Friday, April 1, 2011

Downward-Facing Dingo

Inhale. The room is hot and smells faintly of cedar. I'm surrounded by attractive women but I can't look at them because I'm holding my torso an inch off the floor. My arms quiver.

Exhale. A bead of sweat slides down my forehead. Meanwhile the women stretch in fluid movements. None of them are wearing much clothing, and nobody pays me much attention.

This isn't a vision of purgatory. This is my first yoga class.

My colleague Mary is an instructor at CorePower Yoga. I'd been too busy for her intro class for months. But today my evening was open, and she knew that as she walked toward me.

"You're coming to my yoga class tonight." A statement, not a question.
"But I'm a guy." My last defense.
"See you tonight," she said.

Yoga? I center my spirit hiking along Lake Superior or watching the sun set on the Mississippi. To me yoga conjured trendy Lululemon apparel, Kashi cereal, and aluminum SIGG bottles -- not the scene for a guy whose big weekly purchase is a pound of Fair Trade coffee.

But I trusted Mary. I decided to trust yoga.

Inhale. Now we begin the poses in silence: downward-facing dog, upward-facing dog, high plank, low plank, warrior I and warrior II. Lunge, stretch, lunge, stand. Exhale. Another bead of sweat falls to the mat.

"Focus on your breathing." Mary steps beside me. "Listen to your body."

Sitting on my knees, I lean forward into Child's pose, my forehead touching the mat. Inhale. My legs respond, immediate and searing, a blowtorch to my kneecaps. I weigh my options: fake the stretch or be patient with the discomfort.

Then Mary pushes my lower back, extending my arms further forward. I grit my teeth. The idea dawns that as Zen's Beginner's Mind opens one to inward discovery, Child's pose is teaching my muscles to begin again, to expand, to release memories of constriction. The pain recedes while I listen to it. Exhale.

Moving into Half Pigeon pose, my nose over my knee, a sense of sacredness like the warm tone of a singing bowl spreads outward from my chest.

And I slip into the groove.

Inhale. My poses no longer seem awkward. I forget my classmates and release my worries. Stretch, lunge, stand. Random thoughts drop away as the movement focuses my mind on the present. Exhale. Lunge, stretch, kneel.

Inhale. I lay on my mat as the lights dim. The class is over, my shirt soaked with sweat, my whole body at rest. I close my eyes. A line from the Bhagivad Gita rises in my mind like a wisp of steam: "A lamp does not flicker in a place where no winds blow."

Exhale. I open my eyes and smile.

Discover what I found at CorePower Yoga