In the Sunday yoga class, everyone is packed in like sardines. When I open my arms out to the side, I have to be careful not to give my neighbor a black eye. The teacher tells us to lower into plank and lift our left legs off the ground, but I want to open a window. There is a sweet chemical smell hanging around my mat. Is it some synthesized spray used to clean the hardwood floors? I sniff the air. I can’t pinpoint it, but it smells familiar and ordinary. The teacher has us switch legs, and then I know exactly where the odor is coming from. My face is so close to the foot of the woman in front of me that I can smell her toenail polish. I can tell she painted them just before class because the violet lacquer on her right big toe is creased and puckered. The teacher tells us to inhale and I hold my breath.
“Shift your weight onto your right leg,” the yoga teacher says. “Then lift your left knee, cross your left ankle over your left thigh. Now bend your right knee slightly and lower your forearms onto your left quad muscle and hook your left toe around your right forearm…”
Then put your right foot over your left shoulder, stick the your left thumb into your left ear, hook your pinky finger around your lip and put your right index finger into your nose, I think as I balance on my right foot.
I am excellent at meditating.
I can tell that this is the grand finale, the gravity-defying arm balance that every other pose was leading up to. All those side planks and warriors were just kid stuff and now it is show time. I have no expectations of myself when it comes to arm balances. I generally can’t do them because I suffer from spaghetti arms. After more than a week of low activity, my ability to open a sealed jar of olives is the first thing to go.
As I lower my hands to the ground and tighten my core, I don’t expect myself to go any further. I don’t expect anything at all. So imagine my surprise when my standing leg springs out and I’m suddenly perched in the full expression of the pose, whatever it’s called. What did she call it? Dragonfly? Horsefly? Warrior Z? Superman?
It was remarkably simple, like opening up an umbrella. I make an audible noise of satisfaction and immediately turn red, remembering that I am not alone in the room. When I can’t hold the pose any longer I collapse on the mat, tangled up like loose yarn.
“Now everyone laugh. Ha, ha, ha,” says the yoga teacher. “We yogis take ourselves too seriously. Ha, ha, ha.”
The 8:30 class is not very popular. Who wants to be awake at 8:30 on a Sunday morning? I hardly ever do, but I like this teacher. She is a five-foot tall knot of pure muscle. When I am fifty years old, this is exactly what I aspire to be, among other things. I suspect that she’s a former dancer, or maybe even a former gymnast like me. We are on the same page. We both appreciate the meditative aspect of yoga, but we don’t prioritize it over the athletic part.
There’s an unwritten rule that at the beginning of class the yoga teachers must tell a story that gives the class a theme or an intention. The teacher takes out her phone and reads aloud a series of quotes that I suspect she’s gleaning from her Facebook feed.
“What if love was our religion?” she reads from the screen, and follows it with a quote from Rumi. Then, in our first downward dog, she tells us that 2015 is the Year of the Butt.
“Have you guys heard the good news?”
She puts on a playlist of Sia and MC Yogi (whose name make me giggle every time). Fifteen minutes into the class, “Blurred Lines” begins to play. Everyone in the room looks at each other, confused, especially the teacher.
“iTunes is shuffling my playlists,” she explains.
Is there room for “Blurred Lines” in my yoga practice? Even in the Year of the Butt?
I’m tiptoeing barefoot from the bathroom back to class when the receptionist behind the front desk whispers to me.
“Did you see the really hot guy in class?”
I know exactly who she’s talking about.
“His mat is right in front of mine,” I say.
I leave out the part about how I’ve been trying to figure out if he’s wearing a thong. I can’t help but notice the thick purple straps around his hips, protruding from the band of his gym shorts. It looks like a thong with wide straps. There’s some writing around the strap and I want to know what it says. I can make out the word “tape.” Maybe it’s some sort of athletic tape?
After class, I do scales in the door frame of the kitchen and explain what I saw to Dave.
“That sounds like a jock strap,” he says. “They look like thongs.”
“But do you need one of those for yoga?”
I want a yoga friend. This is the longest I have ever consistently practiced with a group of people and I still do not have a yoga friend. Something about this studio really brings out my shyness. I have singled out one woman in my Thursday class who looks as out of place as I feel. She is extremely tall and has a ponytail like a paintbrush. Her clothes don’t have any Lululemon logos. Her magenta shirt is probably not intended for sweaty physical activities.
The weather is getting nicer, the classes are getting smaller. We take our mats to the wall because there is enough space for everyone to practice their inversions.
While upside down, I plot out what I will say to her after class when we are standing upright at the shoe cubbies, buttoning down our winter coats. I will say something like, “It’s nice having a small classes once and a while,” or maybe, “Did I miss anything last week?” Maybe I will tell her the story about the purple toenail polish. In the end, I over-think it and I chicken out. I don’t say anything at all.
We move from upward dog to downward dog. Warrior one and warrior two. Fish and bridge and boat. And when the class ends, we say namaste, roll up our mats, and leave.
We spend so much time opening our hearts, and for what?