by cheri block
I left my yoga class Tuesday evening shaking my head. While the class had been satisfying as I stretched new muscles into forms my body has never experienced before, there had been an annoying interruption.
Let me attempt to set the scene.
The class is packed, so I arrive 15 minutes early in order to establish a place where I can see the teacher. I am a beginner.
The studio is a comfortable spartan space, dimly lit by lamps with soft light. The ceiling is open to the rafters. A string of Buddhist prayer flags arcs on one wall; watercolors of leaves, rivers, and Indian maidens decorate the other walls. A bookshelf made of a rich dark wood holds the bolsters, straps, and blocks that we use during the class. Several stacks of what look to me like Navajo saddle pads wait by the door. We take two of these blankets, two blocks, one bolster and one strap and sit quietly on our yoga mats, waiting to begin. I sit cross-legged and quiet, trying to relax my body and my mind.
It is a fair statement to assume that most of the fifteen or so women in the class are there to unwind, improve their body shapes and fitness, and become mindful. Three older men attend this class, as well, accompanying their wives.
Tuesday night, we began yoga practice on our backs, with a blanket under our hips. Our legs were drawn up to our bodies with the soles of our feet meeting each other. Each leg, now bent into a V, rested on a block. We stretched the arms over our heads keeping the elbows close to the neck. The position reminded me of a pelvic exam, a thought I banished from my busy mind as soon as it fluttered through. The lengthening of the spine and the muscles which support it felt marvelous. I could have stayed in this position all night, staring up at the rafters, inhaling by expanding the space around my lungs and then exhaling by making my waist small. The frustrations of the day began to melt. I stopped thinking about my need for approval, the muscle tone of my inner thighs, and my husband’s crazy work schedule.
For thirty more minutes we sculpted ourselves into new women by concentrating on lifting, turning, and holding our pelvic bowls in place. It was time to pick up the blocks, light rectangles of blue pressed foam. We attempted a new pose, right leg forward and bent at the knee, left leg back with its foot turned out. One of our hands held the metal chair in front of us for balance. We raised our right arms, holding the blocks and then stretched them up and to the side in a modified Statue of Liberty position. I sneaked a look at my right tricep muscle and the little layer of fat that has attached itself and jiggles under my arm. You know what I am talking about if you are a woman over forty. These rims of arm fat used to be called bat wings; today, they are called kimonos.
Holding this pose would be sure to firm up my kimonos. With that thought in mind, I hoped we could stay in this position longer than 30 seconds. This wish I shouldn’t have made because somehow, I channeled it far across the room to the mind of a man in his sixties named John.
John called out loudly, ” I can’t do this!!! I have no flexibility!! My back hurts and I’m all balled up.” He continued to bellyache and draw attention to himself. His wife moved her mat several feet away from him.
My focused reverie was shattered. Forget firming up my kimonos.
The instructor, also the owner of the studio, said, ” John, I’m coming over to help you now,” and for the next five minutes during which she forgot we were holding the blocks up toward toward heaven, we listened to John’s complaints and rants.
I had an urge to swear loudly at John. I wanted to say, “F_ _ K You, John. This class isn’t about you. It’s not about your flexibility or your muscles being balled up or your need for attention. It’s not about your being a cranky old man, the type most of us women here tonight are trying to escape, if only for 1.5 hours. ” The irony of the moment overtook me and all mindfulness evaporated into the air of the room.
As the rest of us tried to hold the blocks, some had to give up, dropping their blocks in exhaustion. We looked like parts of those old buildings whose time has come for implosion by dynamite.
“Namaste,” the teacher said at the end of the class.
In my car on the way home, I thanked the Good Lord that John was not my husband.