Monday, March 23, 2009

Humor Me: Yoga dropout


A few years ago, I tried yoga. I tried and failed.

Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised, because you can't really succeed at something that you commit to for less than an hour. Certainly not something like yoga, which is defined as a system of exercises for attaining bodily or mental control and well-being.

Yep, that's yoga. A moving meditation that can unify the body, mind and spirit as it balances your energy centers -- also known as “chakras.” Sounds great, but that's not beginning yoga.

Beginning yoga is defined as a system of exercises for attaining humiliation as you nearly fall through a coffee table while trying to achieve the Extended Camel Posture (Purna Ushthra Asana in yoga terminology). Beginning yoga is what I do, or more accurately, did. My dedication lasted approximately 39 minutes — the running time of an instructional yoga video.

At first, I had high hopes because my wife loved the video and said that it improved flexibility and strength. I decided to give it a try, as a favor to my wife, and of course, my chakra. I play a lot of sports and stay reasonably in shape, so I thought balancing my energy centers wouldn’t be too difficult. The video’s description also mentioned that the yoga workout would help me find relaxation in my strength, which sounded great. Strong and relaxed -- what a nice combination.

After a few yoga postures, however, I wasn’t feeling the relaxation in my strength. I was seeing the comedy in my weakness. The Cobra (Bhujangasana), Downward Dog (Adhomukhasvanasana) and Warrior Pose (Virabhadrasana) convinced me that learning yoga would be much harder than spelling Paschimotanasana (Forward Stretch). Fifteen minutes into the tape, I was tempted to return to a more familiar posture, the Recline With Beverage.

But I didn’t want to be a quitter. I still feel bad that my childhood voyage into martial arts only lasted long enough to learn how to count to 10 in Japanese. And my soccer experience wasn’t much longer, albeit long enough to learn that flying soccer balls always assume trajectories that collide with the faces of players who wear glasses.

So I decided to persevere through the entire yoga routine. It helped that I was in my house, and not at the health club, where my yoga ineptitude would be on full display to the people achieving the human pretzel (Mr. Salty Posture). In privacy, I could attempt to push my body toward its spiritual center, or at least give my chakra a good stretch if my downward dog (Maggie) would stay out from under my feet.

The yoga instructor’s encouragement helped. “Good,” she said at one point, not noticing that my tired spiritual center had led me to cheat and bend my knees during the forward standing bend. “You’re doing great today,” she said later as I failed to do what she calls the “Crane Posture,” or what I like to call “Impossible for Me.” I may not have been succeeding in the -- this is a quote from the video box -- “time-tested spiritual discipline where exercise and relaxation meet,” but at least the instructor was giving my chakra a pep talk.

I tried to copy the instructor’s postures, but it was like trying to trace a Rembrandt. Her picture-perfect postures are probably framed in a yoga studio somewhere. My postures, on the other hand, are the equivalent of a preschooler’s crayon scribbles on a wall of the studio.

And some of the postures I couldn’t even do. “You might not be able to do this right away,” she said, again in a very encouraging voice.

Right away? No, I’ll never be able to stand on my hands and lift my knees over my shoulders.

But at least she has faith in me, which might convince me to watch the tape a few more times. I figure that even if I don’t do the routine, I’ll have somebody telling me that I’m doing a great job. That is sure to make me feel better as Doritos crumbs roll down my shirt.

I could also just fast-forward to the end of the workout, the part of the workout I enjoyed the most. That’s where the instructor told me to lie down, close my eyes, and feel every part of my body relaxing. “Feel your legs relax, your arms relax, your head relax,” she said. “Feel yourself sinking deeper into the floor.”

Now that was relaxing. After sinking deep into the floor, I came up to a seated position. The instructor told me I “did a terrific job today,” although she probably tells that to all her students.

Following her lead, I brought my hands together and bowed forward as she said “Namaste,” a greeting that means, in part, “I honor the place in you which is of love, of truth, of light, of peace.”

Such a beautiful ending. But the next morning, I was so sore that I groaned as I got out of bed.

Loosely translated, I believe “ugh” and “argh” mean “Oh, my aching chakra.”

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