The farting yogi and the pain in my ass
After a two-year hiatus, I return to my yoga practice
Apropos of nothing, the yoga teacher says her mother had “great legs.”
“She was a stewardess, well, now they call them flight attendants. But this was back in the day. She had to show her legs in the job interview at Eastern Airlines.”
There’s a collective gasp from the room. But looking around, I have a hard time believing anyone here is truly shocked by the yoga teacher’s comment. I’m the youngest person in the yoga studio, and I’m old enough to remember stewardesses, Eastern Airlines, and sexism.
But that’s all in the past, and as we settle into corpse pose, the yoga teacher explains that the past isn’t real, and neither is the future.
“There is only the present,” she says. “Everything that happened before this moment is a memory of a present that no longer exists.”
That might be true, but the memory of a present that no longer exists is manifesting as a literal pain in my ass right now. That pain—call it a series of knots in the muscles that run from my butt to my toes—is what brings me to yoga, after a two-year hiatus.
“The future does not exist,” the yoga teacher continues. “It’s a fiction we tell ourselves to escape the present. So forget about the future, forget about the past, and congratulate yourself for showing up for your practice today.”
I’d pat myself on the back, if I wasn’t laying on the floor, looking up at the ceiling. This is corpse pose—the only pose where I truly feel confident. For the past two years, which may or may not exist, I’ve been a home school yogi. Like a lot of home schoolers, I found that Zoom just didn’t cut it, compared to in-person instruction. As a result, my yoga practice suffered, and so I suffered, too.
“Breathe,” the yoga teacher says. “Breathe… and be present in the moment. That’s what yoga is. Breathing and being present in the moment.”
There’s a lot of truth to what the yoga teacher is saying, but breathing and being present in the moment is easier said than done. As we move through our practice, there are distractions to contend with, and the mind is nothing if not a remarkable distraction factory.
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Here’s an abridged list of my distractions.
The rumble of traffic outside the yoga studio.
A story I’m in the process of outlining.
The hum of the air conditioner, which sounds vaguely like a pop song I can’t quite place.
My mask, which captures each exhale and reminds me that the present is constrained in ways that send my mind racing toward a future that may never be, and a past that no longer is.
The farting yogi on the mat next to mine.
My glasses, which fog up and obscure my view of the teacher.
My vision without glasses and the fuzzy human-pretzel that has replaced my yoga teacher.
An idea for dinner: the yoga studio is only a block away from Christina’s favorite Cobb salad! And they serve that salad with a yummy pretzel roll.
In front of me, the yogi who went commando under their threadbare yoga pants—a decision that proved to be an eye-full during a forward-bend.
The giant stubborn knot in my right butt check.
The return of the farting yogi.
The fear that I may have misread the street parking signs.
A home improvement boondoggle that will make a good Situation Normal story.
A memory of flying Eastern Airlines with my dad.
The distractions never cease, but here and there, I find the present. And in tree pose, I find the source of the pain the in my ass.
“Maybe you’re out of balance,” the yoga teacher says. “Be mindful of the struggle. Are you weaker on one side than the other side?”
Standing on my left foot, my tree is solid. The trunk reaches straight and tall toward the sky. Nothing can knock over my tree.
But the tree pose on my right foot is Wobble City, and to keep from falling, I hold my breath, clench my butt cheeks, and contort my posture to stabilize myself.
“If you’re struggling to balance, think about your hip,” the yoga teacher says. “Is your hip pushed out to the side, or is it firmly rooted and squared to the front of the room?”
My hip is pushed so far to the side that I’m threatening to hip-check the farting yogi. So, I pull my hip in and straighten my posture. I’m still wobbly, but I feel a balance that’s escaped me for two years. Even better, I feel that knot in my ass begin to unravel. A moment later, I that unraveling sense of relief stretches from my right shoulder, down the right side of my back, all the way down to my right pinky toe.
“Beautiful tree, Michael,” the yoga teacher says.
It is a beautiful tree… while it lasts. Because if the past is a memory of a present that no longer exists, and the future is a fiction we tell ourselves to escape the present, then we have to accept that the present is always fleeting. And so my tree, which is beautiful and strong and healing, is as temporary as my body.
But the farting yogi? Yeah, that smell is going to linger forever.
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