Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Breathing Into Space (In the Category of Be Where You Are.)

She said, “Let’s take a yoga class!”

My BFF never organizes exercise-related activities for us to do. In our 26+ years of friendship we’ve gone sugar snap pea picking and shopped for plants at greenhouses; we’ve met for countless brunches, lunches, movies, and happy hours. We took a one-night cooking class in Chinese cuisine back in the old Main Street Bazaar, a kitchen-based kitsch store that’s been out of business for many years now. (My hot and sour soup is still delicious.)

So the suggestion of a yoga class surprised me. I had dabbled in yoga poses on my Wii Fit®. It’s a pretty good toy, and I actually lost weight using it. I use the yoga poses to stretch before I begin my strength training routine: Sun Salutation, Warrior, Grounded V, and Downward Facing Dog make a good warm-up for the 120 jackknives, dozen push-ups, two dozen lunges and fifteen minutes of step aerobics while working with hand weights that follow.

I have never been able to do the stand-on-one-foot poses though. I tried playing a few of the Wii balance games to see if it would help, but I took it personally every time my poor score prompted the Wii to label me “unbalanced.” How did it know? Why did it feel qualified to judge?

Nonetheless, I agreed to sign up for the beginner class my BFF had found at my local recreation center. I already hang out there; the walking track (eight laps in the center lane is a measured mile) and cardio room are both free to town residents, and I like the scene. I felt a little nervous though. Was the yoga on the Wii even legit or had I already learned bad habits? I had seen yoga on television shows. I’ve even met a yoga instructor at a leadership retreat. She was a wisp of girl, petite, blonde, and very limber. During the retreat, she led us through morning stretches after breakfast and before the grueling work of leadership training would begin.

Rationalizing that it was a beginner class and no one would expect me to know what I was doing, I put aside my apprehension and queued up with my BFF and eighteen others on the first day of class. As we spread out our yoga mats our instructor arrived. Toné was not what I expected; he certainly didn’t resemble the first yoga instructor I had ever encountered.

No wisp, Toné is every inch of six feet tall, probably closer to six-foot-two. He is built like a linebacker, broad-shouldered and muscular. His hair is a long mane of slender braids that cascade past his shoulders. In the Mountain Pose, he is just that, a mountain of a man. But soft-spoken and graceful, it is clear that Toné is well-practiced in the ancient art of yoga. I walk two miles around the track before class, and some afternoons, I see Toné in the corner where the shuffleboards are painted, doing yoga before our yoga class. He does balance poses on his head and spine stretches with his legs crossed in front of him like a pretzel, and I silently pray he never attempts to teach me to fold myself like that. It looks painful.

But if he asks, in his deep, slow voice, I will try to breathe into that space. That is what Toné calls it when the edge of the stretch hurts and you visualize inhaling space into the muscles to relax them. He intones the mantra along with periodic reminders to let the tension go: “Don’t try to solve any problems. Don’t create any problems.” It’s good balm for the noisy chatter of my difficult-to-quiet mind.

I still cannot stand on one leg consistently, although last night I was able to hold my right leg up behind me while my left arm stuck straight up in the air for a full five seconds before breaking the pose to catch my fall. The young ladies on either side of me held their pose and composure while I toppled over, giggling. Toné just smiled his easy, warm smile.

“It’s okay to have fun,” he reminded us all. “Just breathe into your space.”
I started wearing my Yin-Yang earrings to class in hopes of better balance. So far, they have made no difference.