My Unwilling Conversion Experience


(Not a photo of the author)

Adventures in the New Age

New to Austin and woefully out of shape, I needed to exercise. You wouldn’t know it to look at me now, but I’ve done the gym rat thing. Six hours a week in the gym, weight lifting (upper and lower body on alternate days) and step aerobics (the only exercise program I’ve ever been in that combined military precision—thump thump thump of feet hitting the step at precisely the same time—with the aesthetic of the Rockettes. Kick and kick and smile.) But I didn’t feel physically or emotionally ready for hardcore. I like walking, but I wanted something I could do in Austin in the summer. Walking in 105 degree heat would be a hell of a workout. Sort of like joining the French Foreign Legion only without the sand and the sex with camels jokes.

Bob suggested walking at the mall. He knew as soon as he said it that it was a mistake. I reminded him that my AARP card was because he qualified, not me.

A friend recommended a local yoga school. The classes were geared to each person’s ability, she said. And afterwards they gave you a nice cup of chai. Chai sounded nice. You can bet that after a Tai Bo workout, no one gives you a nice cup of chai. And when I started feeling a little more fit, I could start swimming or something. You know, real exercise.

The problem with yoga is that the way they talk always sounds so dimwitted, like all that sitting and deep breathing makes them so relaxed that their brains go a little soft and they start going on about chakras and third eyes. As a science fiction writer, ‘a third eye’ has a different connotation to me. At the yoga school, everyone took off their shoes at the door. They sold racks of meditation/yoga Cd’s. The girl who registered me smiled like she was on soma. And my instructor’s name was Sapphire.

Sapphire was, I would guess, in her late forties, small, youthful, with blond hair down her back and a slightly disconcerting way of looking very intently and openly at you. Eye contact to the max. She smiled a lot, too. Our first yoga pose was to lie on the floor with our legs resting up on the wall, so that if this was the Lionel Richie video, Dancing on the Ceiling, when the room tilted we’d be sitting on the wall with our backs against the floor. Sapphire described how this was good for us because it got blood flowing to our brains. Later we squatted and she talked a little disconcertingly about opening our colons. The don’t talk about the state of your colon in Tai Bo. But all in all, the new age woo woo talk was kept to a minimum. Then we started doing stretching poses like downward dog and triangle pose. Sapphire’s assistant leaned over and while Sapphire explained that we should concentrate on extending our spine (which was suspiciously like the ballet classes I took as a teenager) put on hand on the ground and then turned her shoulders. It looked easy enough.

I won’t say it kicked my ass, because by God, I did it. But I will say it wasn’t a pretty process. I will also say, it is a blessing that no one was behind me for downward dog. There are just some things people should be spared.

The most embarrassing thing? After two classes, I stopped having hot flashes. I started getting hot flashes after chemo put me into full menopause in two weeks. (As if being bald isn’t indignity enough, I was forever saying, ‘Is it hot in here or is it just me?’ And it was always just me.) I’m willing to believe that yoga, and exercise, is a way of altering neurotransmitters. Exercise is good for depression and anxiety. No doubt. But curing hot flashes is annoyingly on the way to those people who heal themselves by drinking gallons of carrot juice and essence of apricot pits. Curing hot flashes by yoga is, well, like writing a bad fantasy trilogy. A bad fantasy trilogy with wise women who cure diseases with herbs. And magic. A bad fantasy trilogy with poems in it.

But I’ll be damned if I’m going to stop going. I’ve finished the beginner class and graduated to the intermediate class, and while I won’t say it’s as aerobic as a Tai Bo class–and my new instructor also talks a little as if she was on soma–I will point out that one day, Sapphire showed us a pose (not requiring us to do it, although a couple of people tried) where she started in a push-up, dropped halfway to the floor, stopped (this is called crocodile) and then, using her hands and toes only, hopped. These people may talk softly, but I’m thinking its a good thing they’re mostly pacifists.

Oh, and the chai is still nice. I take mine with soy milk and honey, thank you.

16 thoughts on “My Unwilling Conversion Experience

  1. You know, you almost make me want to go back to doing Yoga. I’m terrible at it (I have shortened Achilles tendons, which make things like triangle pose and downward dog torture) but I always rather liked doing it nonetheless.

    I need a bucket of extra time. “Yoga class? No problem, I’ll just dip out another hour and a half!”

  2. Same here. Whoa. Nice post.

    I have done some yoga. It is amazingly difficult, and good for you.

    NM is the woo woo capital of the US. We beat out California. I have a soft spot in my heart for woo woo.

  3. Steve, do you find yourself drifting into that soma-like state? Sometimes, driving home from yoga I suspect that if they ever come up with a yoga-breathalyzer, I’m in trouble.

  4. Maureen,

    I’ve had a class or two with Sapphire myself. She’s extremely mellow. I, however, cannot stop making smart-ass remarks in yoga class especially during Lion’s Breath. Like you, I hate the warm fuzzy bits. I far prefer to be wrung out like a dish rag with no attempts at having my chakra’s cleansed, thankyouverymuch.

  5. I still do yoga on occasion (coincidentally, just finished a session). Was lucky enough to have a friend, Tammy, who gave me one-on-one teaching for a year or so before she moved to Santa Fe. I’ve also done classes at Yoga Yoga which were beneficial, but working with Tammy was much more satisfying as the lessons were tailored to my problem areas. Fortunately, she made me several cds of my favoriate kriyas, which is what I work with now. Yoga’s been a real plus for me over the past few years. I’d recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest.

  6. Well, if we do end up in that state, we fix it almost immediately as we follow stretching with the rest of class–being flung vigorously around the mat like large sacks of wheat.

    It gets pretty aerobic.

    An example.

  7. Back when I was taking martial arts, I was always so envious of Aikido because you guys have the coolest uniforms.

  8. Have you ever tried yoga and pilates mixed….. this unfortunate self-imposed torture makes the yoga part look easy. (It kills, but afterwards something is alway aligned, it could just be my brain and the need for relaxation, but that’s an alignment of sorts!)

  9. Mo, I don’t know that I’m up for Pilates and Yoga combined. I think I’d have to be more fit. Steve, not only do you get to wear a skirt, but when some dude goes after you for being a sissy, next thing he knows he’s lying on the ground with his hand torked up behind him and he’s whimpering and can’t quite figure out what happened. Beth, people are only into writing these days for the fame and the money.

  10. I’m glad you’re enjoying Yoga Yoga. I miss Sapphire’s classes. Can’t say I can personally get with the New Age talk, but as they say in these classes, go with what works for you. I tend to treat it as another aspect of my practice–observing but being non-judgmental.

  11. Hi Maureen. Apologies if you’ve already been here, done this, but…

    1) Physical Activity and Mental Health Outcomes During Menopause: A Randomized Controlled Trial. By: Elavsky, Steriani; McAuley, Edward. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 2007, Vol. 33 Issue 2, p132-142

    2) Feasibility and acceptability of restorative yoga for treatment of hot flushes: A pilot trial. By: Cohen, Beth E.; Kanaya, Alka M.; Macer, Judith L.; Shen, Hui; Chang, A. Ann; Grady, Deborah. Maturitas, Feb2007, Vol. 56 Issue 2, p198-204

    3) Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Menopausal Symptoms: A Review of Randomized, Controlled Trials. By: Kronenberg, Fredi; Fugh-Berman, Adriane. Annals of Internal Medicine, 11/19/2002, Vol. 137 Issue 10, p805-813

    4) Booth-Laforce C, Thurston RC, Taylor MR. A pilot study of a Hatha yoga treatment for menopausal symptoms. Maturitas. 2007 Mar 1; [Epub ahead of print]
    PMID: 17336473 [PubMed – as supplied by publisher]

    5) Comment in: Mayo Clin Proc. 2004 Jun;79(6):735-7. Measuring hot flashes: summary of a National Institutes of Health workshop. Miller HG, Li RM.

  12. Apparently I am not ready for Yoga and Pilates either, I went on Thursday and now on Saturday I almost feel back to normal. I do enjoy the meditation part at the end; though I don’t think the other students enjoy the snoring that comes from my complete relaxation!

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