Call me Yoga Bear

Yoga

Remember around this time last summer when I published that handy guide on how to make it look like you’re exercising without actually having to do anything?  Apparently I didn’t either, because I went to my first ever yoga class this week.  (Not counting those trial classes of Bikram yoga I took three years ago. That was less about exercising and more about not dying from a heart attack, heat stroke, or the stifling stench of hipster B.O.)

Besides, this yoga class was free!

As it happens, I’m away for an opera gig for the next three weeks. One of the perks of this particular contract (apart from getting to stay in a fabulous estate on Martha’s Vineyard) is a free gym membership. So despite my hated of all things exercise, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity. Because honestly, the only thing I hate more than exercise is turning down free stuff.

I chose yoga class because I already own a mat with matching bag (both of which have been languishing in the trunk of my car for the last eight months) and I thought it was high time I got some use out of them.  Also, because my only other option was to hop on an elliptical machine for an hour, which usually ends with me becoming so engrossed in watching my fellow gym-goers or a Maury Povich marathon on TV, that twenty minutes will go by before I realize my legs have stopped moving.

So I went to yoga. It had a fancier name, but I don’t remember what it was called. I only know of two types of yoga anyway: the unbearably hot, imminent death-inducing kind, and regular. This was regular yoga.

As expected, I fell down a lot.

The instructor’s name was Sian.  Not Sean or Shawn, but SheAhn.  She was lovely, and British and impossibly flexible with wild hair and lots of tattoos – the epitome of cool.

The way I see it, if your parents name you Sian, there are only two possible career paths open to you: yoga instructor or massage therapist…possibly a nutritionist or an herbalist or a life coach, but you’re for sure going to be working in the health and wellness sector.

Sian had us put our mats in a circle so we could make eye contact with one another, and so no one (namely me) could hide in the back.

I placed my mat next to an elderly woman we’ll call Agnes.  I’d put Agnes at about eighty-three years old, roughly 5’7 and 160-170lbs. Compared to all the other toned, tanned, middle-aged women (and one dude) in the class, I felt my chances of looking like an idiot would be somewhat diminished if I sat next to someone who was both elderly and probably at least a little bit infirmed.

The class started and Agnes gave me an encouraging smile. I smiled back and before I knew it, I was ass-up in child’s pose, breathing loudly through my nose as per Sian’s instructions. I tried to quiet my mind and focus on my breath, but I couldn’t seem to shut off my inner monologue.

What the hell am I doing here? Everyone else looks like they’re a professional yogi and I’m wearing sweat pants and an old t-shirt. If I’m going to keep doing this, I should go to Lulu Lemon and buy some proper yoga clothes. I also should have gone to the bathroom on my way to class. I wonder if that hot guy will still be in the weight room when class is over? I’m really glad I remembered to put on make-up before I left the house. Man, I could go for a grilled ham and cheese sandwich right now.  Oh crap, everyone else is standing up. Get up, you mouth-breathing mongoloid!

My inner monologue can be kind of a bitch sometimes.

On top of that, I kept getting distracted by the smears of make-up and sunscreen staining my pristine new mat. I tried to wipe them away as discreetly as possible, but I didn’t have a towel or anything, so the only cloth at my disposal was my black sweatpants, which was infinitely worse.

Note to self: Wearing zinc-based sunscreen and a full face of makeup to the gym was not your best idea ever.

As the class progressed it became increasingly clear I was out of my depth. I had to take a knee, or drop into child’s pose – the yogic equivalent thereof, several times. Sian was very understanding and encouraged everyone to work at their own pace, though for most people it meant contorting their bodies into even more frightening positions in order to ‘increase the stretch.’

When we got to side planks my arm was shaking so violently I fell down. Twice. As I lay panting on my still trembling forearm, I noticed Agnes’ arm was solid as a rock. A rock with a lot of underarm flab, perhaps, but a rock nonetheless. I couldn’t help but be impressed and I silently cheered her on as I hoisted myself back up and moved into downward dog pose.

Then Sian instructed us to move into three-legged dog, which is basically regular downward dog with one leg in the air, knee bent like you’re about to take a leak on a giant invisible fire hydrant. Feel the stretch as the hip joint opens. But all I felt was hot, tired, and a little bit ridiculous. There we were, an entire room of adult women (and one dude) bent over with their legs in the air. I wondered idly if three-legged dog was a real yoga pose at all and not just some inside joke known only to yoga instructors that they trot out whenever class starts to get dull.

My musings were put to an abrupt end when Sian moved from three-legged dog to standing split, which looks exactly like it sounds – one leg straight on the ground, while the other is stuck straight up in the air…or hanging limping at an eighty-degree angle if you’re me.

Agnes couldn’t do it either.

We moved on to some standing poses after that and my confidence grew. It’s a lot harder to fall down with both feet on the ground.

I was bent over in a wide stance, my finger tips barely touching my mat and my head hanging between my legs, giving me a clear (though upside down) view of Agnes, who was in the same position except her head and forearms were resting gently on the floor.  I watched in horror as she braced her arms beside her head and slowly lifted her legs into the air until she was standing on her head. THEN rather than falling to her knees to come out of it like a normal person, she flipped her legs in the other direction, dropping into a back bend.

Bitch did a headstand AND a back bend! At eighty-three! I can’t even touch my toes! While I was hunched over on my mat in a sloppy semblance of child’s pose, head turned to the side so as not to drown in a pool of my own sunscreen-tinted sweat, there was Agnes, upside down, smirking at me, like the back-stabbing bitch that she is.

I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so betrayed.

I left class in a bit of a snit that day. But I was determined to go back and show that Agnes a thing or two.  So the next morning I dragged myself out of bed and, despite the fact that all of my muscles were screaming in pain, I made my way to class.

This was a different type of yoga. I think it was called Kripalu, which, roughly translated, means you will walk with a limp tomorrow.

The instructor for this class was a woman named Jennifer. Her teaching style was very different from Sian’s. Where Sian was badass, Jennifer was gentle. In Sian’s class the music ranged from Tuvan throat singing to “Purple Rain” while Jennifer seemed to prefer mostly repetitive, new age, chant-like tunes.

Jennifer’s class, while by no means easy, was definitely more my speed. Which is to say, slow. I fell down a lot less in her class. Make no mistake; I still fell down during side planks, just not quite as often.

Agnes wasn’t in this class so I couldn’t flaunt my vast improvements, which was a shame.

Even without Agnes the showoff, there were still plenty of opportunities for me to feel ridiculous in class. For instance, Jennifer had us do this weird breathing exercise where you take a deep breath and on the exhalation you stick your tongue out and open your eyes really wide. She called it a lion’s breath.

lion's breath yoga

 

 

 

 

 

 

I call it a Gene Simmons.

kiss-gene-simmons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then she gave us five minutes of free play at the end of class, or as she explained it, time to explore the ways in which your body wants to move. Then we took a ten-minute shavasana. (Which, for all you non-yoga folks, basically means naptime.) I felt like I was in kindergarten again. It was pretty awesome.

I still think I prefer Sian’s class though. She’s much more straightforward. Apart from letting us know which pose came next and how to move your body to get into said pose, Sian didn’t talk much. Sometimes she would get us into a pose and leave the room for a few minutes, whereas Jennifer gave almost nonstop encouragement and instruction.  Things like…

Let’s be in conversation with our hamstrings.  

Explore and honor each life-giving breath.

Allow your mind to focus on the space between the thoughts.

She also had an annoying habit of describing the various poses without using any articles or pronouns.

Head floats above shoulders. Shoulders float above hips. Hands press to earth.

How am I supposed to talk to my hamstrings, honor my breath and focus on the space between my thoughts when I can’t stop mentally correcting her grammar?

This is why I don’t think I’ll ever be good at yoga. I really do want to become stronger and more flexible, but I fear the spiritual aspect may be beyond my reach. For me, turning off the mind and observing without judgment is even harder than side planks.

I’ll try again tomorrow though. I’m far too stubborn to let an improbably flexible octogenarian or an undisciplined mind get the better of me. Well, that, and it’s free.

Fake it til you make it: An alternative to exercise

I’ve recently developed a new and rather unfortunate habit. No, ma, I’m not on drugs. It’s much more benign than that. Though I do think this idea has potential to spread and become almost as trendy as a Molly addiction.

I’ve taken to walking around New York City dressed in yoga pants, stretchy tops or baggy sweatshirts and sneakers, whilst carrying a yoga bag. It’s a great look whether you’re going to lunch, out shopping (my yoga bag has a perfect sized pocket for your phone and wallet – which is the same thing if you’re me), or just sitting in a cafe writing a blog like I’m doing right now. I suppose it would also work if you were going to yoga, but I wouldn’t know as I’ve never been to a yoga class.*

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[See what I mean about the cell phone wallet? Highly convenient way to have all your important shit lost or stolen at once.]

I know what all my mom friends are thinking right now. Um…Sarah, you’re not the first person to walk around in yoga pants all day, every day. I’ve been doing it for the past six years. To which I say, that’s true. BUT do you carry around a yoga bag? Because the bag is key. That’s the part that makes people think you’re actually exercising. If all you’re carrying around is a kid (and the myriad accessories that go with kids) then everyone already knows that you barely have time to shower daily, never mind attend yoga class.

I got the idea a couple of weeks ago on the way to a gig.

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A friend asked me to sing in an operatic flash mob at his cousin’s gay wedding and I wasn’t about to turn down that gig. I would’ve done it anyway because I really love this friend and I was delighted to help make his cousin’ special day extra special, but seriously, what thinking person passes up the opportunity to sing in an operatic flash mob at a gay wedding? In the park. On a gorgeous summer evening.

No one, that’s who.

Especially when I learned that I’d be doing it in yoga pants.

The grooms thought it would look more realistic if the singers were dressed as random people in the park, rather than wedding guests who just spontaneously start singing. I completely agreed and was happy to go incognito.

We were performing the famous ‘Brindisi’ from La Traviata. For those of you who aren’t opera-philes, you can listen to it here:

[For my opera-loving friends, I chose this particular video solely because it was the first one to come up when I searched for ‘libiamo’ on YouTube and I didn’t feel like taking the time to search for the perfect example. Feel free to post links to better videos in the comments section. Though I do really like Matthew Polenzani.]

Our tenor was dressed as a waiter. He mingled amongst the crowd carrying a tray, picking up wine glasses at the champagne reception before the ceremony was set to begin. Because there was already music playing, no one thought twice when the intro to ‘Libiamo’ started. However, people did notice when he whipped out a microphone and started singing. They were totally surprised and it was awesome.

Then I walked up in full yoga attire, bag and all, and blended into the crowd that had assembled during the tenor’s solo. At the appropriate moment, I broke away from the crowd, walked to the center of the assembly (they were getting married in the round) and grabbed the mic from the tenor just in time to bust out with my verse. The crowd ate it up like breakfast. The grooms were happy and I had a blast. Everyone wins.

Because the wedding was on a Friday evening, I had to wear my yoga gear to work that day. I mean, I suppose I could’ve changed into my workout clothes at the office, but where’s the fun in that? I had to walk around with my yoga bag as well.

And let me tell you, I wielded that squishy, cylindrical bag like a broadsword all day long.

During my morning commute it was jostled by irate passengers on the overcrowded train, but I could tell that they were just jealous of the fact that I was able to cram a wonderfully meditative workout into my already busy schedule.

After getting off the subway, I walked across Central Park South looking as though I’d just completed a morning yoga sesh in the park. I even bought a green juice from the juice cart guy to complete the look.

By the time I reached my office building, no one could be in question of my supreme yoga abilities. Because there’s a yoga studio on the 10th floor of my building, everyone naturally assumed that’s where I was headed. (For the record, I can barely touch my toes, but they don’t know that. And therein lies the difference.)

I know what you’re thinking. Sarah, if there’s a yoga studio directly above your office, why don’t you get off your ass and do some friggin’ yoga? I thought about it. I even looked into it, briefly. But because I work on the Upper East side of Manhattan and everything is ridiculously expensive there, a membership at this particular ‘wellness center’ costs over $1200 a month! Thanks, but no.

I was alone in the office that day, so unfortunately no one got to bask in the glow of my totally centered, yogic excellence, but that’s okay because I brought my yoga bag with me when I went out to make the daily bank deposit, so at least the employees at Bank of America got to enjoy it.

That evening, before getting on the subway to go to the wedding, I put on some extra blush and lip gloss so I’d have that flushed, dewy, fresh from class look.

After the wedding I was feeling so pumped I thought I might actually wander into a random yoga studio and drop in on a class. Hell, at that point I figured I could probably teach the class!

But instead, I got back on the subway and headed home.

On the train, I locked eyes with a woman carrying a yoga bag just like mine, except hers was olive green. We exchanged a knowing look; the kind that only fellow yoga impostors can understand.

Unless of course, she really was coming from yoga. In which case, fuck her.

Seriously though, I don’t know how people find the time and energy to exercise. I got exhausted by simply pretending to exercise. In my defense, that bag did get kind of heavy after a while. I’m really glad I opted not to cram my laptop in there. I thought about it. And it did fit, but the shape would’ve been a dead giveaway, so I left it at home.

Anyway, despite the fact that there are no tangible health benefits from my fake it til you make it method, I think I still prefer it to the real deal.

Unlike actual exercise, you’ll notice the benefits almost immediately:

– You get to walk around in wicked comfortable workout clothes, without all the sweatiness and odor typically associated with exercise.

– People will perceive you as a health nut or a gym rat and you’ll get to feel the smug sense of superiority which I assume real healthy people get to feel all the time – without lifting a finger!

– You can cram a surprising amount of crap into a yoga bag (especially if you take the mat out) and no one will think to rob you because who the hell wants to steal somebody’s sweaty, germ-covered yoga mat?

So until I find an exercise regimen that doesn’t make me want to kill myself, I’m gonna keep faking it. Maybe I’ll try jazzercise or some type of martial art. I have been called a ninja on more than one occasion…

I’ll have a think on that. Maybe pop ‘exercise for lazy people’ into the Googler and see what comes up. If you have any ideas, by all means, leave them in the comments section.

Whelp, I’d better be off or I’ll be late for “class.”

Later, taters!

[*I did try Bikram yoga a few years ago. There’s a studio in my neighborhood that offered an unlimited 7-day trial for $20. I went twice. I won’t bother writing about it because this guy already did. His account pretty much sums up my experience except my instructor was an impossibly thin hipster named Mat with one ‘T’ (I wish I could be kidding about that) and I didn’t meet my future ex-husband in class. You should take a minute to read it, it’s hilarious.]