Yoga: Not bringing me to a Zen place

It’s my fault. I’d threatened it for years: I told everyone I was going to enroll in yoga classes.

I’ve always regarded yoga folk (are there such?) as reflecting a certain peace I want. They’re the ones I see along green places, communing in nature, as they contort their bodies in pretzel-like fashion. The need to perform physically fluid movement should have been a giveaway as to why yoga might not work for me. To think I could fashion my body in modes that only work for children, Cirque de Soleil gymnasts, or those who’ve been following the lifestyle for years was my undoing.

This past Christmas, my daughter gave me a 30-day pass to a yoga studio in Asheville. And because she wanted me to be prepared for the occasion, she got me the floor mat to go along with it.

All I needed to do was show up. Yesterday, I went to my first-ever class. I was directed to put my things (jacket, purse) in a cubby along the wall. Having done that, I proceeded to the big room where some 30 people were already convened, their mats strategically spread out … water bottles nearby. As I walked across the floor, a woman closest to the door (self-appointed monitor, perhaps?) shouted out, “Whoa … your shoes!” I thought she meant I had toilet paper stuck to one (I’d gone to the ladies’ room) and glanced down.

Seeing nothing wrong, I said “Please?”

She answered: “No shoes in this room.” Just that. A short … swift, nonwelcome to one who’d broken a cardinal rule of yoga. I wondered to myself, “I thought these were gentle folk … What gives with the attitude?”

From that point on, it was pure awful.

The instructor seemed nice enough. He told us how much he admired the person for whom he was yoga-substituting that day and how we students had to build a stable base before we added to the heights of yoga we’d achieve. His voice was soothingly hypnotic.

I took my place in the last row. When we did warm-up moves, our guru directed us to finger the wall (to unlock our shoulders), and since I was at the only unoccupied area in a crowded room, I had little wall space. I’d only learn my “stuck status” when he called out the directive to turn, and repeat our movement in the other direction.

I couldn’t — my bit of wall space ended and a glass door presented. In Lucille Ball fashion, I stood clueless, hoping no one noticed. Actually, no one did notice. My neighbors were all in some kind of Zen state.

Then we got into the postures. On command, all around me, men and women got down on the mats and stretched out, holding positions akin to push-ups without movement. They held themselves up, defying gravity, with their hands and feet planted firmly on the floor. I marveled at their athleticism.

But I wondered: “Why the hell did the girl at the desk suggest this class to me?” I knew, too: “If this is beginners’ yoga, I’m no candidate!”

For most of thirty minutes, I just stood. I’d given up all pretense of trying to follow his directive, as he kept calling out, “Maintain your dog position.” Whenever they hit the mats (often) I became the one solitary vertical in the room, besides the teacher.

At one point, he quietly sidled up to me and asked: “Are you all right?” (He was probably trying to find out if I were having one of those silent heart attacks we hear about.)

I said, “Oh, yes, I’m just a beginner.”

What I wanted to say was: “No, I’m not OK. I’ve got MS, and I can’t even begin to do these poses. In fact, I question whether any body should.”

Instead, after another few minutes, I simply rolled up my mat and tip-toed out, stopping by the desk to ask: “Is this really beginners’ yoga?”

The girl at the desk appeared stunned. She apologized for whoever suggested this class might work for me. She’s now telling me about “gentle yoga,” (as opposed to “tough yoga”).

So I ask you readers, what yoga do you recommend for a 67-year-old, moderately-in-shape woman who happens to have minimal MS? I want to achieve that Zen state, but now, I just don’t know.

Colleen Kelly Mellor came to Asheville seven years ago for a quieter lifestyle, but that didn’t happen. On a mountain road, three years ago, her husband was hit head-on by a 12-year-old girl in a truck. He “died” following surgery (staff shocked him back to life), and they’ve been crawling back ever since. In this column, Mellor opines on life in Western North Carolina as only the “born again” can do. Published in the Wall St. Journal, among others, Mellor adds her senior view of a region often touted as one of America’s “Best Retirement Towns.”

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