Yoga with a heart full of hate

I often walk in to yoga with a 50-something woman who has glommed onto me. I am flypaper.

Into a sanctuary of quiet, she arrives most nights complaining, in full volume, about the parking. She does not take my cue to whisper. She does not seem to get yoga.

This time, we run into each other outside before class, in the outer regions of the parking lot. It is far, but it’s on the highest hill in the area, the view is vast, and the moon is almost full.

“Could we park any farther away from the building?” she says.

“We are at the gym for exercise,” I say.

She talks about her dogs and her husband and the yacht club (it’s that kind of town), but it isn’t until the moment before we enter the hushed yoga studio that she asks a most penetrating question.

“I’ve noticed a lot more minorities at the gym lately. Have you?”

Just in case you were wondering, this is said not in a way that celebrates diversity at our local Y, but in the most disparaging way possible.

I am floored. I answer honestly, but inadequately.

“No, I have not noticed that.”

With that, we enter the studio where I unroll my mat as far away from her as possible and spend the class seething, mulling what I might have said.

“Do you have a problem with minorities?” “Are the minorities taking your parking spot by the door?” “I sure hope the minorities aren’t clamoring to get in your bastion-of-white-people yacht club.” “I think you are an ignorant b—.”

I realize then that this is Rick Santorum’s choir. She probably prays for Rick Perry. She will settle for Mitt Romney if she must.

I let it go while I unwind on the mat, but I hope to continue our conversation next week when I will enlighten her about race, diversity, and harmony as we make the long walk back to our cars—before I get in mine and run her off the road.

Pretzling in the White Mountains

Every Columbus Day, my friends and I drive to the White Mountains to twist ourselves into pretzels. Yoga and hiking dominate our annual retreat, and on the hikes at lesat, hats are generally involved. It’s rained on our hikes, even hailed; this year, I couldn’t strip off enough layers and contemplated plunging into the cold river.

We did yoga in the morning, chowed on breakfast, hiked, collapsed, did restorative yoga, ate dinner, read, and hit the sack at a luxuriously early time. We’re always a smidge late for the foliage, but this year, we were a smidge too early; or the rainy season has thrown the trees off their schedule. But the views weren’t too tough to take.

This hike was so strenuous, I barely made the .9 portion before turning back and opting to lounge in the sun with a book about an owl, which seriously, was riveting and a lot easier on the calves.

Barely an hour into our first night, and safely ensconced in the dining hall of the AMC Highland Lodge, we were up and out of our chairs, pressed to the window to watch a black bear ambling by. Its dark furry coat and tan snout was quintessential teddy bear. Two arriving yogis outside, unaware of the bear 20 feet away, thought those of us at the window were waving hello, leading us to invent the universal sign for “bear” (hands raised like claws while snarling).

Yoga diagnosis

I’m twisting myself into an ampersand in yoga using an uninspiring metal folding chair as a prop and think I’m doing pretty well until the soft-spoken instructor places a hand on my arm and says, “You might actually want to twist the other way,” which explains why I’m facing the entire class.

By the next move, I’m twisting the other way, until he comes back and smiles. “How did you manage to get twisted around again?” he says.

“I have no idea,” I say, making some effort to right myself, but still unclear on exactly how to do that.

Let's pretend the pose was complicated like this.

After class, I’m rolling up my map and tossing my blocks in the bin all relaxed despite my preference for doing things backwards, when he says, grinning, “You have quite a case of yoga dyslexia.”

I like this, because yoga teachers usually aren’t sarcastic, but I must look alarmed, because he says, “It’s OK,” nodding toward another yogi. “That guy has it too.”

The Summer Day

During a yoga retreat this fall, the instructor read us a Mary Oliver poem during savasana, which, when you think about it, might be the best time to receive a poem. In a relaxed, supine position, you can let a poem wash over you and consider it in a way that is not academic; you can simply experience it. I especially love that the theme is partly about summer, a blissful season. Even the word suggests a certain sparkle and warmth and sunshine. So, on this especially cold day of winter, I give you a taste of summer.

The Summer Day

by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

So readers, what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Will you kneel down in the grass, stroll through the fields, or snap your wings open? Will you take a chance, write your own poem, or enjoy each moment for what it is: a moment?

Please stop

You know what’s ridiculous? Applauding after a yoga class. I enjoy the occasional hatha yoga class at the gym, but I don’t see the purpose of congratulating ourselves for making it through a class of contemplative stretching. The whole enterprise is be a quiet one, so why treat it like it’s an aerobics class and whoop it up at the end? I may have to forego gym yoga for the local studio where they take things more seriously. Of course, sometimes the chanting there is too much. Can’t we just namaste and go on our way?

Rushing to yoga

Do you find yourself always rushing to yoga, arriving sweaty and out of breath—the exact opposite of the calm you’re trying to achieve? On one hand, you can’t be late because how obnoxious is that person who walks in late and disrupts the flow? On the other hand, it’s ridiculous to get all stressed out and race to yoga like you’re Danica Patrick, who I imagine has a difficult time keeping to the speed limit during a simple trip to the gym. I find I’m barely on time for a massage either. Nothing like rushing to relax.

But this weekend, my friend and I are headed to a yoga and hiking retreat in the White Mountains where we plan to do some serious lounging. Sure, there will be morning yoga, an afternoon hike, and evening yoga, but staying at the lodge will make it impossible to be late. It’ll be a matter of rolling out of bed and into the studio or the woods. We plan to maximize the downtime by doing as little as possible: chatting, eating, and reading in the quiet nooks that look out onto the mountains. I hear there are even rocking chairs.

yoga outside