Initially, I was reluctant to try yoga. It seemed a bit too… wholesome in that earnest way of hippies that I find unappealing. Like raw vegan food that proclaims its value by saying it tastes of something else.
But, pain, as I believe I have said sometime before, is a great motivator.
My rheumatologist explained to me that my spine is not unlike a rusty hinge – keep it in motion and it won’t sieze up, leave it be and you’ll never get moving. So off I went to the place nearest me that had people who knew what they were doing. People who’d been doing yoga for years, been to India and back again, and had that glow of health that is both age-defying and slightly unnerving.
At first, the studio was fairly unknown, or, I suppose, yoga wasn’t as popular as it is now. These were the pre-Lululemon days. I was quite unemployed at the time so went during the middle of the day. There were no yummy-mummies. There were no ex-aerobics girls. There were a couple of fat guys in ratty track pants, a filmmaker, and random assortment of women. There were also the requisite hippies, but as they seemed to be in their natural enrivons, I didn’t mind them so much. There was an honesty box at the back and if you couldn’t pay the full price, you simply explained yourself and did a bit of helping out around the studio afterwards.
It was great. The whole place stank of sweat after a class (and let’s face it, before hand too, as these were people who weren’t fond of deoderant). We worked hard. After the first few classes I was stiff but my back felt better and my busy little mind was getting calmer.
I was hooked. I went as often as possible. Sometimes three times a week. I became ridiculously flexible. I did head stands. I bent in ways it had never occured to me that one might want to bend.
So when The Mom started complaining of a sore back, as a new convert to the benefits of yoga, I immediately demanded she take a class.
“Oh, but I’m not bendy like you,” she said.
“Yes, but a) I am double jointed and b) that’s the point. You go, you get bendy.”
“I’m not very coordinated, I don’t think I could do it.”
“They explain things very clearly. I can’t tell my left from my right and I can do it.”
“You can’t… Never mind. I’m not going. I don’t like aerobics.”
“It’s not aerobics. It’ll change your life.”
She wasn’t having it. But the year I stayed with her, before I broke my wrist, she was quite pleased to see the blissful glow of happiness on my gaunt face when I came back from a class.
“How was it?” she’d ask.
“Amazing. I can put my head on the floor now.”
“Is that good for you?”
“No idea, but it’s fun.”
“Do any of your doctors know about this?”
“They’ll be fine with it. Trust me. I don’t need to take pain pills. They’ll be pleased.”
“It always upsets the rheumatologist when you bend in half like that.”
“No, it freaks the interns out. Ed’s used to it. But he’s gonna be well-impressed with this.”
“How’s your back?”
“Amazing. Doesn’t hurt at all.”
“Really?” Her tone here is of a level of astonishment one might associate with The Second Coming.
It’s at this point that she’ll ‘casually’ mention that her back hurts a bit but it’s nothing to worry about because she probably just slept funny. (side note: sometimes The Mom thinks she’s being subtle when in reality she is not. We have tried to explain this to her, but she’s not having that either).
So I’ll sit down on the floor and show her a couple of things. And, to give her a tiny amount of credit, she’ll try it. But if it takes more than one round of explanation of where her arms and legs go she throws her arms up in despair.
“You see! I can’t do yoga!”
Because I’m so blissed out and pain-free at this moment, I don’t do what in all other circumstances I would which is berate her until she tries again.
Once I was hooked, of course, something awful happened. Yoga got really popular. It was hard to get a space in class. Women started turning up in full makeup, reeking of perfume, in fancy outfits. A sign soon appeared asking people to come scent-free. It helped, but not enough.
Over here in London, I refuse to go to most yoga studios. They’re horrible places. Much as I don’t buy into the whole om shanti shanti thing myself, I feel it’s disrespectful to the idea, in general, to look at yoga as nothing more than exercise and an excuse to go shopping. Yoga isn’t about shopping, it’s about a calm, centred mind, life and existence.
But now, yoga has changed, it’s gone competitive. It’s sort of like encountering an English pub in a strip mall in suburban North America. It’s just not right.
I haven’t practised in a few years. But then, a good friend became certified as a teacher. And has access to a studio. So sometimes, if I’m really good, I get a private class.
I wear my trackpants with holes in them, and she wears her old off-brand yoga outfits and apologises for not having had a pedicure. I always tell her I prefer it that way.