on the first night of yoga.

Last night I went to the first class in my all-you-can-yoga package, ready to be limber and spiritually at one with myself. It’s been about a year since I took a yoga class and maybe three years since I was in regular practice. I was already humble about my yogic ability and had no delusions about what I could accomplish – thus I took the most basic of basic classes, a hatha yoga class for beginners, and figured that I might at least hold my own. I did okay – the story follows – but it reminded me of a couple of my personal foibles and setbacks, the personality aspects that, let’s just say, I need to work on if I’m to be a balanced person.

Anyway. The story.

I was very, very nervous to take the class, I’ll admit it.  Almost terrified, in fact.  I even forgot my brand new yoga mat.  First, there’s the whole I-haven’t-been-in-shape-for-a-good-year thing. Then I had performance anxiety, stemming from the years I spent studying ballet (not that the instructor would have me do a solo head stand on my first night or something, but you know how these things go). Finally, I had a number of insecurities about the other people at the studio, insecurities I had barely acknowledged when I so blithely signed up for my two-week trial. It’s a trendy studio and the day I visited, it had hit me how many of the people there had uniformly thin bodies: a disappointing and isolating realization. Everyone, on that first day, had been so glowy and dew-skinned and slender, exuding radiant health (it seemed they did, at least). Not one glowy, dew-skinned, radiantly healthy plump body to be seen. Therefore, last night, I entered the studio nervous enough to confess my performance anxiety to the two very nice women at the check-in. To my surprise, though, I did see a number of differently-shaped bodies and just that was enough to let me relax.

It was a nice, slow class. Lots of breathing and deep stretching, which is just fine. Then the usual asana, a few very modified sun salutations. Fine, fine. Warrior pose. Fine, fine. I ran into some trouble doing any kind of plank pose (I have virtually no upper body strength) and balancing on one foot proved to be more difficult than I’d remembered. However: the class requested inversions (to my horror, something I felt I wasn’t at all ready for), and I managed to keep up nicely. At one point, while I balanced on my head against the wall, the instructor came by, smiled, and said, “It’s like riding a bike.” It is, indeed. I smiled back and almost toppled over. After the class, I floated home and splayed my body over the couch, oozing into a meditative stupor. I had managed to keep up. I hadn’t embarrassed myself. Even though my flesh seemed to get in my way at almost all times, my breasts (sizable) pressing against my chin in certain poses, I hadn’t embarrassed myself.

So here’s the thing that I’ve realized.

Just as I always do, I managed to make this attempt at inner alignment and balance about how I look to other people. The performance anxiety, for example. I mean, what? In a beginning yoga class? There is no way that anyone had the smug ability to be so strong in their own poses that they might glance around and criticize anyone else’s. I bet at most they were like me: worried about doing something stupid. I was fearing a criticism and a judgment that a) simply wasn’t there to begin with, and b) would have no effect on me even if it had been there. I mean, no actual effect. The assumed effect might have been immense. I was intensely concerned with doing my poses “right,” so that the instructor wouldn’t hate me and that I could blend in with the other students. Maybe it’s not exactly a notch in the patriarchy of pain, but the experience definitely illuminated a particular form of competitiveness that lays latent within me. I don’t have a real desire to be the “best” in a sport (let’s call yoga a sport for now), but I sure as hell don’t want to be at the bottom of the class. I’d like to be snugly in the middle or perhaps one of the top students, someone who does the poses “right” and doesn’t call attention from the instructor.

So why don’t I want attention from a yoga instructor when I’m taking a yoga class?

And why am I so concerned with what other essential strangers think of me, especially in a class where everyone is thinking about themselves?

And why did I feel more comfortable when I saw a few other ladies whose bodies don’t fit into the LA mold? What do I need from them in order to feel comfortable?



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September 2008
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