This post is the source for a Six Sentence Stories creative writing challenge. The following, however, is all the painful truth.
A little over a year ago, before COVID-19 shut down my gym, I bought a folding mat. I needed a mat that could fit in my cramped locker. The idea was genius: a mat that folded up into a fraction of its full dimensions–both width as well as length. I wouldn’t have to carry my rolled-up mat to my yoga classes.
This whole portability thing needs a little explaining because yoga mats are by design portable. So, what is the problem with bringing my mat to class, you might ask. Usually, I ride to work on my bicycle. If I don’t ride my bike, I either ride my scooter or on very rare occasions I take a city bus–I don’t drive a car. From my work, I ride to my gym, where I attend evening yoga classes. Carrying my mat is a hassle. It’s also a nuisance storing the mat in my cubicle at work only to lug the mat to my class then haul it back home in the evening after class.
Since I started yoga back in 2014, I always used the mats the gym provides. As a neophyte to yoga, the mats the gym supplied didn’t bother me, but over time, I noticed how worn the mats were and saw how my fellow, more experienced students brought their mats. Those mats always looked much better and cleaner. (I also noticed how most yoga students were also younger and in better shape so I guess there was some symmetry going on there.) I put up with the worn, gross mats until one day I found a solution to my problem: a yoga mat that folds up.
So when I saw that Gaiam made a folding “travel” mat, I was all in. Gaiam even proudly displayed that the mat was two millimeters thick, I mean in large font: 2mm. (The only thing missing was an exclamation point.) As if they were saying, “Beat that, Manduka!” Now, mind you, fellow yogis and yoginis, I’m an idiot when it comes to the metric system, so I ignored the telltale sign of the pain to come. I mean, how thick is “2mm” if it can fold up?
So imagine how surprised my 62-year-old knees felt when I executed my first kneeling pose, and my knees felt like they were balancing on golf balls. It was at this moment I understood just how thin two millimeters of PVC is. I felt like I could have settled for a roll of my wife’s culinary parchment paper, and my knees wouldn’t have felt the difference. The parchment paper roll would have stored even easier–leaving room for a big tub of BENGAY cream. The pain in my knees immediately negated the Zen I felt just 15 minutes earlier when I verified my brand new mat did indeed fit in my tiny locker when it was folded up.
I had practiced on Marquee Sade’s yoga mat a few times before the gym closed, but I had forgotten the number it did on my knees. When the gym opened for a brief time, management had moved blocks, straps, and the old worn mats out to the make-shift yoga studio. With the gear and extra mats available, I could make my cruel mat tolerable by placing an old cushy mat under and across the center of my mat, so my knees got the additional support, and my feet did not—which is how I preferred it. Of course, I could double up the 2mm mat whenever executing kneeling postures, but that set me behind the teacher’s tempo.
With the club reopened and the yoga classes still in the basketball quart, the gear was nowhere to be found, including the old gross, but cushy mats. Me and my knees were on our own. During the year that I was sheltering in place, I rarely practiced yoga despite having thousands of hours of free and reasonably priced yoga classes online. I had forgotten entirely about the foldup mat in the months I was away from the gym and yoga classes. I had forgotten the pain, I had forgotten how to execute some asanas, but I hadn’t forgotten how to eat and my daily walks included a pit stop at Barrio’s, a bakery. So, I gained weight and lost a lot of the flexibility I gained when I was practicing yoga three days a week.
When I made my less-than-triumphant return to the reopened gym, the yoga classes were, once again, being held in the basketball quart to ensure social distancing, but it was not the same experience for me. Now, at least fifteen pounds heavier than I usually am, I am out of practice, and the extra weight makes the asanas (yoga postures) even harder to achieve and hold. Also, long gone was Heather, the closest thing I ever had to a yoga guru. Robert teaches the two classes I now attend. Robert is considered one of Sacramento’s best teachers. And while his teachings are sound, it is not the same. This fat older man wants his old teacher back! It doesn’t help me that Robert does not teach a gentler version of Hatha Yoga but has to offer me modifications and does so often and to my frustration and embarrassment.
I miss Heather. But don’t mistake those tears on my 2mm Gaiam travel yoga mat for longing. I’m crying for my poor tortured knees!
There are several unique styles of yoga that exist and they can be quite different from each other. While starting out, it might seem like “yoga” is one practice or style, but students quickly discover that there are numerous forms of this practice to explore. While each style has similarities in the essence and philosophy…
After a year of being closed, my gym has re-opened, and soon I will be attending my first guided yoga class in nearly that amount of time. I have gained weight in the interim, and though I began a modest home exercise regime a few months ago, I need to return to the mat.
It breaks my heart to see on my gym’s now-limited yoga schedule, the teacher who was damn near a guru to me is not returning. But I need to get back on the mat regardless of who leads the classes.
Above is a post from one of the yoga blogs I follow on WordPress.com. In the spirit of this blogger returning to the mat this Monday night, I would like to share this post.
Namaste. (Wow, I haven’t said that in quite a while!)
After a three-month-long order from Governor Gavin Newsom to close all gyms in California, the governor lifted the closure order on June 15. Though I only practiced yoga once at home during that time, I still felt wary about going to any place where there might be a lot of people breathing hard in a small room. During the second week of the reopening, I had to get back on the horse, even if I didn’t feel entirely comfortable doing so. My wife jumped right in and reported to me how things are at the club with the group exercise schedule pared back quite a bit. In the meantime, I found a video on the club’s Facebook page explaining how the gym is addressing reopening during this time of COVID-19.
So, on the second Thursday after the reopening, I attended one of the new yoga classes offered. There are new rules that give the gym a less than warm feel to it. Still, the staff is as friendly as ever, even if you can’t see their smiles under their PPE.
When I arrived, I immediately noticed social distancing sandwich boards and other cautionary signage, a closed-down snack bar, and a friendly masked face behind the front desk that was barricaded with end tables against it to ensure I kept my distance. The nice young woman did walk up close enough to take my temperature with an infrared thermometer, though. I tried to surrender my membership card per procedure, but the young woman pointed to the scanner at the corner of the desk. It was now the member’s job to scan in their card. The lobby was as vacant of people as my office, where most of us are now working from home. I currently work once a week to perform tasks I can’t do remotely.)
I approached the locker room wondering how the social distancing was going to work there. But if the lobby seemed sparsely populated, the men’s locker room was virtually empty, which is nice because I recall many times being uncomfortably packed into the locker areas and the showers. I’m still emotionally scarred over the time I was trying to open my locker with someone’s penis inches away from my face.
When I got my locker open after having to get the combination from the front desk, I noticed a giant hole in my mesh laundry bag with my boxer briefs halfway out of the bag. My gym shorts and shirt were gone. The standard procedure when this happens is to go to the laundry room and have someone from Housekeeping help me find my stuff in their dauntingly large bank baskets full of wayward sports garments, but my class was starting soon. I’m glad I keep two sets of gym clothes in my locker.
I dress down, put my mask back on, and head for the yoga studio all the while wondering if I will have to wear my mask during yoga. Breath is a big part of yoga, and, when I can remember, I practice Ujjayi breathing when I practice. That could lead to a very hot mask during practice. (If you want to know what Ujjayi breath, or and some aptly call it, “Darth Vader breathing,” check out one of my favorite teachers show you how it’s done.)
Entering the yoga studio, I find a bunch of Stages indoor bikes in the room. I check the group exercise bike studio and notice it now only has about half of the bikes, and they are all six feet apart. My yoga studio is now a stock room. (I would later find out another group exercise studio, as well as the once busy elliptical exercise room, had both suffered a similar fate.) Where will I be practicing yoga tonight? It turns all of the group exercise classes in these COVID-19 days are taking place in—the basketball court.
The Right Temperature. I’ve practiced in a studio that was too hot. Well, a couple of times, then management brought in this massive fan, the teacher turned off the music, and we practiced to what sounded like a being in a hanger with a running P-52. As for the court, the temperature was about right. PASS
The Right Lighting. Standing at the door to the gymnasium watching two guys. dribbling and shooting hoops, I was at once struck by how tranquil this environment wasn’t; the lighting way too bright., but it was perfect for shooting some hoops! FAIL
Aromatherapy. As for this element, I usually don’t care too much for how a place smells, just that it doesn’t, but if there were a bunch of sweating basketball players finishing league play it would have failed at this element miserably. I have only attended one class where a teacher, with an exotic scent, visited every student during Shavasana and rubbed the necks and shoulders of each student with eucalyptus oil. I could see how aroma could benefit a practice. I’ll give the room a PASS on the aromatherapy.
Peace & Quiet. I couldn’t meditate before the class: the cacophony of two arrhythmic bouncing balls and the THUUUNNNGs of the vibrating basketball rims ruined any chance of preparing for the practice. “That’s it,” said a fellow practitioner as she abruptly ended her pre-session warm-up. “I can’t take the basketballs!” and left, returning just when the class started. But, to be fair, when the class started, I did experience “peace and quiet.” I’ll give it a weak PASS
Neat & Clean. A “neat and clean” environment was debatable, It was clean, but the towels, sanitizing spray bottles, and stacked steps and raisers (used for other classes here) made it seem more like a basketball court/storage area during a viral outbreak)Another weak PASS
An Inspirational Place. The place did not fill me with “inspiration,” it’s a regulation NCAA/NBA 94’ x 50’ basketball court with about ten feet extra past the sidelines and baselines, not a yoga studio, which usually fills me with inspiration. FAIL
Enough Personal Space. While there was plenty of “personal space,” the 6-feet markers for the mats did not make the experience intimate. But “intimate” was not a criterion, so PASS.
Appropriate Music. Appropriate music is more critical than someone not into yoga might think. I’ve attended classes with teachers who believe somehow MC Yogi is suitable for a yoga session. (Yeah, I know the rapper is a yogi, and I enjoy his music, but that doesn’t make his music appropriate for practice. My first class back at the club had no music, which was better than the wrong music. The second class featured music and was low enough for me to hear the teacher in the cavernous space. PASS
Therefore, the new “yoga studio” gets a barely passing grade on the Do You Yoga’s test with a 75 percent. Not great, but we’re talking about exceptional times, and my health club is not exclusively a yoga studio. I’ll have to make do with what they can offer its members. Anyway, I wouldn’t be surprised if dedicated yoga studios have either gone out of business or cut back on their services.
We rolled out our mats over the designated spots—no chance of accidentally touching a fellow practitioner during a supine trunk rotation. Moments when you inadvertently play handzies with the student next to you were now geographically out of the question. After we warmed up, we executed a seated spinal stretch to the left. That’s when I noticed there are ten other members spread out so far that one of them was near the opposing goal line. There was one of the club’s trainers taking in the class at the free-throw line (Center), another two at opposite sides of the three-point line (Guards), another near the far baseline across from me. (That would make us both Forwards, I guess.) And five more near the mid court line and back on the opposing goal line. When I stretch the opposite way, I saw the barrel of basketballs near the door where we came in, and at once, I thought, “We have enough bodies in this gym for a pickup game!” Meditation didn’t go out the window; I never even began to go down the mindfulness path. Looking back on it now, I could have used “Alley-oop” as a mantra.
My favorite teacher, Heather, who used to teach classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, was not present. Nor was she on the schedule. Heather bailed early–a week before the club closed three months ago. In her place, now was Robert. Many yoga students and teachers have told me that Robert is one of the best yoga teachers in Sacramento, and I have practiced with more than one teacher who calls him either mentor or teacher.
He had a class at this club before the shutdown, but I had only attended it a couple of times. Many yoga peeps have told me that anyone can walk into a yoga studio never having practiced and do a session of Power Yoga or advanced Vinyasa Yoga–you just go at your own pace. But I have tried practicing in advanced classes and found it too frustrating, having to take multiple breaks and feeling as if every eye is on me–the loser (though know no one is looking at me; “no judgments” is a common motto with most, if not all yoga teachers). Still, I find trying to practice yoga above my abilities quite the opposite of beneficial and not blissful or inspirational. Anyway, Robert’s pre-COVID-19 class was too advanced for me.
For anyone who reads this blog, they might remember Robert as the kind teacher who was leading the class where I cut a loud fart. I don’t know if he recognized me as the guy who fouled his practice. Still, he did make an effort to talk to me after the class just like he hung around the front door of the club, post poot, possibly to catch me and tell me I was doing a good job [Read: “Don’t worry, Grandpa Sphincter, that’s your Root Chakra, tooting its appreciation for your practice!]. That embarrassing moment was so long ago I only hope Robert forgot about it.
One of the many amenities found in a high-end club like this one is that the establishment provides mats, blocks, rollers, straps, and as many towels as you need (or don’t need, but feel so entitled to use anyway). But these days of the novel coronavirus, the club, like everywhere else, is practicing “contactless” service, so it expects members to bring their mats. Thankfully, the front desk keeps a few mats for dullards like me. I’ve always wanted a folding mat but had only frivolous reasons to invest in one. I finally broke down and bought one, and yes, it is quite portable, but the two milometer-thickness kills my knees!
On my way out, I spoke with Housekeeping to see if my missing gym shorts and shirt were in the laundry room. My items appear to be lost; casualties to the three-month closure and a worn-out laundry bag. They gave me a new bag, but I’ll need to bring more duds.
That’s my yoga practice in a basketball court story. As I post this, COVID-19 cases have spiked in California. Governor Newsom is shutting down bars and restaurants–again. I’m guessing gyms will soon follow. (Though here’s an NPR story about how to work out as long as your gym stays open.) Perhaps I need to start a home practice, though I have mentioned on this blog countless times how undisciplined I am about following through. Just think, Jocko, you could build your own yoga space! Use the “8 Ways Your Surroundings Can Make (or Break) Your Yoga Session.” and your copy of the glossy coffee-table book Yoga At Home: Inspiration for Creating Your Home Practice by Linda Sparrowe as guidelines. I could even rub my shoulders and neck with eucalyptus oil. If only I knew how to, I shut up my chronically barking dog I might achieve zen in the middle of a pandemic!
I’ve been practicing yoga for over five years. At that time I started, I am happy to report I was not one of those guys who “checked out” women while practicing yoga. I was too busy trying to nail my asanas (yoga poses) to think about nailing the pretty lady in front of me. Anyway, at my old age, just the thought now makes me cringe; the attractive fellow students with the leggings are young enough to be my daughter. Unfortunately, there’s a first for everything.
I was starting a new class with a teacher of whom I have never worked. When she walked into the studio, the first thing I noticed besides the standard leggings many women wear in yoga classes was her top. She wore something similar to a camisole rather than the conventional crop top or other types of exercise shirt that revealed more of her dark skin the most tops. I’m guessing there was a camisole under the thing that looked like a camisole since there were two sets of spaghetti straps on her shoulders. One would expect a thicker bra strap, but it wasn’t. Jesus! Stop looking at the teacher’s brown shoulders, Jack! Okay, I don’t know what to call the outer camisole thingy. I felt creepy skulking around Forever 21, Spanx, and Saks of Fifth Avenue websites getting the proper names for “leggings” and “crop top” but never see the kind of top this 40ish-year-old woman was wearing. Just know that it looked like a camisole, okay, and it was delicate–not the kind of stuff you usually see women in during practice.
So, she’s got this exotic name to go with the dark bare shoulders. Another thing, she walks in with her hair down–way down. Black, curly hair that she wears in front of her. She smiles a toothy, but a cute smile that betrays the name, the top, and now hair. She walks over to one of the mirrored walls and puts her hair up. I could use this time to meditate like Patrick across from me. Frickin’ perfect Patrick with his perfect young body and his superior asanas. Must he roll out his mat across the room from mine and remind me how he can stick a pose better than me? Why does that bother me now–that kind of comparison crap hasn’t bugged me for years?
She turns to the few people in the class and introduces herself. Soledad. Damn, even the name is sexy or at least exotic. We all say, hi. She asks me if I attend other yoga classes here. I say two, with Heather. I then babble on about why the few early birds have our mats in this current configuration–an idea Heather started. She gives me that cute if incongruous smile and says something like she might be changing this up later. I feel like an ass. She didn’t ask about how the mats were set up, so why did I offer up this worthless piece of information. I look down and notice her feet. Can feet be sexy, or am I now attributing everything (sans the smile) to her general sexiness? I Check her left finger. Not married. (Be advised, I do this to everyone: women and men/attractive and not so attractive. It’s a weird tic, and no, I’m not bi.)
She rolls out her mat in the center of the room close to mine. From a standing position, she crosses her feet, then bends her legs until her rear quietly lands on her mat in Easy Pose without the use of her hands–they have been in Namaste the whole time. (Challenge and explanation to any readers who didn’t get that last sentence: While standing, cross your feet. Now sit on the ground while keeping the palms of your hands together as if you were praying, “Please God, preserve my tailbone!) I didn’t notice this graceful move until she was on the mat. I was too busy looking at her hair and shoulders. Damn it, Jack! You’re not here to check out females. She then starts to talk to us about what she hopes we will get out of this class. It seems like she is looking at me a lot as she tries to make eye contact with everyone. I doubt she spends a second longer looking at me and my lazy eye more than anyone else, including Perfect Patrick, it’s just that she has these big, beautiful, dark eyes.
When she’s looking and someone besides me, I can’t help but fixate on her top. I don’t mean her bust, I mean the thing she’s wearing. I examine the delicate straps until she swings her face towards mine again. Then I look away, embarrassed. This is horrible! I never do this shit in yoga. My other two teachers–Heather and Brenda–are both attractive, but besides that observation, I am all business with them–none of this stealing glances shit. I have quickly become one of the guys women talk about in funny YouTube videos–the guys who attend classes only to check out attractive women and their tight yoga clothes. I swear that is not me, at least not until now.
There was that one yoga teacher I practiced under for a short time. I forgot her name. She was also beautiful in an exotic way, but I didn’t get all worked up over her looks. It was a good class. She taught Yin yoga (a type of yoga where postures are held for a more extended time than most yoga practices). Even during Savasana, when she would walk around during this cool-down period and administered shoulder massages and finish us off with aromatherapy–a delicate rub of eucalyptus oil between the eyes–the Ajna chakra, I couldn’t say I was aroused only emotionally stimulated. Soledad is a different story, and it’s distracting and embarrassing.
I like to come to my yoga classes early. I have a spot, and I want to claim it. I roll out my mat, set up my blocks, and place a blanket at the back of the carpet where I sit and attempt to meditate until the teacher arrives. I am not as early for Soledad’s class as I am for Heather’s due to church on Sundays, but on one day, we skipped service, and I got to the club about as early as I do on the other days. When I got to the studio, I noticed the double doors were closed, and music was coming from the studio; it sounded like–Astor Piazzolla? When I opened the door a crack, Soledad was dancing an Argentine tango with a man. She was wearing the same top she practices in during our yoga classes, but she was also wearing a flowing skirt.
Before I could think up some romantic engagement between the two, Soledad stopped the music coming from her phone, gently criticized the man–who seemed about ten years her minor, then re-started the tango. I tried my hand at tango, but I wasn’t very good at it, and I knew it. Suddenly, a woman came into my narrow view. She gently cuts in, leaving the man out. At this point, Soledad and woman embraced in a salon-style dance pose, and after Soledad restarts the music, the new couple begins to dance. At the time, I realized my yoga teacher was instructing a couple in Argentine tango. Just then, as I’m starting to feel like a peeping Tom, I heard someone say from behind me, “Excuse me.” I backed up, embarrassed, and a fellow yoga student walked through the door. Soledad smiled at the woman who walked into the studio and rolled out her mat. Soledad then saw me, smiled, and said welcome. She then told the couple whom she was dancing with that she was about to teach a yoga class and that they would talk soon.
Before the yoga class started, Soledad removed her skirt (or is that thing called a wrap? I’m not looking that up!) revealing her leggings and explained to the class that she was teaching a couple how to tango for their wedding reception. The next Sunday, my exotic yoga teacher wore regular yoga clothes. Presumably, the young couple completed their lessons. My teacher’s clothes were more typical. Unfortunately, my web search results are anything, but. Thanks, Google Search Engine Marketing! Now every time I perform a Google search, I get ads for camisoles on the sidebar!
Maybe it was the change of clothing, or I just got used to the new teacher and her natural sexiness. She still comes to class with all that beautiful black curly hair draped over her chest, but after she puts it up in a Marge Simpson bun, it is no longer obtrusive. Still, I felt pretty creepy over my thoughts when I was recently reminded of Bikram Choudhury. Choudhury is the infamous hot yoga guru who, in 2013, was hit with several lawsuits alleging sexual harassment, sexual assault. Some of these allegations are explained–at times–painfully in the Netflix documentary “Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator.” See the trailer below.
For those who don’t have Netflix, but do have HBO there was an article from the previously aired sports show “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.” Check out Choudhury doing his best Donald Trump impression!