I am always late to yoga. I am always late, which means I have to walk across the gym, past all the undergraduates also taking yoga, and put my mat down and take off my sweats while, I’m sure, everyone 25 years younger is wondering why the old woman is always late. (Answer: because every time, I think I can get one more email written, one more paper graded, one more page read before yoga begins.)
I should clarify, too, that by yoga class I really mean my core strength and flexibility class. Because the yoga class is being offered at a Christian university, where we don’t countenance the bad ju-ju of any other religion like Hinduism, what with their crazy peace-loving gods, so we cannot call the course yoga. Even if everyone does call the class yoga, except in official catalogs and the like, and we do yoga positions, except not the ones that will ask baby Vishnu into our hearts.
So I’m always late to a class I attend willingly, and have for two years now. The course meets over the lunch hour, saving me the pain of attending every Tuesday’s faculty lunch, where I oft-times get stuck making polite conversation with colleagues who don’t like me very much, if they know who I am. Much preferable is 50 minutes spent contorting my body and seeking inner peace, because let’s face it, even I don’t really know who I am.
About five minutes into the class, though, I’m already looking forward to its conclusion. Not because I don’t like yoga—I’m attending willingly, after all—but because many of the poses are so damn hard, and actually take some effort. After the opening stretches, making small circles with my torso, and a few sun salutations, the hard work begins, and I’m already anxious for the class to be over.
My instructor, who is amazing in every way, tells us this is a noncompetitive class, and that we are supposed to do only as much as our bodies can handle. But I’ve been an athlete who competes for over thirty years now, and old habits die hard—harder than old bodies. So when the 19-year-old next to me can only do three crocodile push-ups, I smirk inwardly (a Zen-smirk, perhaps?) because I know I can do five. A few minutes later, when she does a perfect headstand and I can’t even get one foot off the ground, I tell myself “oh well, so what if you can do a headstand? It’s not a competitive class.” And then I try anyway, because I should be able to do what any 19-year-old can do, right?
Wrong. I cannot. My muscles are stiff, my joints achy. This is the reason I signed up for yoga, core strength, whatever, in the first place: my body ached from too much running, and too little stretching. My then-74-year-old mom had been practicing yoga for a decade, and extolling its benefits on her joints, her balance. Two years later, she’s still practicing, and while my body feels less beat up, I’m sure she still does yoga better than I do.
Not that I’m competing with her.
I know class is reaching its end because we start doing stretches on our hamstrings and our backs. I’ve only looked at the clock about a dozen times, and see that we have only ten minutes left of class. Now, I start feeling a little sad that it’s almost over, even if I do have a sandwich waiting for me back in my office. I also have work waiting for me back in the office, and while I’ve spent half of the class thinking about my to-do list—in between moments of trying to focus my mind—I’m not ready yet to tackle the list that now seems imminent.
Then, it’s time for rest and relaxation, called something Hindu in real yoga. For us, it just means stretching out on our mats for a quick nap, which is what it turns out to be for me, even if there are only waning minutes left of class. I drift into sleep, worried I might snore or snort or something, and only moments later, the teacher tells us that time’s up, that we need to go back to real life.
I swim back to consciousness, feeling a little groggy and sick because even in a few minutes, I can go into deep sleep. Scrambling around for my shoes, my jacket, my mat, I try to get up and begin walking, but I’m a little too relaxed so that my journey back across campus is more like a drunken slog.
Or not a drunken slog, because that sounds too negative. I’m floating, really, abandoned to my own little world, if only for a few moments. People say hi as I walk by, their voices obscured by my rummy head. My sandwich beckons, and I respond, sitting down at my desk a little more at peace than what I was just one hour earlier. Obviously, yoga—excuse me, core strength and flexibility—has done its job.