Thursday, October 1, 2009


"You can enter yoga, or the path of yoga, only when you are totally frustrated with your own mind as it is. If you are still hoping that you can gain something through your mind, yoga is not for you." - Osho

I had planned to join the "beginners" yoga class at our center some time ago, but never quite got there. I snuck into the Hiatha class several times earlier this year, a course for intermediate and advanced students, but felt I was inviting bad karma every time I did. Skulking into the room, mat beneath my arm, and padding across the glossy hardwood floor I felt as if I were slipping into a Kenny G video. Mood lighting, mirrors, New Age music, and men with long hair pulled back into sensitive pony tails ... made me feel as if I were an interloper.

In short, I felt guilty for skipping the beginning class.

So today I asked a fellow climber, Steph, to come to beginners yoga with me. She's an advanced student, but supports Project Up with great enthusiasm. We embarked on this new aspect of P'UP together, slipping into the class like amateur ninjas. Our instructor, Basil (not his real name), informed us of his background as we set up our mats. He explained that he had worked as a professor before taking leave to study at an ashram in Southern California - a militant ashram with a yogi that smacked students with sticks whenever their posture was imperfect.

"I won't hit you," he said, "but I may help you into position."

Not welcoming the contact with Mr. Basil Wheatgrass (still not his real name), I soldiered on anyway. As we worked with "sun salutations," he noted Steph's perfect yoga form. "Oh you don't need this," he said. "You've done this before."

Face to the matt, I muttered to Steph, "Show off," and giggled.

That's when Mr. Basil Berkinstock Wheatgrass III announced, "We have a clown over here."

In retrospect, this should have been my cue to slip out. Unfortunately, we were in planks. Well, Steph was a plank. I was a warped board. After noting her perfect form Mr. B.B. Wheatgrass III told the rest of the class that her grace and form was a matter of Yoga practice, and that we could look forward to someday achieving this perfection.

"It's not like she's a gymnast or something," he said, pacing.

Steph, ever honest, interrupted. "Uh, actually I was."

"Oh barf!" I whispered.

"Oh you were?" he said, "Well, nevermind that then."

After informing us that he had trouble with his own balance postures thanks to a head injury (I guess his yogi beat him about the head and shoulders), B.B. WheatShizzle 3 instructed us into the "downward dog" position. As we remained in this prostrate position, he ordered us to look at our bellybuttons.

I looked, but my pendulous orbs, my National Geographic-esque woman flaps, obscured my view. B.B. Yoga King stood beside me to adjust my position, pushing at my back and my head. I felt as if he were rubbing my downward dog's nose in the matt for having an accident. And then there was the fear of imminent suffocation as my flappage sort of melted toward my face, pouring with a molasses grace and pooling on my chin.

"Remember to keep breathing," he said.

"Okayphmmphh," I replied, muffled by mammary excess.

Just before I lost consciousness, B.B. Yogi Barbaric had us switch into an eagle pose, getting out first taste of human pretzeling while laying on a matt. He then asked us to find a wall for balance to try the difficult posture standing up. Trouble was, there wasn't much wall space left for Steph and I. So we ended up with our butts flat against the glass wall separating "the studio" from the rest of the gym, overlooking the climbing wall.

Ass on glass, Steph formed the perfect eagle. My interpretation looked more like an epileptic, one-winged duck. As we finished our session in the contemplative "corpse" position, lying face up on the floor, arms loose at our sides and palms up, B.B. Gunnery Sgt. Wheatgrass covered our faces with soft white towels. As he hovered above Steph, I heard him say something softly to her. As he hovered above me, I felt his hands grab my shoulders and press them firmly to the floor.

"Shoulders down!" he commanded. As I felt the balls of my shoulders resist him, I suddenly smelled cloves, oranges, and cinnamon. He had dropped "essential oils" on our towels to help us with our meditations. Kinda cool, except I have a mild allergy to clove oil and he had applied it far too liberally. The oil ran from my forehead down my face and pooled on my neck. At first I thought, wow, it's like autumn on my face! But then the familiar burn of clove irritated my skin.

I was a corpse on the floor, smelling like autumn, and pretty much on fire.

Though I appreciated his intentions, and found his approach very interesting, I wasn't so sure I'd be going back to his class. And it's not because Steph is awesome, or because I got labeled "class clown" on my first day of yoga school. He was simply not the instructor for me. I could feel that. Our chakras sort of bunched up in the middle and collided, like a bad karma super conductor.

When going to ashrams and searching for a meditative teacher, many Buddhist monks claim that you will know your teacher when you meet him or her. The sky won't open and a beam of God's wisdom won't rain down on your head. You'll just feel it. I'm going to try the Hiatha class again on Monday, just because I feel that I can. I'm allowed to choose. I liked that instructor. She never pushed me into the floor or gave me chemical burns ... and that has to count for something, right?

At home, as entered the house, my daughter told me I smelled good. "New perfume?" she asked.

"Nope," I replied, "yoga class."

"Wow," she said. "Yoga smells like pie."


  1. Erica,

    I have been to many yoga classes over the years and have found that the instructor does make a difference in your practice. I've had the same discouraging experience with a teacher's constant criticism and made to feel like I was made an example of what not to do. Sometimes I challenged myself to go back to these classes another time to see if maybe I was having a "personal" day or if it really was a teacher I didn't like. My now favorite teacher (who teaches the only class I go to on a consistent basis) pissed me off like this quite a few times before him and I finally started to jive. He still gets me quite frustrated and kicks my yoga butt quite often, but I always know his intentions are for me to become better in my practice.

    Downward Dog is one of the hardest postures for me even though it is the one I have done most frequently through the years. It's frustrating that I never seem to do it right. What I have found in yoga though is that each posture is unique and some of them I do better than others. What's interesting is that some of the ones I do not so well other people do really well and that same person will do some of the ones I do well not that well.

    Yoga is a unique challenge. It has taught me the lesson to have patience and acceptance with myself for what I can and can't do. I have also learned that yoga is not a prideful or competitive sport but in every yoga practice I am working on not feeling that way.

    I hope you find a class and teacher where you can explore these aspects of yoga and find enjoyment in its challenges and benefits.

  2. Don't get me wrong: I loved the personal challenge. It was just fun to tease Steph - she and I both felt the dude was ... complicated. I'll continue with yoga to increase joint and tendon health. As Adam predicted, the elbow soreness has kicked in, so I've scaled back my climbing time and have focused on just yoga at home (practice, practice, practice), my Wii fun, and walking. I won't climb again until Wednesday, but I'm hoping to have a good day of it.


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