New Friend

My first time back to yoga after a 20-year hiatus was inauspicious.

I confessed to the instructor, Kathy, that I hadn’t practiced in a really long time. She was kindness itself. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I’ll remind you to breathe.”

I flexed and crouched and reached, seeing in my mind my fluid, bendy body following along. Movement in the mirrors around me caught my eye, and reality revealed me stiff as a tinker toy doll with swollen wood joints.

I didn’t know half the names of the poses – exalted warrior, fists of fire – and could barely achieve the half I could recall, but I developed a mantra that got me through the 50 minutes of screaming muscles, quivery kneecaps, and wobbly everything: Go your own pace. You’re not holding anyone up.

As I warmed to the exercise I sweated so profusely my hands and feet slid off the mat, making “downward facing dog” look more like a face plant. With only a small amount of flailing I managed to re-right myself before having to be rescued.

Afterward, as I wiped down my mat and swigged on my water bottle like I was sucking on oxygen, Kathy said to me, “See? Just like riding a bicycle. You never forget.”

She’s never seen me on a bicycle.

Two days later, my willingness – if not complete confidence – restored, I headed back to the gym, to the darkened room, the faces of people growing familiar. But no Kathy. A substitute named Sing-Song Windspirit kicked us off with balance poses that showed, indeed, one could forget.

I tried – I teetered. I tried – I rolled off the mat. I tried – I heard, “New Friend to Yoga, that’s not the position we’re doing.” Upward facing finger flitted through my mind. Through the dim light I peered past limber bodies to study this Gumby woman, but she’d already moved on to the next pose. I glanced at my watch to discover we had 47 minutes to go.

My “Go your own pace” mantra abandoned me. It morphed as I slipped – “Crap.” – and slid – “Damn.” Two, three, five times I heard, “New Friend to Yoga….” Shy of lying down and crying, what could I do but keep going until at last I heard my favorite yoga words: “Hands to heart center. Namaste.”

Yeah yeah. Namaste to you, too, Sing-Song.

Next week I’ll go again, but first I’ll peek through the door to see who’s leading the class, because if I’m going to ride this bike, I want someone who’ll help me up when I fall.

Jane Harkins © 2012

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