But right now I have someone instructing me to do this every Tuesday night.
No, I'm not going for regular colonic cleansing, nor has my hind end grown so large it's obstructing traffic. What's going on is yoga. After years of putting off the mind-body journey to nirvana and beyond, I finally dropped $180 and signed up for a 12-week beginner's class. And one of the first things I learned about the ancient art of physical meditation is that moving your ass meat out of the way is an absolute must.
"Pull it at a diagonal angle," coos our rail-thin yoga mistress soon after class starts. And about 35 of us, sitting cross-legged, dutifully reach back and fondle our bliss-blocking butts into submission. We have to, she explains, otherwise our sacred bones will not enter into communion with the folded yoga blankets under us--and we really don't want that.
Yoga. I've long thought it to be the answer to combating stress and general jitteriness. For years, I've swooned as yoga-praticin' pals ranted about how in touch they are with natural biorhythms, whatever those are. I've watched Madonna talking about the ancient practice in interviews and wished my chi would loosen up and flow as freely as hers. So shortly after New Year's, I broke through the membrane and coughed up the cash. For two weeks now, I've been showing up at the yoga studio with the requisite loose-fitting clothes and bare feet. Sadly, what I'm getting in touch with so far is the fact that I'm way too grounded in earthly concerns to deeply connect with my Zen mind.
Take that ass-cheek command. This throws me every time--puts me straight in touch not with my inner wise sage but with my giggling inner 12-year-old. And when the instructor tells us to "pull your feet up to the midline of your body, or your perineum," that's a problem, too. Oooh, she said perineum.
With that kind of small-mindedness, I can't help but spend a big chunk of the class studying the yoga mistress--let's call her "Nova." Nova wears solid tank tops and black leggings, all of which meets my expectations. But she also sports a thick silver watch, which somehow seems . . . un-yoga. I had visions of a super-pure earth mother who was able to tell time by how shadows danced around her, even indoors. What a disappointment.
Also, I note that Nova's long, straight hair has a plethora of blond highlights. Sitting there with my feet pushed up to my perineum, the only thing I find myself meditating upon is the fact that my guide to self-actualization let such harsh chemicals that close to her being.
My mind then floats away from Nova and onto my cohorts. Many have such stylish sweatpants--the thin kind with wide legs. I know I'm supposed to now be immune to the desire for material possessions, but damn, I covet those pants?
Then my shallow head gets redirected to the décor. I'd imagined something along the lines of a colorfully carpeted opium den. I red, pillow-filled sanctuary would have done. Instead I'm seeking inner peace in what seems like a reconstituted insurance office, under lights that are fluorescent and bright rather than low and flickering. The class is crowded, and there is no incense, nor tinkling chimes. I really wanted chimes. And where's the babbling Zen fountain?
About five minutes into the class, Nova pierces my meandering meditations by telling us to get down on all fours like dogs and cats. "Be mindful about distributing your weight evenly to each limb," she instructs in a measured voice while padding around the room, her naked feet making sticky noises against the floor.
After battling my inner 12-year-old to be as mindful as possible in such a position, I lift my head and am shocked to find my face just a few feet from the prone butt of the person in front of me. I peer around at all these folks down on all fours and realize I was seeing them from an angle that's usually reserved for lovers and medical professionals. It appears to be a room full of people auditioning for a porn movie, or readying themselves for a group proctologic exam.
Nova has us lift one leg and extend it out behind us. That feels interesting and all, but mainly what I find fascinating is the callused foot that's now hovering just inches from my face. I wonder why this woman doesn't moisturize more, or maybe use a pumice stone, which only costs $3 or so. We hold this pose for so long, I'm able to memorize the swirly patterns in my classmate's dried pedal skin. I feel confident that, should the worst befall her at some time in the future, I could aid police in identifying her body.
Next, as we're sitting on our neatly folded blankets, Nova then tells us to place our feet flat on the ground and yank our toes as far away from each other as we can get them. This doesn't sit right with me. My toes really just want to be left where they are, especially toes three and four, which seem very fond of each other and don't take kindly to being separated. But Nova says this will further us along our journey toward perfect inner balance and that seems like a good thing, so I pull on my toes.
After three or four minutes, however, I realize the toe-yanking just furthered my journey toward the land of seizing muscles. When Nova puts us in warrior pose--standing erect with legs spread, knees bent, arms extended for battle--my right foot cramps up into a terrific and searing Charlie horse. I hop violently out of position, probably ruining my classmates' soldierlike composure.
Between painful, embarrassing poses--for which Nova has all these made-up-sounding names--we beginners are constantly criss-crossing the room to get blankets to sit on, wooden blocks to lean on, canvas ropes to use to hold our legs up in the air. Since the class is so crowded, we can't just leave all these accoutrements lying around when we're done with them; we have to promptly hop up and put them away. I wonder how one can attain bliss while doing so much traversing and arranging things on shelves. But then Keye Luke's voice materializes in my head, providing a new perspective. Perhaps, Grasshopper, you must find bliss in the traversing . . .
Maybe. But I don't think so.
Nova tells us it's time for what sounds like the "hummina-hummina-hummina" pose. We are guided into push-up position. From there, she tells us to take care to balance our hips just so because, after all, our pelvises are our largest "piece." (Piece?) "Stay in this push-up position," she instructs, "but now tighten your buttocks flesh and tuck it under."
My mind whisks immediately to my pal Cate on the mat behind me. I'm sure poor Cate didn't bank on having to look at my clenched ass when she signed up for this class. I'm sorry, Cate, I really am.
"Is your buttocks now passive or active?" a beaming Nora queries. "Anyone?"
Silence. I assume everyone is saying a silent prayer, like me. Oh dear Buddha, please let this embarrassing buttocks-squeezing end soon. Then one of the handful of guys in the class pipes up, "I think my buttocks is active."
"That's right!" Nova says like a delighted first-grade teacher. "Your buttocks is active. Now keep it active, and press your lower body down onto the mat. Yes! Can you feel your pubis pressing again the floor? My guess is you can."
Poor Cate is all I can think. Poor Cate. Look away, Cate . . .
Thank the goddesses Nova soon pulls us out of that position and has us standing in a more dignified pose. She tells us to place our backs against the wall, balancing on one leg while the other is bent, the airborne foot pushed up against the opposite thigh. Once we are situated in this position, we are to lift our hands into a praying position and stay there for a while. I should be focusing on enlightenment, but instead I sneak peeks around the room and note that we all looked like enigmatic praying statues, like one might find in the middle of the moist forests of Thailand. Then it happens: As if slipping off a moss-covered rock, I fall into a magical, dreamy state. I get tingly, and suddenly feel like I'm being transported up and out of the insurance office and into some sort of novice's nirvana. I smile inwardly and go with it, feeling tiny, corpulent angels massaging my innermost self.
But just as it gets really profound, Nova's sing-songy voice breaks through. Zenus interruptus. "Don't forget to support your head properly," she purrs. "It's your second-largest piece."
My head--just another "piece"? Talk about a buzz kill. I am hurled back to reality, to disturbing thoughts about my headpiece becoming disengaged and floating aimlessly off.
I manage to calm down just around the time Nova tells us to let our bellybuttons be our guide, and also to not "harden our eyes." I don't know what any of this means, but it sounds like good advice. Then she tells us to get into "child's pose," which involves positioning oneself face down on the floor in the fetal position and letting one's arms hang loosely by one's sides, as if one's been shot and dumped into a corner. I do this, but so much blood rushes to my headpiece, I feel like my eyes are filling and the vessels are about to burst. Either that or I'll pass out--which I've never done before. And what then? Oh, poor Cate . . .
But the next thing I know, Nova says class is nearly over and thus it is time to get into "corpse pose." This means lying there and doing the basic things associated with death, like closing our eyes, completely relaxing all muscles, letting our jaws go slack. Then Nova gets really psychedelic and tells us to let our eyeballs "sink to the back of our heads" and allow our brain matter "to fall back until it touches the skull cap." This is really more alarming than relaxing--yoga as a William Burroughs novel.
When naptime is over, Nova cautions us against sitting bolt upright because that would be too jarring. Instead, we roll slowly onto our right sides and lay there until we're ready to use our arms to raise ourselves. When my classmates eventually reach the upright and locked position, it looks like the morning after a huge slumber party. Everyone's hair is askew, their bleary eyes radiating a satisfied drowsiness. I feel like I know what each of these strangers looks like first thing in the morning.
Class dismissed. After I've properly stacked my blankets, I find I'm giddy as hell. I want to poke Cate in the ribs and giggle and guffaw like a drunken old man. But in the changing room everyone acts reverent. I hold my chortling until we don our coats and reach the street.
Cate is in the same state. We walk together back to our adjacent neighborhoods, goofing like teenagers, tripping and floating on cumulo nimbi.
Maybe, despite all my immaturity and inability to think about much besides sweatpants procurement and quivering butts, yoga is breaking through and having its way with me.
Goodbye, rigid chi.
Exit Stage Fright (2/26/2003)
Editor's note: With this installment we bid adieu to Germ Bag.
Cabin Pressure (2/12/2003)
Escape -- you might think it's what you desire. Until you've actually run somewhere.
New Traditionalists (1/8/2003)
It was Christmas Eve morning on Harvard Street. Marty and I sat on the hardwood floor near our...
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