I am done with crowded yoga classes. I am done with all crowds. I can’t enjoy anything that involves being in the center of a dense mass of humans with flailing limbs. I need my space.
The 9:30am Labor Day yoga class was populated with people like me who normally work on Monday mornings. When I arrived, every mat was plotted in evenly-spaced rows. I took the last awkward block of real estate just in front of the stage where the yoga teachers lay their mats, which is the equivalent of sitting in the first row at the movie theater. While I stepped away to get blankets and blocks, the teacher parted the row behind me and squeezed my mat into a tight space between two men.
“This is fine,” I said. “I am fine with this.”
I forgot that this yoga teacher prefers to lead from the space in front of the stage instead of on top of the stage. She usually sets a portable musical instrument called a harmonium on the hardwood floor in front of us and tries to get us to repeat long, complicated Sanskrit chants. The harmonium is like an accordion that you set on the ground and pedal with your hand like a bicycle pump. It’s the size of large shoebox but it produces the same tones as a pipe organ in a church. Most of the time when I try to repeat her chants with the rest of the crowd I just quietly mumble made-up Sanskrit words. “Om sri vashinashi Nagasaki Lakshmi mazel tov…”
I’ve been meaning to check if Sanskrit is a language option in Duo Lingo.
“Let’s not talk about the end of summer, let’s talk about puppies,” the teacher said. “There! Now everyone is smiling again.”
The yoga class was puppy-themed because the teacher was in the market for a new puppy. She visited a litter of spastic furballs that were quarreling over pieces of rope and losing control of their legs. She said that she forgot how much energy puppies have, and that they are kind of like your mind when you try to meditate. The teacher then coined the term “puppy mind.” I have heard of the mind being compared to a monkey, a wild horse, an elephant. We are always trying to discipline our feral gray matter in yoga.
Once we started moving, it was hard to be distracted by my puppy mind. Things were moving too fast. Our drill sergeant called out poses as though she was schooling us in multiplication tables and I felt like I was always a few beats behind.
From half moon pose, bent into the shapes of a starfish, the man to my right gave me some unsolicited advice.
“You’re not supposed to curl your toes,” he whispered.
We flowed at the tempo of a flamenco dance from downward dog to warrior one to warrior two to warrior three to peaceful warrior and it was a struggle to keep up with the death march of warriors. How long until confused warrior? Panting warrior? Sleeping warrior? Our arms rotated like windmills and spandex-clad legs swung into the air.
While we were all in downward dog, the teacher told us to “flip our dogs.” Everyone flipped belly-up, hearts open, paws reaching for the stars. Before I had a chance to process the command, the foot of the man next to me bowled into my right kidney before rooting down on my mat. It was the same fellow who was schooling me on the position of my feet.
“Flipping the dog” is a real ice breaker. I guess that’s why it’s such a good heart opening pose. It is almost impossible to flip downward dog without planting a foot on your neighbor’s mat and we were all so tightly compressed in the studio. All the other dogs were flipped and mine was upright and trying to get its equilibrium. Thankfully he didn’t kick me with much force. I wasn’t badly hurt, just startled.
I am done with crowded yoga classes. Not that I didn’t feel amazing afterwards. I felt like chiseled greyhound, a limber Labrador, a regal, panting mastiff.
At the shoe rack, the kidney kicker plopped down in an armchair and sighed heavily.
“What a workout,” he said.
“That was intense alright,” I said. “Have a nice Labor Day.”