# of literary mags submitted to: 2
other progress made: did some brainstorming for a new novel and revised a short story
When you go to yoga at Willy’s World of Fitness, you really never know what you’re going to get. Your teacher might be Sally, a tough-talking woman in her mid-fifties who could probably beat Taylor Lautner at a push-up contest. Or, your teacher might be Mef, a timid man with a pot-belly and a slight stutter. You might end up in a class with a bunch of hot soccer moms wearing coordinating spandex outfits, or your class might be nothing but elderly folks who consider stretching their arms above their heads to be good exercise.
So I go to yoga yesterday, expecting Sally, but instead the instructor is a feisty woman in her early fifties named Tricia.
Now, this Tricia… First of all, she arrives ten minutes late for class, and then, instead of getting started right away, she leisurely takes off her outer layers, tossing them in a pile on the floor.
“You guys know why Sally’s not here today, doncha?” she says in a strong Boston accent. “She met a nice man, and she’s going on a little weekend trip with him. I embarrassed her the other day by singing that song, whatta man, whatta man, whatta man, whatta mighty good man.” Tricia sings loudly, undulating her hips. I look down at my mat, feeling embarrassed myself.
“I didn’t really want to teach today,” Tricia tells us, pulling off her socks, “but then I said well, I don’t want to keep Sally from getting some good lovin.”
She sits down on her mat, and then suddenly the door opens and a bulldog puppy skitters across the wood floor. “Oh, my baby!” Tricia croons. “Thank you!” she calls to the person dropping off the dog.
“Oh no, I forgot his bed.” Tricia looks at us imploringly. “Poor baby, he can’t sleep on this hard floor.”
“Here.” The woman next to me hands over her sweatshirt. Maybe she’s super nice, or maybe, like me, she just wants Tricia to shut up and get on with the class.
“You don’t mind getting dog hair on it, do you?” Tricia asks as the puppy curls up on the sweatshirt.
Finally, Trisha asks us to sit in cross-legged position. Some of the older folks in the room have trouble with this, so Tricia spends the next five minutes helping them. I sit on my mat, taking deep breaths and trying not to feel annoyed. I came to class expecting to get a good work out, not to sit Indian-style, listening to Tricia babble.
“Let’s stretch our arms over our heads,” Tricia says. “Wow. Doesn’t it feel great? Isn’t that something?”
Something I could have done at home, I thought.
* * *
I started doing yoga regularly about five years ago. I thought it would be a good addition to my exercise routine since I was getting bored of step class and Pilates But slowly I realized that it was more than just exercise. If I let it, yoga could be an experience for the mind, the body, and the soul.
I was sitting on the floor of the JCC in New Orleans about four years when the teacher said, “now take a moment to thank your body for all the hard work it does for you every day.”
It’s a pretty standard yoga instructor comment to make, and yet, at that very moment, it really touched me. I realized that all my life I had been fighting against my body – focusing on its flaws and wishing it was different. Trying to change it. I’d never really stopped to appreciate it. While I had been berating my body for not looking the way I thought it should look, it had quietly continued pumping blood into my veins and breathing air into my lungs, without me even having to ask.
Suddenly, I felt horribly ungrateful.
I’ve treated you so badly, I said to my body. I’m sorry. Thank you for everything.
I left with tears in my eyes.
A half an hour into yoga class with Tricia, we are still stretching our arms over our heads. “Chests up!” she crows. “Tits up! Turn your nipples to the sky.” She shakes her head at a man named Steve. “No, not chin up. Tits up. Your nipples. Right here.” She pinches her own nipples then gives her breasts a shake for good measure.
“Now, stretch your ribs to the left and right, like this.” She lifts up her shirt to show us her belly moving side to side. She’s quite fit for a woman her age. Is she trying to entice Steve with her svelte physique?
I wonder if I should leave. I’m not getting anything out of the class, and I’m feeling antsy. I was looking forward to stretching the hell out of myself and leaving with my muscles twitching.
I tell myself that yoga is a practice in observation. Observation of the body and the mind.
I observe myself feeling annoyed.
* * *
I have to admit that I probably got into yoga because it turned out I have a natural affinity for the physical aspects of it. Not to sound vain, but I’m extremely flexible and always have been. Sally, the normal yoga instructor at Willy’s, calls me Gumby. I enjoy stretching, and even though I know yoga isn’t a competitive sport, there are times when I let it go to my head that I can do some of the more challenging poses without much trouble.
I guess I am a bit vain about it.
A few years ago, I spent the summer in Mexico. My mom came to visit me for a week, and every morning we’d get up and do yoga in my little apartment. Like a child showing off, I started saying things like, “watch me do this! Watch what I can do!” And then I’d contort myself into various extreme yoga poses while my mother grumbled about what a freak I was.
One morning, I said to her. “Watch this!”
And then I spread my legs wide and touched my nose to the ground, like this:
Suddenly, there was a loud popping sound, like a rubber band snapping.
“What was that?” I asked.
“I don’t know. It came from your body,” my mom said.
“It sounded like a bone breaking.” I stood up. “My leg doesn’t feel broken.”
But there was a pain beginning to bloom down the back of my left thigh.
“I think I’m fine,” I said. I went to take a shower.
But then, halfway through my shower, my leg was hurting so much I could barely stand. As you might have guessed, I had torn my hamstring.
For the next few days, I could hardly walk, and sitting on my butt was unbearable. While my mom went to climb the Temple of the Sun at Teotihuacan, I stayed at home in my room, lying on my stomach and hating myself for having such a stupid injury.
When my friends asked me how I hurt my leg, I was embarrassed to tell them that I’d done it doing yoga.
“I was attacked by a jaguar,” I told them at the bar a few nights later. Maybe it was due to the margaritas involved, but they believed me.
* * *
“I have bad knees,” the woman behind me tells Tricia, an hour into the yoga class.
“It’s all in your mind,” Tricia says. “Our bodies are very supple. Our muscles are fluid. Even our bones are soft. It’s only your mind that’s resisting.”
Tricia goes to help the woman into the pose, and suddenly the woman falls heavily onto her mat. “I can’t do it,” she says.
“Well, your body is weak,” Tricia tells her. “You need to strengthen your muscles.”
“I was quite sick a years ago, and I lost a lot of my balance,” the woman says.
“No,” Tricia tells her. “It’s because your legs are weak. I mean, look at you. Your legs are like spaghetti noodles.”
I think if Tricia said that to me, I might just roll up my mat and walk out.
“Now, stand up and walk to the mirror, everyone,” Tricia says. “Doesn’t it feel delicious? Like you could just lift off your feet and fly? Like your internal organs are just sea kelp swaying in the tide?”
No, I think. It feels like walking.
I glance at the clock. Ten more minutes of this insanity. And I’ve barely gotten any sort of work out at all. God, this has been such a waste of time.
Tricia instructs us to lie down on our mats, cross our knees, and pull our legs out to either side. She walks around helping people. When she gets to me she stops. “Excellent,” she says. “Stay just like that.” She then tells the rest of the class to come and look at me.
“See this? This is what the human body is capable of.”
There’s a shuffling noise as everyone crowds around me.
“This is not because she’s young. This is because her body is supple.” Tricia kneels down on the back of my thighs. “See? She’s so supple, I can rest all of my weight on her.” Tricia continues to sit on me, and I smile up at her warily.
“That’s disgusting,” Steve mutters.
“It’s beautiful.” Tricia stands up. “She’s like a work of art. Like a bouquet of flowers for us to admire. Of course, because she’s so flexible, she has her own problems, don’t you?”
She looks down at me.
“Sure,” I say. “I have problems.”
“She has her own special problems. The rest of us struggle to get into the pose. She can get into the pose just fine. Her problem comes when she tries to go too far.”
* * *
Later in the day, I go for a really long walk to make up for my lack of exercise in Tricia’s class. My hamstring has long since healed from that time in Mexico, but sometimes, when I walk a lot, I feel a dull ache in the back of my left thigh.
I think about how much I resisted Tricia, how ungrateful I was to her. I think about how I didn’t consider her class “real” yoga because my muscles weren’t quaking afterwards. Maybe my muscles are supple, but the rest of me could use some loosening up.
It’s funny how epiphanies work. Like a hamstring tear, they pop into your mind in a split-second, and they linger for a few days, changing the way you think and feel. But then, pretty soon, you go back to your old habits. You go back to bad-mouthing your body, and yourself. You forget that yoga’s not about how far you can stretch, or what you look like, or whether you’re the best in the class. It’s about noticing what’s going on inside your own body and mind, and feeling thankful for everything that you find there.