Confessions of a Yoga Dropout

by Barbara Behrmann

I want to leave but I can't. I am sitting barefoot in the lobby, outside the closed door of the yoga classroom, where my shoes and purse are being held hostage by my fear of embarrassment. If only my car keys weren't in my purse. What could I possibly have been thinking when I enrolled in this class? That my cynical mind would somehow be able to concentrate exclusively on my inner self?

I had arrived at the first class on time. Not early, but certainly not late - on the hour exactly. Still, I was the last to arrive. I opened the door to find 20 bodies quietly lying on an assortment of mats. Mats. Was I supposed to bring one?

"Here," the instructor said to me without a smile or a greeting. "I have an extra. You'll need to bring one next time." She spoke slowly and deliberately. I thanked her, slipped off my shoes, chose an inconspicuous spot in the back of the room, and unrolled the mat. Furtively glancing at the prone bodies around me, I lay down, thinking, "I guess this is what I'm supposed to be doing." Was I the only one who felt silly lying on the floor in a darkened room full of strangers?

"Let's stand," the instructor said suddenly, and as one, everyone stood. "What power!" I thought. "Place your feet 1 feet apart and raise your arms. Clasp your hands above your head. Inhale. Now exhale. Let all of your thoughts leave your body.

Yoga is a form of healing that depends entirely on you."

"That leaves me out," I thought, chastising myself for not being able to turn off my critical sociological gaze. There was a series of calmly uttered commands that everyone followed obediently, in unison, including the instruction to exhale quickly, making a rushing sound with ones throat, sort of like a cross between a growl, a pant, and the sound one makes when trying to loosen phlegm. And then, just after we were back down on the mats again, I felt a wave of sensation surge through my lower body. My inner self was not reveling in new-found harmony - instead it needed to get to a bathroom quick! "Great," I thought, "everyone else is getting in touch with their center, while I'm just trying to breath through stomach cramps. Hmm. Maybe I shouldn't have had linguine with pesto before coming to the class." But it was too late now. I waited as long as I could and then I silently and quickly grabbed my shoes and left the room. Slam! The door swung shut behind me.

My visit to the bathroom was unproductive, but I knew I'd have to return again soon. Rather than going back to the class only to leave a minute later, I tried to speed the process along. Figuring that as long as I was paying the money, I might as well make use of the time, I stretched and reached. But after a few minutes of this silliness, hoping that nobody would open the door to find me doing calisthenics in front of a public bathroom mirror, I returned to the auditorium. "I'll be fine," I told myself, hoping that there was some truth to the mind's ability to control the body.

Slam! "Oh yeah, the door," I thought, as it announced my return. Only this time everyone was sitting up facing the door, instead of lying down.

Instantly, I felt like I had in junior high, praying that the softball wouldn't come anywhere near me and that maybe I could just drop out of school before being up at bat. (Organized physical activity and I have never gotten along.)

I took off my shoes, returned to my borrowed mat in the back of the auditorium, and imitated the position of the others. But as soon as I was seated the cramps returned. I was not becoming relaxed!

"Hold your foot," the instructor droned. "Press each toe, the ball of your foot, the arch. All of the body's nerves have connections in the foot. Now slap your foot, your leg, your hip...." and everyone pressed and slapped and no one except me seemed to take any interest in what anyone else was doing.

My thoughts returned to junior high again, and my first dance, when I just knew that everyone was watching me flail my arms about self-consciously and that they would laugh about it for days afterward whenever they saw me in the hallway.

The instructor's voice continued somewhere in the distance while otherwise seemingly intelligent adults obeyed faithfully. Were these the same people who in the 60's would have worn a button declaring "Question Authority?" I found myself thinking of cult leaders, men like Jim Jones or David Karesh, with blindly following members, or even respectable religious leaders with established congregations. Meanwhile, I tried to flex my ankle and release tension while clinging to my stomach. I didn't think this was what the course description ment when it promised that yoga would help me get in touch with my body. My efforts were of no use. I had to leave the room again, and this time I didn't even stop to grab my shoes, not wanting to call extra attention to myself. And I would remember to shut the door gingerly this time.

"Please don't slam the door," the instructor said in her cool, tranquilized voice. "I know," I wanted to snap, but instead I nodded, grateful that the dimness disguised the redness in my cheeks.

Ten minutes later, and feeling somewhat better, I realized that the class was more than half over. How could I possibly go back in and risk even greater humiliation? I couldn't do it. So that is why I am sitting barefoot in the lobby, facing my fate as a yoga dropout. And I wait. I wait for my husband who is meeting me here in 20 minutes, and I wait for the door of the classroom to open so I can surreptitiously slip in, grab my shoes and purse, and maybe even roll up my borrowed mat that lays unused in the back of the room.

Eventually the classroom door opens. I slip past the exiting students and immediately see the instructor rolling up my mat. Avoiding eye contact, I grab my belongings, duck out, and go outside, away from the front door of the building, to wait for my husband. Not only had yoga not centered me, but it had reduced me to a state of sophomoric sophistication.

"Maybe she won't notice me," I think. "Please, let her turn to the left when she comes out, not to the right." No such luck. I avoid eye contact as she walks past staring at me with a seemingly bemused expression on her face. But I'm not sure. I don't look too long.

I'd like to think that I'll never see her again...well, that she'll never see me again. But I know that she will. It's that kind of town. In the meantime, I'll continue to trust my chiropractor, despite the fact that she once said to me, "You know, yoga would be really good for you."

Barbara Behrmann, Ph.D., is a free-lance writer living in upstate New York with her husband, daughter, and baby number two due in spring. She is currently putting together a book of women's breastfeeding experiences. If anyone would like to contribute to "Bosom Buddies: Women Talk About Breastfeeding," please contact her for more information!

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© Copyright 1997 - Barbara Behrmann. All rights reserved.