How Do You Do Chair Pose?
I decided to give the yoga class close to home a shot. When I stopped by the other day on my way to the store to check out the class times, the instructor held her cat underneath its front legs and let it dangle there in front of her while she prattled on. Looking for a way out of a one hour commute to yoga, I tried the class anyway.
I arrived about 10AM, maybe a couple minutes early, and she answered the door looking frazzled, like she wasn’t expecting anyone. She unlocked the studio and as I lay out my mat, she told me to put one of her studio mats under it. I declined politely more than once before she left to do whatever it was she was doing. I stretched, checked the clock a couple times and looked at the pictures of Jesus hanging over the studio door.
The doorbell rang and another student came in. Pushing 60 and hobbling, she had bleached blond hair and when she moved in for the perfunctory kiss on the cheek, I got a whiff of her. She smelled like she’d rolled in dead animal. She left a damp trace of saliva on my cheek and it was hard for me to shake the feeling she’s smeared me with something foul as she settled in next to me and her odor permeated the room. I continued to stretch.
The instructor started the class after a good two minutes of banter with the woman. By 10:15, the ten o’clock class had started with neck rolls. By 10:20, another student showed up and we continued with stretches fit for a preschool gym class. I tried to be patient.
The instructor sat cross-legged in front, pinched her fingers and thumbs together and led the class in a brayed chorus of shouted oms. I did not participate. It seemed premature less than five minutes into the class and altogether too loud. We stood, we reached toward the ceiling. We bent, we reached for the floor. The woman next to me was grunting, sending her scent my way in waves, something swine-like and distinctly fecal.
The instructor had us stand up. She told us to do the chair and then squatted on her haunches like she was taking a pee by the side of the road. She told us to stand up. On the second squat, I moved into the chair position I had been taught in nearly every yoga class I’d taken over the last 5 years. She said, “Kate. Kate. Look at me. Like this.” This was not yoga. This was something from a betamax tape from 1982, calisthenics for the mental institution or the terminally ill.
I looked around the studio. She’d closed the blinds as class started. Pictures of Jesus baptizing someone in a river shared wall space with a diagram of a sun salutation ripped from a fitness magazine, rosary beads, and Hindu gods. Clutter was piled around a stereo that played Chinese flute music at low volume near where she sat at the front of the room, and dust motes floated in the air.
The woman next to me grunted and then lay flat and still. “I can’t,” she said. Instead of guiding her with her hands (and who could blame her for that) or quiet words or some combination of these, the teacher loudly crowed verbal corrections from her position at the front, finally giving up and telling the woman to rest.
During stretches, when I used alternate positions I’d been taught by other teachers to get a deeper stretch, she’d get my attention by hollering, “Kate! Kate! Don’t twist. Do it like this.”
We lay down for the cool-down (hardly necessary). She turned off the tape and picked up a rain stick and flipped it rapidly back and forth a few times before launching into a blessing to God. I opened my eyes and blinked at the ceiling wondering how long it could go on.
At the end of class, she asked me what I thought of it in front of the other students. I tried to wiggle out of answering. She said, “Every yoga class and every yoga instructor is different. If you go to 35 teachers, you’ll experience 35 different classes.” The other women nodded quietly. I waited for them to clear out to tell her I was just going to pay for the one class — not the whole month.
“What’s so different about this class than the other places you’ve gone?”
“I just, well, I have some physical problems and I need to build up my strength, you see.”
“You did strength exercises today! What’s wrong with you? What problems do you have?”
“Well, I was hit by a car. I hurt my shoulder pretty bad.”
“Well, what’s wrong with it?”
“I’m missing ligaments in my shoulder and have some cartilage damage.”
“I hurt my shoulder, too. You need to do exercises like this,” she said and bent at the waist and dangled her arm in a circular motion.
She stood again. “Really. I fell in a hotel room and I hit my head, but after my head stopped hurting, I realized I hurt my shoulder and you have to do exercises like this to build up your strength.” She bent and dangled her arm again.
“Yeah, yeah. Well thanks. I’ve got to go. I’ve got work to do.”
I steamed on the way home over the worthlessness of it all and her clumsy questions. I should have known better. That’s not how you hold a cat.