Yoga for entertainment, and good health

When I was in college my friend Slavomir Zapata and I took yoga together - both beginner and intermediate yoga - but to tell the truth all that came of these classes were some really good talks, funny stories and perhaps we each became a little bit more flexible. Slavomir was from Maine so, needless to say, we became fast friends because I am obsessed with that place. He'd talk about L.L. Bean all the time, and I'd listen attentively, because as I'd been taught by my father since I was just a little girl, L.L. Bean is the best place in the world.

Slav and I had a lot of fun adventures together, like joining the BU Chorale Society, and there was also this night we were kind of, maybe, inebriated, walking home from our favorite Thursday night bar, Beckett's, and we took all these potted plants that were on campus out of their pots and threw them on people's porches, but, for the present, I'm not gonna get in to recounting college tales that have anything to do with liquor and the results of liquor.

The point is we usually did things for fun, so although I don't remember the exact moment he and I decided to sign up for yoga classes, I'm pretty sure we weren't all, "You know what would be GREAT? Getting in touch with our bodies." I'm thinking it went more like, "You know what would be fucking hysterical? Taking yoga."

The classes were held in the community room of a really nice residence hall up on West Campus. Since Slav and I lived, in fact, not even on BU's campus, but in some temporary housing they'd leased at another, small, Catholic girl's college, southeast of the University, we usually had a nice long walk ahead of us, and this is when we'd talk about anything and everything on our minds, and despite the hilarity that ensued upon yoga class commencing, I always remembered these walks - and talks - as a very nice time in my college career.

Classes were taught by a very ridiculous woman with dark, curly hair, who'd wear, like, a leotard and a tablecloth tied around her waist. Now that I've experienced more of the world, I realize that this woman, our teacher, wasn't totally ridiculous, but was just kind of new-age and really, really into being in tune with the Earth. Lots of yoga people are, I've found, and now that I am older, and able to keep myself composed in humorous situations (sometimes) I like being around people like this. They make me feel relaxed. And this is exactly what you want in a yoga class.

And to be fair, relaxation is (sort of) what we got. After class I'd feel remarkably reenergized and calm, all at the same time and I knew that the hour of moving around slowly on the floor, getting into positions named after various animals and trying to do headstands and whatnot had, indeed, been good for me. Of course, things didn't always go as planned. On one occasion I was reaching deep into my backpack to get out the soft, unrestrictive clothes I'd packed for class, and upon finally yanking them out of the bag, also unlodged a wrapped tampon I was carrying in the backpack and, unfortunately, didn't have the sense to place in a zippered pocket. It went flying across the room and landed squarely in front of the entire class, on the floor.

At other times, things got too relaxed. At the end of every class, our good-natured teacher would guide us through what she called "deep relaxation." We lie on the floor, eyes closed, while she had us tense, and then release every muscle in our body. When we finished, she'd sing us a little song, the "mani mantra," and we were expected to lie there, still, not even laughing or anything, while all our worries dissolved.

After Slav and I learned to get a grip during this part of class, we were able to participate without losing it. In fact, Slav got so into it that he'd often fall asleep. This was fine, and I doubt he was the only one who succumbed to this fate. After all, we were college students, and certainly not getting enough rest. The thing was however, that Slav wouldn't always wake up at the end of class, so I'd have to quietly nudge him, trying not to make a spectacle. Even worse, he'd snore - and loud - DURING the mani mantra. When this happened I'd reach over from my mat to his and tap him lightly on the arm. This never worked so I'd tap a little harder, causing him to bolt upright and sometimes ask what was going on. This wasn't exactly what one was supposed to do during deep relaxation, but proved to be good fodder for later that night when we were regaling our friends with stories from that day's class. We'd show them the new positions we learned too, such as the "Flying Eagle," and "Swaying Tree."

You would think a person who treated such an ancient, well-loved physical art form with such disrespect wouldn't really be interested in taking it up again, but that's not the case. My gym membership recently ended, coinciding with a slight hip injury due to running, and the yoga studio right near our house started looking more and more attractive. I liked the idea of doing something nice for my body, especially since I'd gotten hurt running, and needed to take a little break. Plus, I have fond memories of that very-relaxed feeling after my college yoga classes, even if other memories supercede those. I wanted that feeling again.

So a couple weeks ago I decided to stop in the main office just to say hi and see what they offered. Just to get some information, I thought, not to do anything impulsive, but about ten minutes later I'd bought a 6-class pass. The problem is I'm immediately drawn to anything anyone says is good for me. I'm a vendor's dream. And the vendor, of sorts, in the yoga office was a nice, older gentleman with graying hair, a soft voice and bare feet. Not only did he show me a lineup of all the classes available, he circled the ones I might be interested in and even talked to me about my injury and gave me some tips. How could I say no? That's right, I couldn't, so I handed over my money.

I attended my first class this past weekend. I chose a beginner's class, and wasn't sure what to expect since my last yoga experience had been so many years ago, but luckily, I found that these people were pretty much doing the same things we college kids had done. We put our mats down on the floor and laid down. The instructor turned on some soothing music and told us to take breaths and let go of "anything that wasn't serving" us anymore. "Just let it go," she said. The only thing I could think of that wasn't serving me was all the leftover Halloween candy I keep gorging on every day, so I concentrated, and tried to let it go.

I immediately found that this yoga class differed from my previous experience in that these people - grown ups, and even worse, grown ups in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro area which can sometimes border on hippiedom - were not, like I'd been in college, afraid of what anyone thought of them. So when we were told to "breathe," these people, they really breathed. Loud. And sometimes it sounded like they were having orgasms. And then I started to wonder if maybe they were having orgasms.

The actual class structure was similar to what I'd done before. There were similar positions - surprisingly, very hard for me, since I guess I haven't tried balancing myself on my left hand and right leg in a full lunge person as of late - and there were similar exercises, like imagining we were surrounded, inside and out, by a bright, golden light.

At the end of class we did something like "deep relaxation," where everyone laid on their backs (some people covered themselves with little blankets, and others put silken beanbags, handed out by the teacher, over their eyes) and we "came back into" our bodies. I'm not really sure what that meant, because when I was trying to do a shoulder stand - trying really, really hard to do a good one because I was one of the youngest in class and I couldn't let these other people beat me - I'm pretty sure I was very "in my body," and that there was some pain associated with being there.

When class was over I noticed that some of the students were hanging out and hugging each other and catching up and I could just tell they were totally into this lifestyle on a level I will never acheive. It's not that I can't get into yoga, because I can, and plan on keeping it up weekly. I mean, it feels really good and I do believe that something about it - maybe the yoga teachers and their softly-uttered instructions, or the music, or just taking a few hours to stretch out and relax, which you'd never take the time to do at home - is beneficial. And for that reason, I think I'll like having it in my life.

But the thing is, I might still tell funny stories about the experience later on, which I'm thinking might exclude me from being close with these people, and besides, I don't want to give anybody a false impression of how in tune with the Earth I am or anything, and if I'm out doing something, like, say, uprooting potted plants and engaging in general recklessness, I don't want any new yoga friends to see me and think, "Jesus. And we thought she was so very, deeply relaxed."