It relieves stress.It helps you relax and focus. Madonna is doing it. Yoga, the latest hip and happening West Coast pastime. But I confess, it also has, for me at least, a feeling like going to opera- standing in line waiting for a ticket and wondering why I am spending so much money pretending I enjoy something I merely endure. And yoga, like opera, is a group thing: I keep trying to psyche myself up by telling people how much I love it-only to realize how deep-down bored I am by it.
So why bother? This time, it’s doctor’s orders. Yoga may be the only legitimate way for me to deal with my recurring back problems.
A yoga pamphlet promises to expose me to a 5,000-year-old practice that will improve my mind, body and spirit. I am leery. I am reminded of a story I heard from my writer friend, Jane. She worked for a New Age magazine called Healing the World, or some such excessive title of that ilk. Although the magazine masquerades as New Age, in reality it is devoted to preserving good old-fashioned Christian values. The editor once refused to run Jane’s yoga article declaring it to be Hindu worship.
After several coffee sessions with yoga enthusiasts in my social circle, I decide on Denman Fitness. When I ask for details over the phone, the receptionist tells me that if I hurry I may be able to catch one of their most popular classes, starting in 12 minutes. I arrive in a flurry, whip out my Visa Gold, race downstairs to the change room and then hurry to find the class.
It’s in a large, fully mirrored exercise room lit by tea candles. I discreetly choose a spot in the corner of the room and watch the yoga participants as they unfurl mats and set up their foam blocks, cushions and blankets.
The class is called Yoga Flow 2. People who attend are so focussed that they seem to be in prayer. I am inspired. The instructor lights more tea candles and the room suddenly becomes crowded with yet more people on mats. I feel as if I am in a mosque during Ramadan. I make a silent promise to avoid clock watching during the session.
I am ready to surrender, eager to eliminate the endless intrusive flow of mind chatter. Underlying Hindu yoga theory is the understanding that the human being is more than the physical body and that through the course of discipline, practitioners discover their true identity, a transcendental Self which is eternal and inherently blissful.
As the instructor begins her opening pose, a handsome man, maybe 35, stakes out his territory five feet in front of my mat. He’s a complete stud.
“Breathe deep,” says the soothing voice of the instructor. “When you inhale, I want you to let your tummy expand.” I try not to study Yoga Stud’s face, but I am drawn to his dark eyelashes and heavy dark eyebrows. He is roughly my height, five-foot-11, and ruggedly handsome in a mountain-climber way. When he removes his sweatshirt, his T-shirt rides up and my eyes travel to his naked stomach, with its small outcrop of hair that thickens as it leads to the pubic area.
Breathe deep,” the instructor reminds us. “Let go of all the toxins. Expel them from your body.” I expel the toxins, mimicking my instructor’s yoga poses, but I cannot excoriate my, well, my carnal thoughts. I try to replace those intrusive carnal thoughts with physical ones.
“Fill your stomach cavity with air; yes, that’s right; now your chest, and breathe out slowly.”
Yoga Stud is stretching, moving effortlessly from one pose to the next. He is a tiny element in a universe cosmically interconnected. As a compromise, I decide to assign him to my peripheral vision and look over his shoulder towards my instructor.
Some 40 minutes later I’m enjoying the way my body flows into the warrior pose.
I take note of others in the class, like the pear-shaped woman in the white lycra. Then my mind travels to the grey skies flirting with the rain clouds. But then I remember that this stupid bitch from Aires Productions promised to give me an answer on my film proposal over a week ago-and I am craving a cinnamon bun. Is this what they describe as attention-deficit disorder or am I really involved in a boring activity?
Forget the cinnamon bun.
Forget Aires Productions. I breathe deeper and expel more toxins.
My busy thought traffic eventually becomes unblocked and my mind slowly gives way to Yoga Transplendence. I am deeply focussed. I am starting to get it.
“Put your left foot behind your back.”
I observe myself in the mirror trying to master this pretzel pose. Much to my surprise, I see Yoga Stud staring at me. Our eyes lock for a nano-second. I don’t want to give the impression of leering and turn away first-a personal victory.
I am even more determined to refocus-on yoga. Anything else is an unworthy distraction. The instructor’s melodious voice guides me gently through a variety of new positions I never thought possible. Her poetic imagery is uplifting; she speaks of flowing rivers and sunny days sitting underneath a cascading waterfall. My body and mind are finally at one: no more intrusive thoughts, no more back discomfort.
“Reach up higher! That’s right! And again! Let the hot waves pour through your body.” I find myself wanting these moments to last.
The class is nearing the end and I have barely noticed the clock. We are instructed to spend the last 10 minutes under a blanket to experience the universe together in silence. I am sleepy. I have my first public nap since kindergarten. The instructor’s soothing voice awakens me. There is no mind traffic; I am wonderfully serene.
As I roll up my mat and collect my foam blocks, Yoga Stud turns to me and smiles-another cosmic connection. Not wanting to seem too eager, I shyly return his smile and walk away to return my yoga equipment.
Moments later, I bump into an old friend from the film world, someone with whom I have shared many laughs. We chat about the slow moving nature of our respective film projects and plan a future unspecified coffee date. As I turn toward the glass doors, I notice Yoga Stud pacing down Comox St.
I am severely pissed. I have no wish to clutter my mind with things I cannot control.
But I’ve let an opportunity to connect with someone pass for no good reason. I vow to return again and seize the moment next time. Yes, I too have found yoga-at least for another week.
* Steve Rosenberg is a Vancouver filmmaker and radio host.