I booked the wrong yoga class, but went with the flow
I knew I was in trouble from the jump. There were sixteen students in the yoga class. Ten of those students were young(ish) women who looked like they never stopped doing yoga, not even to meal prep, drink Kombucha, or sleep. Three of the students were old(ish) women who looked like they had made a commitment, when they were young(ish) women, to the aforementioned nonstop yoga lifestyle. Then there were the dudes: two fitness bros who looked like they chased cheetahs for cardio, grappled gators for strength, and only consumed food and supplements purchased via the Liver King affiliate marketing program. Finally, there was me, an infrequent yogi who never qualified for fitness bro status because my guilty pleasure is laughing at the Liver King’s TikTok videos while lounging on the couch eating carbs.
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Was I worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the class? No. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up. The question on my mind was this: how had I gotten myself into this mess?
After a six-week hiatus from yoga, I was beginning to worry that I might lose what little yoga cred I had. Also, my hamstrings were tight, my shoulders were stiff, and there was this nagging pain in my butt. So, I booked the next available class, “Yoga for Well Being.” According to the description, the class was “appropriate for yogis of all levels.” But I was clearly the only one repping the Low-Level Yogi Life (LLYL).
Before class began, the teacher, Stella, walked over to my mat, introduced herself, and asked if I was new.
“New to this class, but not new to yoga,” I said. “Although, it’s been a minute since my last yoga class.”
“No worries. Any injuries I need to be aware of?”
I considered telling Stella that life, all forty-four years of it, had done a number on my body. That back in the day, when I was a happy baby, I had a real shot at NFL glory or Olympic immortality, but that something, perhaps my elementary school’s liberal nap time policy or my affinity for Fruit Roll-Ups, had derailed my athletic potential. But that seemed like a long story with a lot of twist and turns for a Saturday morning.
“Just the regular aging bullshit,” I said.
Stella laughed. The old(ish) women laughed too! I might not be able to keep up, I thought, but at least I could make some yogis in the class crack up. That was a win, wasn’t it?
“Well, we’ll see how you feel when it’s over,” Stella said.
After ten minutes, every inch of my body was slick with sweat and my muscles were beginning to feel the strain. My breathing, which is both the key to a yoga practice as well as the weakest link in my yoga practice, was heavy and difficult to control.
“Some people think yoga is about struggle,” Stella said. “But it’s actually about finding bliss at the center of that struggle. Now, if you want to make things more challenging, here are two modifications to help you find your bliss.”
We were on our backs, legs stretched up to the ceiling, abs engaged and working overtime. I didn’t need to make anything more challenging. So, I ignored the modifications and instead focused on my breathing.
But no matter what I did, I couldn’t regulate my breath. I also couldn’t get out of my own head, which was full of self-doubt. Here’s a list of doubts I hurled at myself.
Michael, you’re too weak for this class
Michael, you’re too old for this class
Michael, you’re too fat for this class
When the time came to flow into the next pose, my muscles wobbled, I lost control of my breath, and forgot all about the pursuit of bliss. That’s when I heard the voice, not Stella’s instruction, but rather a tiny voice inside my head that said, “it’s OK to take a break, dude.”
So I took a break.
I dropped down from a standing pose that had clearly been invented by a sadist into child’s pose.
“Good,” Stella said.
At first, I thought Stella was talking about one of the young(ish) yoga women who had contorted her body into something that resembled a one-legged pretzel. But then Stella said, “That’s very good, Michael.”
I wasn’t sure what was “very good” about a yogi who drops to his mat while the rest of the class struggles in an advanced pose, but Stella elaborated.
“Listen to your mantra,” she said. “What is it telling you? The goal isn’t to do all of the poses on the hardest possible setting, like you’re checking off a box. That’s some American bullshit, but it’s not yoga. The goal is to hear your body, listen to what your body is telling you, and give your body what it needs. If you need to make the pose more challenging, great. If you need to take child’s pose, great.”
I didn’t need the validation, not really. But like all humans, regardless of yoga level, I wanted the validation. I was doing great, according to Stella. Now all I had to do was convince myself that she was right.
As class continued, I attempted each pose, giving each one my all. But I also bailed out several more times to take child’s pose whenever my mantra said I should. I might not be able to find bliss in the struggle, I thought, or even the core strength of my fellow yogis, but at least I had found my mantra. And hey, I was still getting a helluva workout!
“There’s this quote about enthusiasm,” Stella said. “I’m not going to do the quote verbatim because I don’t want to mangle it. But basically, enthusiasm is the god inside each one of us. And if you don’t believe in god, that’s OK. Just call it your inner spirit, or your voice, or whatever you want to call it. I have one student who calls it his inner Ziti Deity; he’s a Pastafarian.”
We were in chair pose, which is a cruel pose because you assume a seated position in a chair that doesn’t really exist. My thighs were burning, my body was shaking. I felt as if my weight would drop through the imaginary chair and I’d come crashing down on my ass at any moment.
“Anyway, the quote is something like, happy is the person who bears the god, or whatever you wanna call it, inner voice, spirit, Ziti Deity, within them, and obeys it.”
I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, but I was happy to obey when Stella told us to move down to our mats for corpse pose.
With the lights in the studio dimmed, I stretched out on my back to check in with my body one last time. Every muscle, I knew, would be sore tomorrow. Every drop of sweat that had come out of my pours would need to be replaced with water. But I felt good, as if I had rolled back the clock on my body’s odometer.
“Throughout this practice, we’ve focused on the heart,” Stella said. “In each pose, we’ve integrated the heart into each pose by creating more space in our chests.”
I thought about my chest, then my heart. Had I integrated my heart? I wasn’t sure. Each pose had been difficult. I recalled Stella talking about “making room” in our chest as we flowed from one pose to the next, but my heart wasn’t my focus. I had done the entire class on Easy Mode because my mantra had told me that Normal Mode was super fucking hard. But I hadn’t given my heart much thought because I was just trying to keep up.
“You’re probably thinking: I don’t know about all that,” Stella said.
A few people laughed knowingly. The old(ish) women laughed. The young(ish) women laughed too. The fitness bros would’ve laughed, but unfortunately, the Liver King doesn’t sell a laughter supplement.
OK, I’m the only one who laughed.
Actually, I laughed on the inside because only a monster makes noise during corpse pose.
“The structures protecting our heart are bones and cartilage,” Stella continued. “But those structures aren’t as hard as we think because what we want is a soft heart.”
I wondered about my heart. Was it hard or soft?
“A hard heart sounds strong, but it’s actually weak,” Stella said. “A hard heart is a heart that’s closed off from the world, from the community, from the self. Listen to your mantra. What is it telling you? If it says you’re not good enough, if it says you can’t do it, that you suck, you need to soften your heart. Because a soft heart lets in love. The love from world, the love from community, and most important of all, the love we give ourselves.”
TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT THE STORY!
I love hearing from readers like you because it makes writing Situation Normal so much fun! If you enjoyed this story, please let me know by leaving a comment below👇
Or, if you’re the type of person who likes a prompt, consider the following questions:
Are you a yogi?
What’s the last thing your inner god / voice / spirit/ Ziti Deity told you? Did you listen?
Do you think the soft heart / hard heart distinction is real, hokum, or just another way of saying, we have to choose whether we want to be our own worst enemy, or our best cheerleader?
Many yoga poses are inspired by nature: tree pose, downward dog, cobra. But some yoga poses truly are sadistic: handstand scorpion, one handed tree, destroyer of the universe. Here’s the question: Is nature sadistic, or what?
Can you create your own yoga pose? If so, leave a description of your pose and its name in the comments!
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My inner voice tells me to get off the couch. I say Nah-Ima stay.
That one was a bit of a stretch.
I’m a yogi who is getting better at hearing my inner voice but needs more practice at actioning on what the voice says. Although I did have the ramen the inner voice insisted on for dinner instead of a salad. Nature isn’t sadistic, but human imagination is to have created the tortuous poses that no normal human body’s can create.