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My mother was the first person who told me I should be doing yoga to help with my anxiety. She herself had never tried it, but she had read a wonderful article about it in AARP. I’m an East Coast WASP and wound tightly to begin with. The only way I know how to relax is with a vodka soda in my hand. It’s not too far off base when I joke that the select few items in my coping toolbox are Hostess Sno Balls, denial, and a bottle of Absolut.
I decided to try yoga for the first time in my early 30s. I had just moved to Los Angeles after ending an eight-year relationship and was ready to reinvent myself. I also wanted to fit in with the tribe and get healthier. In Los Angeles, doing yoga is a rite of passage, but the idea that I could learn to relax while getting a tight butt also made me giddy — like when I discovered full-body Spanx. Maybe I’d even meet a great, grounded yoga guy in class and get a boyfriend. Namaste indeed.
I signed up for my first yoga experience at 24 Hour Fitness. The class was packed, but when you’re guaranteed inner peace, why wouldn’t it be? With my newly purchased Lululemon outfit, I was feeling hopeful and snazzy. Waiting for the teacher, I perused the room. There were mainly very fit 30-something women and a few young guys in their 20s, which was slightly intimidating. I’m sure they worked out at least six times a week more than I did.
My performance anxiety started to lessen once I saw two women my mother’s age set up their mats. I guess that AARP article was really getting some traction.
Once class started, I attempted to wrap my right leg around my waist as my arms suspended my body off the mat. Trying to calm myself by breathing deeply, I attempted this four times. Yoga wasn’t relaxing me; it was making me angry. Why can the 65-year-old woman in front of me do this and I can’t? This simple thing that others were enjoying: Why couldn’t I participate too? It felt like just one more thing I couldn’t do right, and I was hostile about it.
No wonder I could never have a lasting relationship, I thought. I couldn’t even sustain a pose for longer than five seconds.
John, the instructor, whispered in my ear to go into child’s pose. I’m not a particularly religious woman, but while I was down there, I started praying I’d get through the class. My right leg felt numb. My calf muscles were on fire. This wasn’t enlightening; it was disappointing and frustrating. Sweat was in my eyes, and I wanted to cry. No one would notice. Everyone was too busy being happy.
The following five days, my muscles were so sore it hurt to sit. Yoga was much more athletic than what the AARP article my mom read had described. There was also nothing enlightening about it. It just hurt everywhere and felt lousy. After washing down some ibuprofen with a vodka gimlet, I decided I needed to go to a "real" yoga studio. I was going to learn to relax if it killed me.
The bona-fide studio class smelled of frankincense, and the clientele was different than at the gym. Five impossibly tall, graceful women walked in, throwing down mats and claiming their territory. No one in here was reading articles from AARP. I felt like a troll in a group of supermodels.
Then the teacher, Crystal, came in. If Gisele Bündchen and Ryan Gosling had a baby, that would be Crystal. Seeing all these graceful women made me worry that I wouldn’t be able to rise to their level of yoga proficiency. At this point, I really wished I had filled my water bottle with Grey Goose.
At the beginning of class, Crystal told us to imagine all our troubles going into a jar and toss it over our shoulders. The idea was to get rid of negative energy, but my imaginary jar must have shattered in my lap instead, because all I could think about was why I didn’t marry my college boyfriend. Apparently, he’s quite successful and loaded. Thanks, Facebook. I looked to my right and saw one of the women in a perfect warrior pose and thought, I’m going to die alone. I should probably get a Life Alert bracelet. That way, when I’m dying from doing yoga, the paramedics will be over STAT.
In the car on the way home, there was some relief in that the composed, righteous torture was over, but I also felt like a kid who didn’t get picked for dodge ball. Two days later, I sold my yoga mat on Craigslist and never did yoga again.
A few years later, when I was 34, I got married, and he loved me despite not having a yoga butt. When I turned 40, my husband and I adopted our baby. That was also the time when he stopped going to the gym and instead took an intense interest in doing yoga DVDs in the living room. He went to class four times a week too, got a juicer, and even bought his own yoga mat. He is also the most uncoordinated person I have ever met.
“So, you do yoga now?” I asked.
“It strengthens my core,” he blurted out, falling over from tree pose.
“Clumsy Namaste,” I joked.
I was laughing at him, but if yoga made him feel better, I was all for it. We had had a nightmare year of IVF, three miscarriages, borrowing money from my parents, and finally getting our baby through adoption.
I knew yoga always made me feel bad, but I didn’t know it could make me feel this bad. Yoga represented everything about the harsh realities of my marriage. It was painful and arduous. Namaste on the outside, gut-twisting on the inside. All this talk about strengthening his core, and being centered was just masking the fact that he was destroying our family.
It was so painful that I couldn’t believe this was my life. I thought about all the things that we had been through in the past year. Rounds of hormone injections for failed IVF attempts, three miscarriages, praying month after month to be chosen by a birth mother. Appointments with lawyers, flying to Houston, and meeting the birth parents. Hearing our baby’s first cry coming into the world, laying eyes on her for the first time, the oath we took standing in front of a judge, swearing to give her the best life possible. Coming home with our bundle of love, a baby shower, the beautiful dinner with 50 friends and family celebrating the finalizing of the adoption.
Then I thought about the night he was stuck having drinks with his boss until midnight while I called the pediatrician after hours because the baby was throwing up in her crib. I was exhausted, functioning on sleep at three-hour intervals, walking my four small rescue dogs with a stroller in tow while he was working late on an important project, lying, denying, the betrayal, Mr. Jekyll and Hyde.
I was wrong about my husband, but I was right about yoga. I didn’t need it. Today, those moments of calm aren’t found in a room with strangers. They come from playing dolls on the floor with my 4-and-a-half-year-old.
Namaste on the outside. Pure love on the inside.