My friend Madame J took me to a yoga class with her on Tuesday, and it was really quite fun. I’ve never understood the immediate appeal for yoga, even though I’ve heard specific types of it (hot yoga) and variations (pilates) can have some specific strength/weight loss/muscle-building benefits from it. But all those are cumulative, and while I’ve always been fascinated by it and heard it lauded by others who do it, I got severely burned by the one intensive class I took as a Physical Ed. Credit in college.
Our instructor was a scary man—a militant vegan, who’d previously been sexually abused by his male mentor during his yogi training on some mountaintop decades ago (we know because we heard about it several times in the course of a few weeks) and who also felt the strong need to deliver a Moral-Of-The-Day (MOTDs) during every class. He also had lost a friend in the 9/11 Twin Towers crash, so in between our MOTDs he would also bring in large poster board collages that his therapist told him to share with the class as a way of releasing his on-going distress. Hear that strange creaking noise? That’s his sanity becoming unhinged. It was the soundtrack to every class we took with him.
A quick glimpse into his flavor of MOTDs: one afternoon, early on in the start of the course, the MOTD was “don’t eat meat because it’s bad for you.” Ok, yeah, whatever. Chalk that up to his choice of having gone vegan. Not my flavor of diet, but no big deal.
Then ramp it up to a few weeks later, say to his theory on getting underage boys to stop smoking: “Since studies show that the majority of underage smokers are heterosexual African American boys under the age of 14, we should just lobby to put up billboards in every major city that say, ‘Don’t put little white dicks in your mouth’.” Totally. Serious. Suggestion.
Finally, top it off to showing us the proper use of a Neti pot cleansing, which began with a nasal cleansing and ended with a “stomach cleanse,” which included vomiting the solution in the room’s trashcan. He didn’t like my inquiry into why bulimics weren’t healthier if that was so effective a “cleanse.” After he yelled at me for falling asleep during one of the ending relaxation exercises, Clayton and I dropped the class faster than you can cleanse your nasal passages. Probably much faster.
So I kinda had this in mind when I went to this yoga class with Madame J, even though she told me that she really liked the instructor, who turned out to be a tiny Ukrainian woman with a pleasant, lilting voice. From the start she was really low-key, which set for a very relaxing atmosphere, unlike Drill Sergeant Vegan who thought he would Change The World with his MOTDs.
When she said we were going to start it easy, I was pumped. I was ready to go. I’m thinking, bring it on! I can go all sideways freaky crab on your ass if I have to:
But I didn’t have to. I kept waiting for her to stand us up on our heads with our legs contorted like pinwheels, but it was all gentle stretching, focused breathing in time with your movements. Nothing that would set your hair on fire or leave you sprained and broken on the floor when a fly landed on your shoulder and offset your balance.
And after we’d gone through some of the poses, when she said, “Now let’s have some fun and try some of them in pairs!”, my mind immediately thought of some of the crazier acrobatic pictures I’ve seen:
And I’m all like, “Ooh, I wanna be on top!” But that just earned me a weird look. Instead, I learned that this kind of pairs work was really more into one person doing the exercise while the other person helped deepen the stretch and correct poor position. Despite the fact that we were never asked to do anything freaky like that, my imagination still offered up “suggestions” like that.
Instructor: “Now we’re going to try a type of lunge exercise.” And I’m like, I’ve seen Cabaret. No problem. A little stretchy here, some Sparkle Motion there, and top it off with some yoga spirit fingers:
But nothing quite that dramatic happened–which, I learned during a simple squat exercise, is probably best. My lack of riding for the past few weeks really told on me—about the time my knees hit a 90* angle out to either side of me, I’m like, why is my squat shaking? Are those my LEGS?! Blow to the muscle ego, right there. I squatted like an 80 year old lady hovering over a toilet with the help of a support bar. Pathetic.
Even though it was all “gentle” yoga, it was right up my alley. A lot of the poses were wonderfully relaxing and I did feel more serene and loose afterward. Two thumbs up, really. And while I never did a freaky handstand where I supported myself with a pinky finger and my left ear, I did learn some fun things to strengthen up those pathetically wasted riding muscles in my legs.
Of course, my dream has now become to incorporate some of the yoga stuff into my riding. And a few months ago, an Pony Club friend of mine in Memphis (who’s known for her awesome handstanding ability) got a picture of her doing what has become my goal pose. After the halt/salute at the end of her dressage test:
Ain’t she amazing? This pose has got nothing on spirit fingers. I figure something like that will either earn an automatic 10 for the halt, or leave the judge saying something like, “…I’m not saying it’s not impressive….I’m just saying it’s not dressage.” Either way, a bit of a win, though don’t you think?