I’ve been doing yoga for a couple years now. Suanna dragged me kicking and screaming to our first session, called “House Blend Yoga” because it was a messy mix of actual yoga, quasi-yoga moves invented by Kathy, our instructor, and trippier stuff like reflexology. I endured the session where we sat around rubbing lotion on our feet. I smiled politely when Kathy commented that she was feeling stressed because Mercury was in the Third House. And yet somehow I signed up along with Suanna for “Yoga I” the very next session, mostly because, after filtering all the bullshit out, there was no denying that I felt great, physically, after doing yoga.
Yoga I was refreshingly free of nonsense, and so we stepped on up to level II, one of those plateau levels where some folks are content to return, session after session, instead of moving on up. We ended up taking Yoga II four or five times. Our last couple sessions were with Laura, who was great. She had the outward appearance of a yoga instructor and the soul of a drill sergeant.
“Let’s move into Downward-Facing Dog for one minute,” she’d say. “And remember, move gently into the pose, and hold it for as long as you feel comfortable. It’s OK if you need to come down into Child’s Pose before I tell you to stop — this isn’t a competition. Just do what feels right for your own body.”
That’s what came out of her lips, but her eyes were saying something else. They were saying: “One measly minute. I should be calling this ‘Downward-Facing Puppy.’ Crumble if you want, but remember that ‘Yoga for Wimps’ is just down the hall.”
Then we’d move gently into the pose, butts high in the air, and she’d pace around to watch. I certainly wasn’t going to buckle. I’d hold on for every last second, until my arms were trembling, and when it was over I’d try to gently slump into a heap as she said, perkily: “Great! That was actually ninety seconds.” She’d do the same thing during pranayama. For other instructors, pranayama is about breathing. For Laura it was about not breathing for longer and longer periods of time. We’d sit there holding our breaths, and I could tell that she secretly wished one of us would swoon into unconsciousness, but class after class, we held out. We beat her, and we were all the stronger for it.
This session, Suanna and I have parted ways — she’s doing Pre-Natal Yoga, and I’ve stepped up to Level III. After Laura’s learning-by-crucible method, level III hasn’t been that tough, except that at the end of each class we are expected to make our bodies go entirely upside-down, which is clearly not something they were meant to do. But, last night, for the first time, I was able to pull off a headstand. According to the Yoga Journal website, headstand has the following beneficial effects:
- Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression
- Stimulates the pituitary and pineal glands
- Strengthens the arms, legs, and spine
- Strengthens the lungs
- Tones the abdominal organs
- Improves digestion
- Helps relieve the symptoms of menopause
- Therapeutic for asthma, infertility, insomnia, and sinusitis
All of this may, in fact, be true. I’ve seen enough benefits from yoga to believe it. But I’m here to tell you that these are the effects of headstand when you do it for the first time:
- All the blood rushes to your freakin’ head.
- Everything’s upside-down.
- Your neck hurts because even though you were told that letting your head hold the weight actually releases pressure on the neck, you don’t believe it.
- Somebody’s sticking knives in your shoulderblades.
- You finally understand why they say not to eat for a couple hours before doing yoga.
If my neck unstiffens, I look forward to trying it all again next week. In the meantime, if you’re thinking about getting into yoga, don’t bother subscribing to the Yoga Journal. I did, but quickly discovered that unless you 1) do yoga, 2) go on yoga retreats every other weekend, and 3) are currently undergoing menopause, that magazine is not for you. I want a different yoga magazine — the one for the guy who likes yoga but has to resist the urge to snigger when everyone chants in the beginning of class. The guy who always does his Ohms in a different tone from everybody else, just like the Mystics in that one scene in The Dark Crystal. Where’s that magazine?