Yoga: Not as soothing as she’d imagined

A little, light torture, anyone?

“Lift! Lift the thighs! Lift the torso! Up with the arms! Lift higher! Shoulders back and down! Keep reaching upward! No talking! Breathe! Take off those socks! No socks allowed!”

Was this boot camp? Was this the sergeant major shouting endless instructions and commands to a group of new recruits?

No. The incongruous demand to remove the socks gives the truth away.

This was a yoga class -- a university yoga class. And I must say I hadn’t expected it to be like this.

Mistakenly, I had imagined the gentlest of guiding voices, and perhaps some calm, new-age music. After all, I’d heard that yoga helps one to relax, to clear the head, to aid in concentration.

We were concentrating, all right! The poses were so demanding that if we didn’t stay closely focused on our heels, the knuckles of our feet, our every toe, we would topple over.

We dared not even peek at each other. Watching someone else wobble was enough to set us wobbling, too.

The class comprised students aged from 17 into the 70s. Only those who were pregnant were allowed any slack. If we were warm and walking, we were to lift and stretch, bend and extend.

This was especially hard for basket ball players and other athletes among us. They were big and tall, strong and tough, but not as flexible as some of us less muscular weaklings. Much moaning and groaning ensued when they tried to extend their torsos forward or to the left or to the right.

“No complaining!” Despite her seeming harshness, though, the instructor was gentle with them, patiently easing them into the poses: “Right buttock forward, turn the right leg! Goooood!

Over the 10-week course, most of us improved more than we could have imagined. From time to time, we gathered around the instructor as she demonstrated a particularly tricky pose for us, her slender, lithe body as beautiful as a Robert Graham sculpture. We watched in awe as she drew herself into extended triangles and perfect warrior poses.

Our warriors, alas, remained totally unthreatening to any would-be enemy. We would keel over if we thought about anything but bending the leg at a right angle to the floor and holding our arms straight above our heads.

This being a university, the course had academic as well as kinesiologic requirements. We studied some yoga philosophy and we learned both the English and the Sanskrit names for the poses.

Utthita trikonasana rolled sweetly from the tongue. It also rolled right out of the brain after the final exam. Still, the lessons remain.

Now, as I stride up and down the hills on my daily walk, I hear that voice urging “Lift the torso! Shoulders back and down! Open the chest! Breathe!”

And when I practice yoga at home, I know how to avoid injury, and how to relax, clear my head and calmly face the day. Namaste!

Monica B. Morris lives in Hollywood. Her latest book, to be published in August, 2009, is “Goodnight Children, Everywhere.” Other books include “That Ridiculous Blue Sky: A Novel” and “Falling in Love Again: The Mature Woman’s Guide to Finding Romantic Fulfillment.”

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