My Fifth Yoga Class

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.

About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
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15 Responses to My Fifth Yoga Class

  1. And they say that yoga relaxes and promotes a new philosophy of life. Obviously not for that guy.

  2. Kayti Rasmussen says:

    I laughed out loud remembering my early yoga practice. Great mental images. Hopefully, John will have had enough of yoga and leave it for the serious ones.

  3. dafna says:

    I’m confused… Most instructors will tell people to NOT do anything that hurts them.
    One of good conscious should be repeating this throughout…”just do the best you can, etc”

    Not knowing John, I would never have projected the litany that ran through your mind – who really knows why the guy felt he had to try a move that caused him pain? But of course, I lack your literary imagination.

    Also, how can five minutes of the instructor’s absence at the end undo 1.45 minutes of peacefulness?

    It’s unpleasant of course, but perhaps some people still got something out of the class. You left grateful… with a reality check that at least you’re not married to “John”.

    • Cheri says:

      HI dafna,
      I was trying to contrast the environment with an unnecessary interruption. I was also having a little fun writing this piece.

      John’s unnecessary outburst and need for the attention was a momentary interruption. Perhaps, however, living in the Bay Area where things are busy, distracting, and full of interruptions, I am not that willing to excuse such interruptions anymore. I’m sure my new yoga training will teach me how to let it pass.

  4. Kayti Rasmussen says:

    We had a male friend who tried to get his body into a full Lotus pose, and got stuck! Oh great pain. We gave him some assistance, andt hen gave him another drink of Jack Daniels.

  5. Cyberquill says:

    Speaking of namaste, you could volunteer as one of the blocks in exchange for free classes.

  6. Cheri says:

    Excellent idea, except for the pose where the block is under a person’s hips. That doesn’t appeal to me.

  7. Patanjali: Yoga is bringing the mind to stillness.

    Sartre: Hell is other people.

    I can tell you, after a decade in yoga studios, that the two clash every time.

    • Cheri says:

      I’ll concentrate on Patanjali’s words.
      This observation actually helps me. I thought everyone would be trying to be still.
      I’m so naive at times.

  8. Philippe says:

    You said to yourself about John: “…..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…….”

    If his bellyaching wasn’t about these two possible causes, what was it about?

    You gave a clue when you said, “……His wife moved her mat several feet away from him……”.

    Think about this for a moment. John’s wife, who would once have pledged to him that she would love honour and obey him in sickness and in health till death her do part, seems to want to have nothing to do with him as soon as he suffers pain, and she tacitly lets everyone in the yoga class know this.

    Far from deserving your anger, John deserves your sympathy in his being shackled to such a cold-blooded unfeeling woman.

  9. Cheri says:

    Sorry Philippe. I disagree.
    John is like many students I have instructed in my life. Out for attention.
    One of the reasons so many public school teachers are so ineffective is that they divert their attention to the Johns in their classrooms.
    I have no patience for the Johns of the world.

    Now, should his wife have moved aside? Is she cold? He is shackled? (love that verb, by the way)
    She is also shackled with a whiny baby.

  10. Kayti Rasmussen says:

    Oh, I so agree! Once a whiner always a whiner. This seems to be a regular category for some males. Sorry to have to say that, but I DO have some experience.

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