I went to a yoga class on the shortest day of the year. I had spent the previous day at a winter solstice party and the previous night meandering through Manhattan with Dave. Over the course of the weekend I had pushed myself a little too hard to be outgoing and may have hyperextended my social ligaments. I woke up very tired.
I knew that this would be one of those densely crowded classes and I always mean to get there earlier, but when I arrived there was little space for my mat. The teacher was talking about embracing the night when I squeezed into the back corner next to the low shelves of foam blocks and Mexican blankets.
Strange things happen in yoga classes. In the last class I attended, the teacher played chanting music playing in the background and the man next to me started chanting along with the recording as he moved through his vinyasa. No one else was chanting, the only other sound was breath.
I can always expect that two girls will settle down on their backs about halfway through, layer wool blankets across their bodies, and take a nap with little eye pillows across their faces. When everyone is peeling up their latex mats and padding around the hardwood on bare feet, they are deep in stage-three sleep. I understand that relaxation is a key aspect of yoga, but I’m still mystified at people who spend twenty dollars to take a nap on a hardwood floor with strangers beneath blankets that have known many strange butts. The girls always look so blissfully comfortable. I’m not sure what happens when the next class on the schedule comes in, but I imagine the teacher rolls the girls up in their Manduka mats and props them up in the utility closet.
I provided the spectacle for this particular class. It wouldn’t be the first time. During one downward facing dog I noticed a little cocoon of black thread dangling between my thighs. I wanted to surreptitiously tear out the wad of thread but I couldn’t think of a graceful way to do it, not in front of the yogi masses. I tip-toed through the crack in the door, trying not to disrupt the woman who had to lay her mat in the doorway, and I closed myself in the bathroom.
Once in private, I investigated my legging situation. Not only was there a ball of thread, but there was also a three inch hole in my crotch where the thread had splayed apart. It was not fair. This was only the second time I had worn these leggings. What if they were split open the first time, too, and I was only just noticing now? These leggings had all of my favorite buzzwords working in their favor – organic cotton, recycled materials, fair trade – but they couldn’t even withstand a few crescent lunges. Suddenly I was grateful for my tight space in the back corner. If I had a good seat, the rows behind me would have had an excellent view of London, France, etc.
Back in the studio, I rejoined the class. Every time the teacher instructed us to lift one leg in plank pose, the flaky sole of my neighbor’s foot rose up a couple of inches from my face and I retreated into child’s pose.
“Don’t kick your neighbor’s face,” the teacher reminded us.
When we flipped into a pose called wild thing, I found myself sharing space on my mat with an inverted elderly man (a.k.a. the Phantom Chanter). The heating system, a maze of metal tubes that protruded from the ceiling that is clearly haunted by a poltergeist, made startling booming noises. It sounded like someone was trapped inside the sweltering metal tunnels trying to pound their way out with a crowbar. It was nearly impossible to relax, between the noise, the claustrophobia, and knowledge that I had been inadvertently exposing my underwear. While everyone else was merrily rocking around on their backs in happy baby, squeezing their feet in their hands, I let my knees fall from left to right and pretended I needed a real good spinal twist.
As we settled onto our backs for shavasana at the end of class, the teacher talked about using the longest day of the year as an opportunity reflection. Once upon a time, December 21st was the last day of the year. This made me feel anxious because there was so much I wanted to do and I realized the year was over. I spent the class writing this in my head, taking mental notes of the elderly man’s foot on my mat and the alarming clang of the heating system and the snow spitting from the sky in the window behind the teacher. I’m afraid it’s not a very mindful habit, but I do it all the time. I let it play like a song on the radio that I’ve heard a million times.
I still felt tired after class and it seemed like it was already getting dark. The two blonde girls were asleep under their wool blankets, the first humans to surrender to the longest night on Earth.