Confessions of a Yoga Dad
Have you ever been humbled? I mean… really put in your place? Taken down a peg. Had your ego absolutely decimated? Have you had it done in front of a room full of soccer moms? If you answered no then you probably aren’t an inflexible yoga student with a chip on their shoulder.
I arrived 15-min early today for my tenth yoga class. I apologize to the teacher for being so early even going so far as to look at the clock with a confused how did this happen look on my face. But it wasn’t by accident, I like to get to yoga at least 15-min. early so I can get a spot in the back of the class. I was always a front of the class kinda guy—but things have changed, especially when it comes to embarrassing myself. I have grown quite attached to my cozy spot in the back of the class. There’s a wall behind me and a wall on the side of me. I place my mat so close to the wall that some of the poses have me touching it. As I am carefully unrolling my mat claiming the coveted “hiding” spot I look down and notice my knees are gray. They remind me a little too much of the saggy baggy elephant, so with my spot already staked out I head to the bathroom for lotion. While in the bathroom I notice there are numerous pee droplets on the toilet seat. “Damn it,” I think to myself. Anyone who uses the bathroom after me will assume that I carelessly dribbled everywhere. I’m not a careless person so I am compelled to clean up after whomever has piddled all over the seat. I reel off some toilet paper and go to work cleaning up. I never would have cared about something so trivial before. Is it my ego, or am I experiencing some kind of mindfulness? I shrug it off.
We begin the class in sitting position. The teacher, a kind woman in her late forties with the body of a 19-year-old, asks each of us individually how we are and how our bodies are feeling. I’m fine I say when she gets to me. I hurt all over but I’m not in the mood to share. I look around the room and begin to feel like a slob in my t-shirt and shorts. I’m the only male in class and completely surrounded by Lululemon clad bodies, perfect ponytails and pedicured feet. For a moment I wonder if I can pull off yoga pants but quickly dismiss it. I can’t even imagine the chiding I’d endure if someone I know saw me in stretchy yoga capris.
We start warming up and I begin my inner butt clench. I’m sure it’s a yoga pose within itself. Honestly to me it’s the most important part of yoga because I’ve yet to release a yoga toot. I decided during my first class that I’m not going to allow my body to make any unauthorized noises. It is forbidden. In fact there’s a little Gandalf the Gray in my sphincter yelling “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” I issue a mental and mortal warning to my colon and sphincter. NO!. You will not fart. YOU. WILL. NOT. FART. I’ve heard plenty of squeaks from others that may or may not have been yoga toots. They could have just been squeaky mats. But I’m always listening and always hoping that someone will cut a giant yoga toot so that I wont be the guy remembered for one. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Sweet, my no toot game-face is squarely on.
We go through our warm-up with no problems. I’m able to keep up and do the poses without much grunting. Then it happens as it has in the last nine classes. We start bending into positions my body is not cool with. My tight hamstrings are not down with the pose we’re in and I’m breathing quite heavily—you know, when I actually remember to breathe.
Now a new pose comes up that I haven’t done yet. The teacher’s legs are spread like a sitting split and her head is on the floor. How is she doing that? How can I do that? I stretch forward and nothing happens. I’m still basically in the sitting position. “If you can’t get your head all the way down, position your block in front of you and lower your head to the block,” she offers helpfully. Her voice is kind and assuring so I resist the urge to give her a dirty look. I put the block in front of me and stare at it. I’m so far away from the block it’s comical. I look around the room and to my chagrin there are women with their heads on the floor. I had hoped everyone would be struggling. My shoulder chip chimes in to humiliate me further, I can bench 225lbs. but I cannot get my head on this block. Sweat is starting to form on my brow. This isn’t even hot yoga and I’m sweating. My hamstrings are on fire. My calves are on fire. Why are my calves on fire? What kind of crazy pose is this that my calves are burning?
We move into a new pose and our legs are behind us now as we arch our backs into downward facing dog. Finally, something I can do. The teacher cautions us about using our shoulders for the pose and to activate our core and legs. Pffft, I think. We move into a plank and then to a torturous little pose called the chaturanga. It’s like a fancy push-upy, planky thing. “I can knock out push-ups all day long so this should be easy,” I think to myself as I settle into the pose. We hold the pose longer than I anticipate and my arms begin to buzz with lactic acid. I’m grimacing and breathing hard. We move from that pose back to down dog. That hurt, I bemoan as I lift my hands off the mat and shake out the acid. “Three more times,” she says sweetly.
My arms are vibrating uncontrollably and I’m wondering if people can hear my sweat drops plopping onto the mat. Each drop echoes in my ears like a clap of thunder. I look around at the other people in the class. I see fluidity, stillness and peacefulness. They’re enjoying this. Look at them! My arms are burning and shaking. Sweat is falling heavily now onto my mat. Bang, bang, bang each drop louder than the last. I can’t quite comprehend what’s going on. My chip is talking again. I spent years in the Army fully embracing what is affectionately and erroneously referred to as the front leaning rest position (a fancy term for the push-up position). This should be easy for me right? So why after years in the Army, ten classes and hours of watching hot, stretchy, yoga babes on YouTube am I still so bad at this? I’m a little irritated now with my lack of flexibility and balance and I just want to go home. “Just hold on” I say under my breath, “you’ve got this, kinda.”
Thankfully before any more negative thoughts creep in she moves us onto our backs; it’s the last portion of class. That went quickly I think as she takes us into meditation. My sweat begins to dry and cools my skin. My fingers uncurl, my jaw un-clenches and I begin to relax. My eyes close and my mind begins to drift. I really suck at yoga, I think to myself. I really suck. But slowly, I’m becoming okay with that. I realize that I’m getting a lot more out of yoga than just a really strong sphincter. Since starting yoga I’ve become inspired to learn more about myself, eat healthy; release some grudges and I even have the desire to be a happier person. I’m coming to grips with the fact that though I’m not good at yoga it doesn’t mean I can’t like it. That was my standard way of thinking for most of my life and now I’m realizing I can like something I’m horrible at. But I’m also thinking, fuck you chaturanga, because a little competitiveness will always exist in me. You haven’t beaten me yoga, I growl. I’m all about self-discovery, but I’m also about getting better at something I completely suck at.
I hear a little ding from the teacher’s meditation bowl—which is our signal to move back to sitting position. Her voice has lulled me to sleep and I jerk awake. I’m light headed but feel quite good. We say Namaste’ and roll up our mats. The teacher smiles warmly at me as I’m leaving class. She doesn’t offer any advice, she doesn’t tell me I’m improving and she doesn’t tell me to have a blessed day. She says simply, “I hope I see you next week.” “You will” I reply smiling. And she will. Probably.