I could spot the yoga die-hards the moment I entered Radiantly Alive‘s top-floor studio. One girl was neatly folded in two, her back on the floor and her straight legs pressed over her body. Her toes touched the ground above her head.
Another was leaning against the wall – with her legs. They were spread wide and flat against the wall while she lay on her back reading a book.
But even without the posturing, it was easy to spot the Yoga Tribe. There was a dress code – leggings and activewear singlets or crop tops that showed off perfectly toned butts and arms and torsos.
The rest of us – the newcomers and enthusiasts – looked ill-prepared in comparison. I myself sported ugly baggy shorts and a loose Thai-bought singlet top that was going to reveal all too much when we downward-dogged.
I threw a glance around the room, noting that each attendant had a yoga mat, a foam block, and a cushion, and made to get the necessary items like I’d done it 100 times before.
And then I found the furthest corner of the room away from everybody – and, more importantly – away from the teacher’s attention.
A beginner’s attempt to join the Yoga Tribe
The yogi was a wiry Australian guy, hair drawn back, toned and tanned all over. He sat on a platform at the front of the room and encouraged us all to assume cross-legged positions on our cushions.
He told us to push our sitting bones one way and our tail bone the other. I wasn’t entirely sure how to gauge whether my bones were all correctly aligned (or which ones they even were). But I figured I’d get away with it if I just kept my back straight.
We gradually slowed down our breathing. Mine skipped and danced but I tried to get it under control – and then I realised my posture had sagged and I straightened up … But wait, the breath!
I’d barely managed to get the sitting/breathing thing down before we moved into a series of motions. The yogi encouraged us to keep our eyes closed and focus on the breathing as we went through each movement.
But I didn’t know the moves, with their strange names that gave away nothing. So I peeked. Furtively, I peeped through almost-closed slits, trying to gauge whether my body was contorted in just the right shape as my competitor next to me.
Because this was a competition. Every time the yogi passed me without comment, without bending down to straighten my posture, I congratulated myself. Forget the breathing, the mindfulness. I was rocking the pose. Boo ya.
We moved into a series of one-legged postures. Days and nights passed without the yogi giving us permission to relax. I started to wobble wildly. My muscles shook. Everyone else seemed poised so I pretended that there wasn’t a fire slowly burning up my leg.
When the class moved into its final poses, I could feel my body raging. It hated me, and I totally got it. I’d hate me too. I was grateful for the final moves, all of which encompassed lying relaxed in different positions. Easy. I couldn’t fuck this up.
The yogi exhorted us to breathe in and out slowly.
Breathe in. A mosquito whizzed around my head. Breathe out. Another one bit the bottom of my foot, dear god.
Breathe in. I tried to surreptitiously rub my foot along the ground to ease the itch. Breathe out. But that only made it worse.
Focus on your body. Don’t focus on the itch. Focus on how it feels. Bloody itchy; don’t scratch.
Finally, we came back to our sitting position. I kept my back ramrod straight and brought my hands together in front of my heart.
And I felt it. My pulse beating slowly. The pain in my body where my muscles were waking up. And my breathing, slow, calm and predictable. A peace came over me. And as I opened my eyes, I found myself wondering which class I would go to next.
I’ve been making it my mission to seek mindful experiences (however successful!) on my travels and to document them here on the blog. Check out my impressions of a traditional Japanese tea ceremony or read some of my other travel stories on the ARoamerTherapy blog!