After about a year of no exercise whatsoever, I thought it was time to start moving again.  Previously, I have enjoyed dancing or a gym class with weights or walking.  This time, to allow for the fact that I feel as though I am walking slowly through thick molasses all the time, I thought I would try yoga.  For me, yoga has always been something that other people do.  People who can sit on the floor cross legged comfortably for several hours and never fidget.  People who can stretch without pain, and put their noses to their knees (with straight legs).  Fit people.  Not. Me.

Still though, I have heard and read about the benefits of yoga, and thought I should give it a go.  My cousin E is a yoga instructor and although I have never taken a class with her, I have seen pictures of her in different gravity and logic defying poses and she makes it look effortless and fantastic, plus which watching her finding her vocation has been inspiring, so with this in mind, we arranged a class.  I wanted to stay in my comfort zone, so I arranged for a teacher to come to the house. There was no way I was going to put myself in a room with super-fit yoga bunnies folding themselves into human origami without so much as breaking a sweat. D and two friends joined in as well.  Four of us, keep costs down, and maybe learn something while we’re at it.

I had been dreading it, I won’t lie.  I do not consider myself particularly flexible, and have started to make noise whenever I move.  Bending to pick something up is now accompanied with a long drawn out moan as is lifting anything heavier than a Sunday newspaper.  The worst development of my forties however is how long it takes me to bounce back after being in one position for any length of time.  One hour on the couch leads to at least 10 minutes of severe limping as my hips adjust to no longer being at 90 degrees.  Don’t even get me started on bean bags and other such instruments of torture.  The thing about bean bags and low couches is that they look so inviting.  And – while you are on them – they are extremely comfortable.  But no sooner have you relaxed into their warm embrace, than you have to start planning an exit strategy.  It cannot be done in one smooth manoeuvre.  Either you have to enlist the assistance of some (strapping) passer by or you have to do it in three or more stages, rolling on to your knees and then shakily getting up onto your feet and limping off into the sunset trying to act as if you haven’t just broken a sweat trying to get out of a chair.

Sorry I lost the thread again.  Back to yoga.  D and her friend knew the instructor as they have attended her class before.  C & I had both never done yoga before and were nervous as you would expect. She asked us about injuries or medical conditions and we started.  The girls had comforted us beforehand saying that it’s basically just a lot of breathing mainly.  I would not characterise the hour as mainly breathing, although much was made of the breathing.  Apparently it needs to be audible (or ujjayi).  So basically, while contorting your body into frankly unnatural poses, you must also be channeling Darth Vader.  We started with what is known as a resting pose: child’s pose. This involves kneeling with your knees apart and sitting on your feet.  Then you walk your hands forwards as far as possible, and place your forehead on the floor. This was supposed to be the default pose to fall back on if it all got too much.  About a minute into this ‘resting pose’ my shoulders seized up, and my knees were killing me.  Let’s just say, I do not usually rest in this pose.  This did not bode well.  After that we did a lot of different movements which all happen quite quickly and are tied in with the heavy breathing.  Some of the positions were impossible for me but mostly I was able to get into an approximation of them and hold them for maybe two breaths but certainly not the 5 required.  The most difficult position was downward facing dog which is – yes you guessed it – another resting pose. For those of you who do not rest in this position, I will explain that downward facing dog is exactly what you think it is.  You have to put your hands on the floor in front of you and your feet behind you and basically stick your backside in the air.  Your head is tucked down and (in my case) after about 20 seconds, your hands, arms and shoulders are shaking and the backs of your legs are burning from trying to get your heels into the mat.  Don’t get me wrong.  I know that these things take practice.  I know that you have to keep doing it until you get it right.  Presumably it is called a resting pose because many people find it restful.  But during my first hour of yoga, downward facing dog was the toughest thing we did. We balanced, stretched, were warriors and trees, stood up, lay down, got up, saluted the sun, and breathed (both audibly and silently) but every time she said ‘into downward facing dog’ I thought I don’t think yoga is for me…

Finally at the end of the hour she told us to adopt the corpse pose (not a big stretch for me) and we lay there while she talked to us about breathing and relaxation.  The words she used were interesting, as with a lot of disciplines, yoga has its own jargon and imagery, and so we were told to picture a light between our eyes and draw our ears towards the light and then as we inhaled we were supposed to be picturing the light travelling down our bodies into our fingers and toes – or was it when we exhaled? I am not really clear on the specifics, I was just relieved to be in a position which I could hold for more than 20 seconds.

So the hour came to an end, and as we rolled up our mats, and the (very sweet) instructor said her goodbyes, we looked at each other in relief.  Me & C especially were relieved to have survived the experience without embarrassing ourselves I think.  When D asked us what we thought, I found myself saying that I enjoyed it, and felt that we should persevere and see if we get better each week.  I surprised myself actually because while I was doing it, all I could think as I was shaking and doing the easier version of everything was that this would be the last time I ever signed up for this kind of thing.  Clearly, my body thought that the movement was a good thing.

That was immediately afterwards.  Now that some time has passed, and my muscles are stiffening up to a frightening degree, and it hurts to lift my tea to my lips or cough, sneeze or laugh, my body is busy cursing my mouth for making the appointment for next week.  I am determined to keep at it though.  At least until downward facing dog doesn’t make me tremble and cry, or until I face plant into my mat and break something.  Whichever happens first.

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