I joined the YMCA in January because they have yoga classes and, more importantly, their promotional offer to waive the one-time join fee was just days from expiring. How could I not join and let such a great deal go to waste? Now two months later, the Christmas money I'm using to cover the monthly dues is almost gone, and I might be fatter than when I started. This is likely because when I exercise, I eat. (Case in point: I went to two yoga classes back to back this morning, and just followed them up with tea and red velvet cake at the coffee shop before starting this post.) And if I added up the number of times I've actually gone to the Y, I'd discover that I've only done a week's worth of exercise in two months. My willpower and motivation are awesome. And by awesome, I mean completely awful. But because I'm uber-judgmental, these handful of classes have been humorous, humbling, and healing.
The first class I went to was Gentle Yoga with Dianne. Let the judging and comparing to yoga instructors past begin! She has a normal name and looks a little like a middle-aged hippie. But my old instructor seemed warmer. Still, so far, so good. She offered us lavender oil to put on our wrists. Cool, I dig aromatherapy. “How's everyone's energy feeling?” she asked. People mumbled that they felt pretty good. My brow wrinkled – waiting to see where this was going. “I ask because we just had a new moon, so your energy is probably really low.” Grumble, grumble. My internal judgey-ness kicked into high gear, nevermind that I myself used to drink wine with the full moon. She may be a little more out there than I can handle. I miss Marty from the Outer Banks – she was just the right combination of airy and down-to-earth. While I reminisced and mulled over Marty's superiority, Dianne moved on and shared, “It's the the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Dragon,” – okay, multiculturalism, I can dig it - “so yesterday I was teaching yoga at the montessori school, and the kids were all bouncing off the walls wanting to know the animals of their birth years before we started. But by the end of it, those kids were totally zenned out, and the teachers were all like, 'Can you come make them be like this every day?'” You're awesome, we get it, can we please do yoga now? “In honor of it being the Chinese New Year, we're going to do some 'Chinese yoga' – chi-gong.” Damnit, I did chi-gong with my dad once. It was weird, and I hated it. (I'm so open to new experiences.) Grumble, grumble, stumble, stumble, what the heck, gah, I'm lost! We moved on to more traditional yoga. “Now if your heart is truly shining fully on the mirror and not down at the floor, go ahead and extend your arm skyward into triangle pose.” How the hell am I supposed to know if my heart's reflecting fully on the mirror? (Not exactly the kind of beginner's mind we're looking for.) Finally, having grumbled to myself and judged her and heatedly debated the merits of coming to her class again next week, proving that my heart was in fact shining straight out my ass, class ended. “The final pose is 'Chocolate.' It's on the chair, and it's dark, so it's good for you!” Well, maybe I passed judgment to quickly; perhaps I'll have to give her another try before I decide.
The following week I tried Pollyanna's Gentle Yoga class. Gah! It's so crowded in here! This is not relaxing. Why is she wearing a headset? Please tell me she's not going to use that mic while leading a yoga class. I mean, it's not aerobics! She is going to wear it. That is not soothing. But she is very friendly. That's nice at least. And super positive. That's good too. And perky. It's too damn early for her to be that perky. She's like the yoga-instructor equivalent of the ship's computer on Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: “Guys, I'm delighted to tell you that there are two thermonuclear missiles headed right for us!” Yay!
Next up: Basic Pilates, thirty minutes, very beginner level. Or so it was described. Ten minutes went by, no instructor. Finally, Merriam arrived, announcing she was subbing for the regular teacher. I shuddered a little. I hated having subs in grade school because even at a young age I judged the substitute teachers to be incompetent for never knowing what was going on and making us do lots of dumb busy work. Apparently, I hadn't shaken my youthful prejudices. “Do people from cycling usually come straight over to this class? When does this class end? I don't usually do this, I'm filling in as a favor.” Everyone in the class explained that either they hadn't been to this class in months or ever. We all looked like it too. This suggested to Merriam that the best approach was to skip a warm up and launch into full-on workout mode, kicking our asses with only the vaguest of instructions and no suggestions for beginners or pointers on how to avoid hurting your back. Really? My pilates DVD I do at home gives me better guidance. At least I can cuss at Burr while doing her Bar Method video. And Burr always gives me modifications from afar, “If you have a weak back, watch Tiffany. She's just had a baby so she'll be demonstrating modifications and could have 10 more kids and still be skinnier than you were in high school.” Even though I look like I just ate her 10 babies, at least I'm not going to hurt myself. Merriam's bad instructions made me so mad that immediately after class I bought a pint of Ben and Jerry's, and using a plastic spoon from the stash I keep in the glove compartment for just this purpose, I ate the whole thing while accidentally leaning on the horn every so often and startling myself and everyone else in the parking lot. Epic fail.
Having run out of options, I went back to Dianne's class. She began, bragging I thought, “I've developed such great body control through my practice that when my instructor told me to stretch deeper, I made myself pop a rib out of joint.” Woman, what is up with your ego? “I was so cranky during the months of waiting to heal enough to return to my yoga practice, I drove my husband crazy. He likes to joke that yoga is a cult that sucks you in.” And then I realized that it had been three years since I'd last been to a yoga class and how out of touch with myself I felt and how much happier I'd been when I was practicing regularly, and I forgot to judge her. Taking a deep lavender-scented breath, I finally realized that indeed my heart was shining fully on the mirror. And just like that, the cranky critic in my brain disappareared, and I, just like her montessori kids, totally zenned out. Finally, I was calm and quiet and peaceful again. Finally, I felt so in touch with my inner self after so long away that I got a little teary-eyed.
Three years ago, a yogic free spirit I once knew went skinny-dipping in the salt marshes of Manteo, North Carolina, inner and outer critics be damned. It was the first dawn of spring, and she was celebrating the cyclical rebirth of herself and the world. Thank the moon cycles and the Chinese zodiac and yoga cult leaders bearing lavender oil and dark chocolate – I've remembered that woman was and is me.