I started taking yoga because I was running out of exercises that don’t hurt my knees, shoulders, lower back, hips or head. Besides that, at the end of a yoga class we all lie peacefully on our mats in the darkened room while meditative sitar music plays, and the only other way I can justify lying flat on my back for five minutes in the middle of the day is if I’m getting an MRI.
Now, I’ll tell you straightaway that yoga is sort of a sadistic version of “Simon Says.” The yoga instructor will lead you through a series of poses that I am convinced the human body was never designed to make. The underlying theory of the practice is that you can purify your mind and body and become one with the universe by pretending that you’re a contortionist.
But the great thing about yoga is that even if you can’t do all the positions, most of the rest of the people in the class can’t, either. There will always be one, however, who will make all of the poses perfectly; she will wrap her knees around her ears, balance her entire body on her knuckles, and then touch her tongue to her nose besides, just to make the rest of us feel worse about ourselves.
But don’t mind her. Watch me.
Classes often center on a series of poses called the Sun Salutation, and they are basically like a highly advanced game of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” It is very hard to do once you have passed adolescence.
Yoga teachers like to talk about your “prana” — an invisible ball of energy that forms in the space between your hands. Its cousins are Harvey the Rabbit and Casper the Friendly Ghost. Sometimes the class will divide into teams and throw their prana across the room for an invisible game of catch, and sometime everyone will hold their invisible balls in place and wait for Godot.
In a yoga class, the instructor will lead the class through the poses by naming them either in the traditional Sanskrit or their English translations, which creates an odd combination of: 1) words that you’ve never heard before but that still sound oddly familiar, and 2) names of common animate and inanimate objects. For instance, Chaturanga Dandasana and Uttanasana will be interspersed with Happy Baby, Angry Cat, Table Top and a whole series of Warriors.
So a typical class will go like something like this:
Good morning, class. Let’s start on our mats in the Jujubeansarana pose … breathe … feel the breath and set your intention for today’s practice.
Good. Now slowly move — knees, chest and chin — into Dead Donkey. Hold it. Listen to what your body is telling you. Raise the right leg … bend it to the side and open up the hips … we’re in Vanmorrisonishina … moving into Ticked-Off Teenage Daughter.
Now straighten the right leg, still holding it behind you … wrap your arms behind your back and grab your wrists … turn towards the wall and feel the twist … we’re in Ottomanempire. Move back to center … Now gradually lift the left leg, while lowering down to balance on your head. Hold the pose … Remember to breathe.
Now slowly unwrap your arms and position your hands on either side of your ears … make sure they’re lined up properly … and rise up into Flying Whoopee Cushion.
Okay, lower back to Nadiacomaneciana, with chest, chin and palms on your mat. Be careful not to poke yourself in your Third Eye. We’re going to go into Left-Over Meatloaf … envision yourself in this pose before we move into it. Very good.
Roll over to your side and slowly push up into a sitting position, and let’s end the class with a few cleansing breaths. Breathe in and hold for a count of five, now blow out all at once and make a sound like a lion giving birth … ROAHHHAAAAH!! Good.
Let’s do that three more times. Gradually raise your arms parallel to the ground. Bring your right hand slowly to your mouth. Pop an Altoid.
Now close your eyes, palms to chest.