snarky?"

  2. Well, okay, Ken. I guess that comment was a little snarky (but I know you have plenty of Yoga devotees up in MT, so you tell me: Am I wrong??).

    And I suppose I am a little proud of my humility. But I think the two cancel each other out, so it's back to square one (and Downward-Facing Dog) for me. In the beginner class, of course.

  3. I get a little aroused at some of those yoga position names I am sorry to say. I must go peek at a crispy critter. That will bring me down.