Sunday, September 18, 2011

Jonathan and the Belt of Triumph

Yoga, by definition means to 'unite'. The aim of practicing yoga is to 'unite' an individual's consciousness with the divine. For me, it was more like uniting my body with a following week of barely being able to walk.

Rishikesh- 'The Yoga Capital of the World', or so they claim. A statement which I suppose a town is allowed to make when every other building is an ashram, temple or yoga school. And everyone, ok, mostly the tourists, all stroll around looking ridiculously flexible and wearing overly baggy 'yoga' clothes and orange scarves patterned with Hindu deities, barely breaking their chants for strictly vegetarian food. Heck, even the Beatles came here, famously, to Maharishi's ashram, just outside of town, for some good old fashioned stretching and 'ommm'ing. On the holy river 'Ganga' (the Ganges) Rishikesh and it's neighbouring towns are a mecca, for varying reasons, for pilgrims, tourists, sadhus (somewhat itinerant holy men who are sustained mostly by alms, but also find supplemental income as hotel touts, tour guides etc.), people who want to learn the secrets of yoga, people who think they already know everything about yoga and want to show off, and, of course, as all Indian towns, for cows, dogs and monkeys.

As a rosey-eyed travel planner, I am guilty of imagining the perfect 'Liz' senario. Liz (Gilbert), of course, from Eat, Pray, Love, whose months spent at the nameless Indian ashram enlightened her in so many ways. (ps. I am NOT the only one who has come to this decision, looks like, from the innumerable single women wandering around wistfully, obviously just waiting to be enlightened) (side note #2: I know, I know this isn't completely fair and quite a bit cynical) In my personal Indian-yoga fantasies, I would sit, cross legged, before a soft faced yogi, breathing deeply feeling the oxygen run through me, filling me with energy, a gentle breeze on my face, the soothing sounds of distant chanting devotees, and I would revel in the peace and stillness. I would leave town feeling rejuvenated, refreshed, and alive. Sigh. What an imagination I have.

Granted, the large studio at 'my' yoga school has a grand wall of windows that look out over the fast moving Ganges. Sitting on my yoga mat, I can hear the rushing water and see the faded, but colourful temple across the bank backing onto the thick, steep, forested hills. Then again, my eyes are supposed to be closed, and I probably should be focused more on contorting my sweaty body into the impossible pose that the calm, pretzel-like yogi is demonstrating... But, oh.. and theres a cute little monkey lumbering along the balcony! The yogi always smiles at me in the way one smiles at a child when they are trying so very hard to do something that is clearly impossible for them to do. Everyone else knows that they are headed for failure, but the child, naive, keeps on trying anyways. Anything is possible, right? How cute.

The first class Jonathan and I took (yes, even Jonathan gave it a shot- we are in the Yoga Capital of the World, after all) was Astanga Yoga. Astanga yoga links various poses into a series of flowing, aka, exhausting, movements. 'Guaranteed to make you sweat,' promised the yogi who greeted us, like the sweating was something to look forward to. The only thing that I could think of as we twisted and lunged and I successfully drenched in sweat, every item of clothing I was wearing, my yoga mat, and most of the floor around me, was 'what a scam that popular, trendy, new 'hot yoga' stuff is that everyone is talking about at home!' 'Hot yoga,' I'm sure, was 'invented' by someone who came to India and took an astanga yoga class in India's scorching hot weather on a day where the power was out, as it was that day for us. (Not that the decrepit fans would have made much of a difference). Guaranteed to make you sweat out at least a half liter. This is no special hot yoga, people. This is just yoga in India. Yoga, where in a place where it is insanely hot. And there you have it: hot yoga was born. I'm sure of it. I loved every minute of it, of course.

Ever more entertaining than myself, was dear ole' Jonathan. I had done many of the moves/positions before in classes at the gym back home (most I had been doing incorrectly, it turns out. Because when you do them the proper way- it hurts... but, anyways). It was a whole new world for Jonathan.He did well, though. He was the only proud recipient of a blue belt, half way through the class. We were sitting, legs out, reaching towards our feet. The yogi came around and was trying to help each of us reach further. He came to Jonathan and pushed lightly on is back. Jonathan laughed. 'Oh' said the yogi, surprised, and he returned with the belt. 'The Rope of Superiority,' 'the Gold Star', 'The Belt of Triumph.' All names Jonathan came up with for his new accessory. Really, what was it? A handicap. Because Jonathan can't touch his toes. Not, really, I'm sad to report, even close. (J: Why would anyone want their fingers to touch their toes when those toes, strapped in thongs, have been walking around in mud, disease-infested water, cow splats, garbage and some other gross things all day long? In this context, inflexibility should be rebranded as Sanitary Yoga). With the rope wrapped around his feet, he could use the resistance to aid in his 'stretching.' This, needless to say was the last astanga yoga class Jonathan came to with me (J: I said I would attend one class of each type offered (three in total)).

I continued to attend, although not the next day, as I could barely move my legs as a result of the class. I am more flexible than Jonathan, but nothing compared to the pretzel-people in the class. Wowzers. Seriously, these people can contort themselves, seemingly effortlessly into poses that you only see in those disturbing forwarded emails. I am hoping that flexibility is contagious. I think the yogi likes when I come, for my entertainment value. In that first class, by some stroke of otherworldly assistance, I'm sure, I managed to fanagle my legs almost behind my head. The yogi looked up in alarm and frantically motioned one of the assistants over to 'assist' me in my efforts. Most likely to do his best in making sure I didn't break my neck. That would probably be a lot of paperwork. Then again, this is India. The yogi in training, without really any help from me, somehow rearranged my legs and feet and arms so that I was almost pretzel-ed in half, kinda like the rest of the class, (except Jonathan). I was stunned. How the heck was I doing this? 'Look at me! Look at me!' I hissed to Jonathan, craning my neck to the side and peering in between my jumble of arms and legs. You don't talk loudly in yoga class, obviously. As I hoped, he looked over and was equally impressed, shocked and horrified. I could tell by the way his jaw dropped and was filled with panic. 'You're folded in half!' Jonathan exclaimed in a loud whisper. Ms. Yoga herself glares at us from between her legs, showing off her perfect 'downward dog.' She's moved on from this pose. Too easy for her. The yogi had left me, all twisted up. I was so impressed with myself. Look at me! Look at me! I'm a pretzel! Yes, I was thrilled, and was wishing that we had the camera to provide proof of this feat, as it was likely never to happen again- and then I realized. Not only had I not the slightest idea how I had gotten myself into this 'pretzel' (mostly because I hadn't), more importantly, and causing a significant onset of panic, 'how the heck was I going to get out?' My limbs were all secured tightly within each other and I couldn't move them at all. Everyone else was gracefully moving on to the next pose. Except me. I was on my back, butt in the air, flopping around like a fish on the beach. Graceful, yes, and attractive, I'm sure. Jonathan was no longer impressed and was laughing. I knew right then, as I had finally wriggled one leg free and flopped it onto the ground with a resounding 'thump' that I had lost any right to make fun of his 'Blue Belt of Triumph.' Darn. As I lay there, flat on my back, breathing heavily I remembered that I was a pretzel, just moments before and smiled widely. 'Did you see that?' I mouthed to Jonathan, referring to the pretzel, not the unflattering depretzelization. To which, he just laughed harder. Whatever, Blue Belt!

As the week wore on, I got better and better at the positions, and every morning I woke up my leg muscles ached less and less. Yesterday, my second to last class, I was feeling particularily daring. The yogi described and demonstrated some complicated pose where one leg was tucked up into the other and the other leg was bent, and one arm went around this leg, but backwards, or something equally as impossible. I watched the rest of the class twisting and reaching and pushing themselves into position, and I tried to imitate them. 'This pose is very hard for some, very easy for others,' the yogi called from the front of the classroom. I wriggled my way into position with relative ease. Wow! I could do it! I was one of the ones it was easy for. One week of yoga, and I was practically a pro. I smiled and closed my eyes. I practiced breathing the way I was taught. I made sure all my muscles were active. I sat there, eyes closed, impressed with myself. Maybe I should become a yoga instructor! Maybe I could be more successful at meditation, now that I've conquered yoga. Maybe... there was a tap on my knee. The yogi was smiling, inches from my face. The same way I smile at cute dogs. He shook his head, still smiling and dutifully attempted to rearrange my limbs into a position that more closely resembled that of the rest of the class, I realized. He was greatly unsuccessful. There was no way my leg was going there, nor was my arm reaching that far. My limbs were fiercely uncooperative despite his gentle coaxing. Not even close. 'Oh.' 'Not so easy any more, is it?' he laughed, good naturedly. Maybe I will stick to sitting at the back of the class...

The yoga school offers three different kinds of classes. Hatha yoga, which is traditional Indian yoga, Ashtanga Visyasa yoga, a more fluid yoga and meditation. Jonathan and I have tried every class. Jonathan, not surprisingly, liked the mediation the best. And he was far, far better at it than I was. After a half hour of 'breathing' and another excruciating half hour of staring at the flame of a candle, I determined that meditation was boring. Although instead of sitting there "concentrating", as I knew my perfectly figetless husband was doing, I had used the time 'wisely,' planning where we would go for dinner, if this hour did, in fact, ever end, which earrings I wanted from the Tibetan lady down the street, I considered which train we should take to the next town, decided that we should do our laundry the following day...

ps. Happy Birthday Uncle Stephen, Uncle Dan and Candy Dandy!!

pps. Welcome to the family Daniel Ricardo!

ppps. Has anyone in Canada received a postcard from Nepal yet? We mailed them six weeks ago!


Anonymous said...

amazing story once again. loved it!

Parentals said...

no card from Nepal yet.... last one from China.
You'll have to both come my Yoga class and give us some lessons.... and show off your new yogi skill

sarah adie towle said...

Oh My Dear Sweet Pomebot. I was rooting for you to come home and be a yoga instructor... but laughed quite loudly at the end of the paragraph when sadly you had not quite conquered the pose.
I am also shocked to hear that meditation didn't go so well for you. You know what you need to do when you meditate? Think of "When it's hot, chicken bot. When it's not, chicken not".... use that mantra!
No card from nepal as of yet.