Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Yoga Woes

Yoga.  Yō’-guh.  The mere enunciation conjures up all sorts of images of trying to breathe
from my third eye while attempting to tie myself up like a pretzel.  I am not coordinated or
flexible and at 5’10” I imagine I look about as graceful as a giraffe.  That combined with my
penchant for eye-rolling cynicism has kept me away from the local yoga studio.  But in my
unyielding quest to experience quintessential Ojai, I signed up for my very first yoga class.

My friend Josephine, a yoga aficionado, gave me some good advice.  The first one being not to wear shoes.  No shoes?  But they might see my, gasp, rough heels.  And don’t eat before class because some of the moves could make you nauseous, or worse.  Other than that, she just encouraged me to have an open mind.  Vowing not to giggle or fall over, I resolved to go the next day.  I supposed if I messed anything up, I could always stand in place, put my hands together, close my eyes and feign contemplation.

So off I went, sans footwear, to yoga class.  When I arrived, I was met by the instructor, Amy, to whom I confessed, “It’s my first time,” as if to say yes, it’s true, I’m a yoga virgin.  She was very kind and told me I had picked the ideal class because today we would be doing Restorative Yoga, described as “conscious relaxation,” and since I have never been conscious or relaxed, I figured this would be right up my alley.

I was given a mat, a couple of blankets and a bolster, and from my vantage point, these were all of the trimmings for the perfect nap.  She cued up some ethereal eastern chanting music and lit an incense, walking it all through the room as if to ward off evil cynics.  I immediately thought of my allergies and tried my best not to inhale, which I knew would soon be a problem.  Unfortunately, I was then instructed to breathe deeply and to focus on my breath.  I complied and found the aroma very subtle and since it did not kill me, the first potential crisis was averted.

Next we were asked to sit comfortably and since everyone was doing the obligatory cross-legged sitting thing, I conformed to the majority.  Apparently, I did not look comfortable teetering on my behind, so Amy came over and reconfigured me.  She then asked us to close our eyes and said that we would start with a few short meds.  Meds?  Did she just say meds?  I opened one eye, half expecting to see a tray of pills coming around, then realized that she meant “meditations.”  We were asked to do that deep-breathing thing again and focus on our breath.  I was focusing a bit too much and knew if I continued in this manner, I would soon hyperventilate and pass out.  Amy asked us to put our hands together over our hearts, but not like you’d do with the pledge of allegiance, which is the glaring mistake I made.  Then, bam, there it was, she asked us to “ohm.”  So the nasal droning started, and the weak guttural sounds I emitted became reason number 312 as to why I will never be the next American Idol.

And then the posing commenced.  In yoga, when you are awkwardly contorted in a peculiar way, it is called a pose.  The first pose had us sitting on our haunches with our chests resting over a bolster and our arms overhead on the floor like we were praying to Mecca.  We held the pose for so long my feet began to fall asleep.  So while we were being asked to focus on the intent of our practice for this session, all I could think about was the fact that I no longer had any feeling in my ankles.

Next we were directed to scoot our tooshes up against the wall and flip our legs overhead at a 90 degree angle.  This was very relaxing, if not weird, but as the blood started to find its way out of my feet, I was soon pining for my socks.  Plus I was beginning to realize that drinking all of that Gatorade was a big mistake.  When Amy came by to gently place a buckwheat pillow over my eyes and apply soothing pressure onto my shoulders, I forgot about my cold feet and full bladder.  She asked us to focus our thoughts only on this one moment and be in the present time, which was easy for me to do because at that moment I was fixated on the hangnail on my index finger.

The last pose had us lying on our backs over the bolster with our legs splayed out in a butterfly formation over rolled up blankets.  This was particularly comfortable and yielded a good thigh stretch.  Amy guided us on another meditation, “Notice your thoughts, like clouds moving across the sky.”  Clouds.  Hmm, I wonder if it’s going to rain.  Crap, did I close my car window?  Is it an all-new Desperate Housewives tonight?  I need to put my clothes in the dryer when I get home.  Did I pay the phone bill?  Surely these are not the thoughts Amy had intended.  I needed to focus more, or did I need to just let go?  I began to fidget.  Amy again came by and quietly replaced my eye pillow and draped a blanket over me.  “Don’t worry about seeing your thoughts through to completion.”  I began to have flitting images, like you have just before you drift off into a deep sleep.  A red pony, a floating chess board, a giant hummingbird.  And for just that moment, my cynicism seemed to melt away; I was transformed.  No phones ringing, no television, no chores, no bills.  It was relaxation in its purest form and completely self-indulgent.

We were brought back to the conscious world and moved into our cross-legged postures once again.  The woman in the corner didn’t move – I think she was asleep.  Another “ohm,” the ringing of a chime and our successful journey to restoration came to an end.  I was sold and knew I’d be back again soon.

For fifteen bucks, you too can escape the stresses of everyday life in just an hour and a half on a late Sunday afternoon – the perfect way to wind up the weekend and prepare for the workweek.  Lulu Bandha's Yoga Studio is located next door to Azu.  There is a complete schedule of yoga classes to suit any level and drop-ins are welcome.  Visit for more information.

As published in the Ventura County Reporter, circulation 35,000, March, 2005.