Like many women of a certain age and situation, I heart yoga.
Twelve years ago, when I started my practice, I wanted to change my body. I imagined a better me. Long, lean, not muscular per se but strong in the way that a white birch stands erect yet can move whether with a light breeze or hurricane gale.
I wanted yoga arms and a yoga torso.
I ended up with yoga feet.
My feet are wider than they were and my toes are flat bulbs like the toes you would find on one of those little translucent day-glo gecko lizards in Hawaii. The lizard's toes help it climb up walls where it can chirp all night while tired tourists try to sleep. My toes, in theory, should make it easier to stand in tree or dancer or other one-legged balance postures. Yeah, in theory.
I began my life as a yogini with a series of Power Yoga videotapes by yoga's preeminent and pony-tailed stud Rodney Yee. I would do a tape each morning before showering and waking my toddler daughter, getting her off to preschool and driving into Boston for work. It wasn't until I owned my own agency that I was able to devote time to actual classes with living, breathing, talking yoga instructors. (Not that owning a company meant I had more free time. Quelle joke, mon ami! It was just that with a home office, I suddenly had the flexibility to work at 5:00 in the morning or until 10:00 or 11:00 or 12:00 at night. Taking a couple of hours midday for a class became a great de-stresser and something to look forward to.)
Initially, I had two instructors with very different styles. One taught a high-energy, fast-paced, power yoga class in which I was encouraged to "Engage your thigh muscles!" "Push down through your hands!" "Be strong!" Sheer will power (and our benevolent drill sergeant) enabled us to reach higher, twist farther and balance longer than we thought possible.
The other was an expert in Ananda Yoga, a gentle approach that uses affirmations tied to each posture. So, not only was I moving and flowing through peaceful poses, I was reassuring myself that "Right, left and all around me, life's harmonies are mine." And that, "Calmness radiates through every fiber of my being." And, my personal favorite, "I rise joyfully to meet each new opportunity."
Sometimes we would chant. Sometimes, the instructor would read to us from the teachings of Swami Kriyananda. I know this all sounds new-agey and sort of silly, but the entire practice was actually very spiritual. Unfortunately, the very spiritual instructor moved to very spiritual Missouri.
But no need to panic! There are as many yoga classes in an upscale American suburb as there are lotus blossoms emerging from the mud. And this particular mother, in her quest for centeredness, has tried many of them. But not all. Not, I confess, the infamous "hot yoga." Having fallen into an early and particularly symptomatic menopause, I carry my own little Bikram studio around with me wherever I go. A 90-minute hot flash is not my idea of a good time.
Let's see ... there was the class in which ropes bolted into the walls and ceiling were used to support our weight as we assumed flying postures. Yoga in any form is very much about self-discovery. What I discovered in this class is that I am emotionally incapable of letting go enough to hang from a rope.
Then, there was the time that the yoga instructor, a very very old but very very flexible gentleman, introduced sound effects to our practice. Have you ever noticed that an inordinate number of postures are named for animals? Well, I never thought of pigeon pose in quite the same way after folding over my bent knee and cooing.
I had one yoga teacher who apparently confused the yogic principle of non-violence with knee-surgery-needed. I limped for nearly a week after one of her classes.
Another yoga teacher spent the 75-minute class wowing us with her pretzel-like contortions and stories about her natural childbirth, which — to add insult to injury — had only taken place three weeks earlier.
But despite the inevitable sideshow attractions, I've kept at it. I do it for myself mostly, but I truly believe that I am better able to stay calm in the stormy seas that circle around me as a wife, a businesswoman, and especially as the mother of a tempestuous tween. And, every once in a while, I have a moment that is truly transcendent.
One yogi began his class with the assertion that "If it hurts, it isn't yoga." I felt a shining light dawn. It was as if the heavens had opened and a choir of Buddhist angels had descended singing the "Hallelujah Chorus" in Sanskrit. More recently, my newest yoga mentor finished a particularly wonderful class with several minutes in the traditional corpse or resting pose: Savasana. Before sitting back up, she had us turn onto our sides, with our knees bent in a relaxed fetal position. She explained in one of those wonderful yoga teacher voices, "This is who you are. This is how you came into this world, in total bliss. You are here for a while and when your work is done, you will return to this." I found this really comforting and have replayed her words many times since.
We are all here to work (although sometimes, as mothers, it feels like we're working longer and harder and with less appreciation than anyone else). So, with that my friend, the divine in me honors the divine in you.