Going On A Bender

My yoga card for the local gym has four punches left on it, and expires in as many days. And thus the stage is set for a showdown between my frugality and inflexibility.

This card, which I bought a little under a year ago, was my second. The first was purchased after a consultation with a weight trainer who, after evaluating my physical capabilities, told me not to darken his dumbells until I returned a little more limber. That came as no surprise, honestly, as inflexibility runs on the maternal side of my family. Even as a beanpole of a child I spent the “touch your toes” portion of gym class getting reacquainted with my kneecaps at best.

So, yoga. My gym has a “Happy Hour” session every weekday at 4:30 (so named because “Agony Hour” went over poorly with the focus group, I presume), each with a different teacher. I tried a few different days before finding an instructor with the perfect mix of patience, mercy, and amazing playlist.

The first thing I learned about yoga is that it has a profoundly screwed up incentive system. When you do something wrong, a lovely and/or handsome instructor comes over and places a hand on you and murmurs words of encouragement. If, on the other hand, you accidentally improve, you are able to more closely approximate the ideal pose, and wake up the following morning feeling like you were on the wrong end of a grapeshot cannon. The ideal strategy, I have found, is to just sort of flounder around aimlessly. In this regard I am a master strategist.

Prior to this I had only done Wii Fit yoga, which is to actual yoga what playing with a Hotwheels car is to piloting the space shuttle. The Wii Fit yoga instructor tells you to hold your pose for a mere 60 seconds, and only comments if you seem “shaky”. This is because the sole input device used by Wii Fit yoga is the balance board. Real life yoga instructors, on the other hand, can evaluate a multitude of other factors, such as whether or not you are audibly sobbing. And they make you do yoga for a full hour instead of for just 10 minutes. And “taking a breather” in the middle to drink beer and play Wii Lego Star Wars is frowned upon. It’s pretty draconian.

On the up side, “gym” yoga is not like “yoga studio” yoga, in that many of the participants are just dabblers. Even so, I have rarely seen another as inflexible as myself. In one class I was behind a woman who seemed to be struggling as much as I during the initial, limbering up exercises, and it was only when we began the routine proper, and she turned to the side, that I discovered that she was in her third or possibly fourth trimester.

Still, for all that, I eventually grew to enjoy my sessions, and got in the habit of attending every Thursday afternoon. I even used up my punchcard and purchased another. But, alas, about halfway through the second, my Thursday afternoon instructor introduced us to the “Knife In the Back” pose, by resigning from the gym and moving to California to open her own studio. BOOO TO YOU PRETTY YOGA TRAITOR LADY!

I tried a few other instructors thereafter. Some were mean (“If you’re going to make faces you may as well smile” one told me), and others employed Bad Music (one just played Sufjan Stevens’s “Illnoise” album during our session, which was fine until the phrase “cancer of the bone” rang out during the downward facing dog). Eventually I fell off the yogatic wagon altogether.

Until earlier this week, that is, when I dug out my card and found it set to expire with five boxes unpunched. And so yesterday, after six months of absenteeism, I returned to Happy Hour Yoga … only to discover that Tuesdays are now the “core workout” session. As I have the core strength of a bundt cake, and will sooner become the Secretary of the Agriculture before planking for longer than a handful of seconds, it Did Not Go Well.

At least the instructor constantly urged us to “tighten your stomach muscles”. This is the functional equivalent of “sucking in your gut”, something I habitually do in yoga class unbidden, so I was pleased to discover that there is one maneuver I can perform flawlessly.

One down, four punches to go. Hopefully they won’t all feel like they were delivered to my midsection.

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11 comments.

  1. How do you find ancient twitter posts?

    While we’re on the topic, how do you keep crappy slips of paper from being destroyed in your wallet?

  2. This is some of your funniest yet — and that’s a high bar to cross (which, judging by the content, bar clearing not being a strong point with you).

  3. What, you mean my Wii Fit Yoga isn’t the real thing? All the hours I spent trying to avoid the shakes to placate that slave-driver Wii teacher avatar are for nothing? I’m crushed, I tell you!

    I may have to go get an ice cream to get over my disappointment…

  4. I think it’s so cute that you think this will make a difference at your age.

  5. Too bad you didn’t wait a week until checking your punch card.

    I hear you about yoga. I have been doing it for 6 months now and it has only gone from “horrible” to “mostly bearable.”

    My teachers do not make fun of me though. I think I look like a project to all of them. I finally bought a mat ($75) so I’m committed.

    Good luck and god speed.

    -WP

  6. If you are truly inflexible (and not just a curmudgeon), there is a video series of different exercise routines for inflexible people. I have been doing the Pilates for Inflexible People and although the videos move faster than my comprehension, the moves themselves are nice. Basically, they show you the “real” way and then several modified ways to do each move (it basically accommodates everyone from “not that flexible” to wheelchair-bound). A friend suggested it after he used it post-surgery to great success. I am not completely un-limber, but I am not good at setting myself up for an hour a day of stretching. My best yoga experience was at the local community college. The teacher was this barrel-chested football coach kind of guy and was great at showing how “real people” (not just the spandex pants-wearing granola munchers) can do it, too. So much like that episode of King of the Hill! Plus, at the local college, it cost something like $40 for the semester (16 weeks) and there were about 50 people in the class, so I wasn’t the only awkward beginner and I certainly wasn’t the only farter.

  7. You’re welcome to come down and try out our hot yoga beginner’s class down in Fremont, Matt =)

    I’ll even cover your drop-in visit ;) Our motto is ‘No Judgement’ so, seriously, if you want to try child’s pose the entire class, you are more than welcome, but, I went from clunky to being able to do a tripod headstand in 6 months.

    Tho I still can’t really do crow or dolphin.

    Drop me an email if you’re interested.

  8. Good thing I didn’t read this post until the day after Mother’s Day or I would have disowned you and you would have been motherless on Mother’s Day and you wouldn’t have had to cook that lovely dinner. And, sigh, you are right about the flexibility factor.

  9. Oh Matthew, this had me involuntarily tightening my stomach muscles. Funny! Hope you made it through your punch card. I will be teaching in the U District on Tuesday nights this summer and would love for you to come cry in my class, or at least make funny faces.

  10. I once signed up (as a complete beginner to any sort of fitness class) for a series of Pilates classes which happened to be at what must have been an extraordinarily unpopular time. I was often the only one in the class, and would receive (I’m not sure I can say “benefit from”) the exclusive attention of the teacher, who was delighted at the opportunity to really make sure I was working my core in the proper Pilates way.

    I’m still pretty sure it’s no coincidence that the exercise sounds like the man who sentenced Jesus to death by crucifixion.

  11. [...] I’m always a sucker for amusing accounts of painful fitness experiences. [...]

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