Tuesday, April 12, 2005

"You're Gonna Love It!"

“Push, Harry, Push.” I heard the voice, but the sweat droplets had burrowed their way into my ear canal - everything sounded muffled. Already painfully exhausted, I didn’t want to let it show. Even more sweat streamed down my chest, back and legs.

“Another inch, pull down a bit. Oh yeah, that’s it,” Jenny whispered. “How's it feel?”

Jenny stroked my back, gently steering my aching body to a place where it had never been before. But how could she ask such questions while my throat was tangled in my thighs?

“A little more now, Harry. Push a bit more. yes ... that's good.”

My heartbeat pounded against my leg as Jenny’s hand guided my head lower – everything was upside down. Gasping for air, I muttered something like, “C’mon, I’m doing the best I can here.” But I was definitely thinking, “Get your fuckin’ hands off me!!”

* * * * * * * * * *

My buddy Bill told me all about Bikram “hot yoga” months before, knowing I was struggling through the pain of a failing marriage. For years, Bill had been my pseudo personal trainer; he was always enrolling me into something.

“Well, the way I see it,” Bill advised, “as long as you’re getting your ass kicked, you may as well get it kicked in there." He was referring to a steamy room and Bikram Choudhury’s 26-position yoga system. “One-stop shopping, I’m telling you. Yoga, aerobics, meditation – all rolled into one. “C’mon. It’ll get your mind off your Robin. You’re gonna love it!” he added.

I had tried yoga classes here and there and usually liked it, although not enough to make it a steady practice. One time in a class years earlier, while lying on my back in “Sivasana,” the relaxed position, I became so relaxed I fell asleep and started to snore. The woman to my right nudged me. I was embarrassed, but very refreshed. Actually, I thought that was the point. The woman later explained how sleeping in class was a big no-no. That was about ten years ago; maybe it was time for another run at it.

“Not to get too earthy crunchy,” Bill continued, “but you may even experience some clarity when you do it, a detox kind of thing,” he added. I heard Bill’s words – he knew I was at a point where I was willing to try anything to calm my head and body.

“Bring a mat, towel and make sure you get yourself a bottle of Poland Spring… And wear bathing trunks – that’ll be the best thing,” Bill instructed as we chatted the night before my Bikram debut. “And listen, the class starts at 9 so you wanna drink another bottle of water about an hour before ... you know, so you’re nice and hydrated.

“So, that’s two liters of water then?” I asked, scribbling notes.

Bill laughed. “You’re gonna love it, Harry!”

The way he kept repeating that line.

* * * * * * * * * *


Now, I’m a New Englander, born and raised in Massachusetts. And while trips to Florida and the Caribbean are nice for vacations, I am simply not a heat person. Having said that, the yoga room was hot. Really hot.

“An hour and a half in here!?” I thought. “Then again, how hard can it be? I mean, c’mon – it’s just yoga.” Yeah, right.

“Since it’s your first time…” a tall, pretty curly-haired blond woman came up from behind and touched my arm, “… you may want to set up in the back so you can watch others. You know, see the routine.” She guided me to my spot. “Also, you’ll want to be able to see yourself in the mirror,” the woman pointed toward the front. Something about the way she carried herself – I liked this pre Attila-the-Hun version of Jenny, the instructor.

After unrolling and laying out my towel and foam mat, I checked the clock and calculated whether I had enough time to get to the bathroom … again. Two liters of water in two hours? The stuff had to go somewhere.

“OK. Come to the center of your mats ...” Jenny called the meeting to order. “We start with ‘Pranayama’ deep breathing.”

The sweat poured off my body like someone was running a hose on my back – and I hadn’t even lifted so much as a pinky yet. As people took their positions in the overly-packed room, I glanced at some wall photos of handsome people in various yoga positions. All of them had nice, lean and clean looking bodies. And they were all smiling, too. “Something to shoot for,” I thought as I checked the clock again, figuring I’d simply perspire away my pit stop.

“Ardha-Chandrasana with Pada-Hastasana” (Half-Moon Pose with Hands-To-Feet Pose). Only minutes into class, I heard some loud huffs, puffs and moans and caught a glimpse of a large orange object in my peripheral vision. I turned slightly to my right and saw a heavy woman in a bright leotard standing, bent in two with her head hanging down between her legs. I marveled at how her chubby fingers scooped up under her heels from the back, just the way Jenny instructed. “A little more now… Come on now, pull on those heels… A little more …and…release.” The woman grunted loudly as her body heaved upward, sweat droplets raining down onto her powder blue towel. The guy in front of me glanced back, searching for the source of the strange sounds.

“OK. Next position, people.” Jenny clapped her hands. “C’mon now. No water yet. I don’t want you using it as a crutch. Let’s go now,” she ordered as she worked the room. The woman two rows ahead of me had curly reddish hair, reminding me of how Robin’s …

“… keep going – keep that leg raised … higher … one inch more. Straighten the toes,” Jenny coached us during “Tuladandasana” (Balancing Stick Pose). “Now listen to your breathing – connect with your breathing.” I did my best to follow Jenny’s suggestion, but instead found myself concentrating on the grunter’s breath tempo, not mine. And when the man in back of me started his coughing thing – that’s when the high school biology flashbacks kicked in. With each cough and sweat droplet, I pictured all kinds of bacteria thriving in that moist environment. Flocks of happy little germs leaping from petrie dishes, gliding around the room, ricocheting off the walls and ceiling and then swan-diving into my heat expanded pores. “So much for the great toxin-wash,” I thought.

“Hold it. C’mon now, feel the warrior inside you …” Jenny brushed past me. I was really hurting now, breathing hard, my stomach tightening. I wasn’t sure I could make it but kept pushing, mimicking people’s poses, doing my best to keep up. I had to finish – I couldn’t fail. Not this time.

“OK. Five, four, three … Hold it. Come on people, you’re doing great. Three … just a bit longer now. Two … and … and … release.” Whew. My leg dropped heavily to the floor. I did it. Position number, what was it? Seven? “OK, now let’s see … Twenty-six positions minus seven equals … sixteen more?!? It’s 9:30. Another hour in this heat?!” I sighed, leaned over and slid my hands down my thighs, slippery with perspiration. I stared at the small puddle forming on the edge of my mat. “And what’s the deal with those silly little countdowns? Jenny hits “two,” and then counts off another seven or eight seconds. They must teach that crafty strategy at the little yoga college. And they think nobody notices. Ha!”

“What the hell was that? Condensation from the ceiling? A leaky pipe?” I quickly glanced to my right during “Poorna-Salabhasana” (Full Locust Pose), and was mesmerized as I watched a bead of sweat drop from the orange grunter’s arm, spashing onto my outstretched hand. Interestingly, the fatigue and nausea sapped my ability to get grossed out. Things like dripping arms bothered me more after the class, not during it.

As I struggled to hold my arm above my head during “Trikanasana” (Triangle Pose), I looked ahead and saw Bill and his girlfriend, Molly, near the front mirror. They reminded me of the people in the wall photos; their two bodies put together added up to the width of mine. “Is that healthy?” I wondered. Bill smiled and gave me a thumbs up as he stood up straight and released his posture in perfect form. I tried to thumb him back but it utilized too many muscles – I needed to save my strength.

Only 53 minutes until …

... the Finish Line – “Final Savasana” (Dead Body Pose) - the one where I napped and snored a decade earlier. As I laid on my back, I felt my hot tingling body as it pressed into the cool sweat-soaked towel. Jenny lowered the lights and heat, increased the speed of the fans and spoke gentle meditative thoughts in a soft caring voice. The B-side of Hall & Oate’s “Abandoned Luncheonette” popped into my head – the “good” side. Then I started to count ceiling tiles. “I wonder if they know there’s a missing bulb up there. I’ll tell them on the way out,” I decided. The tile pattern looked like a crossword puzzle. At one point I was pretty sure I saw the face of my 9th grade Spanish teacher, Mr. McCarthy.

I closed my eyes.
I listened to the whirling fans.
I didn’t fall asleep.

* * * * * * * * * *

“Man, your face is red. You should see it,” Bill chuckled as he undressed in the locker room. “Don’t worry, though,” he paused, tossing a towel into a basket. “You know, I’m actually surprised you made it through class. Most people sit down or walk out. But you really hung in there; I’m proud of you.” I smiled at my friend.

As I peeled the bathing suit off my still boiling body, I glanced at the vertical wall mirror. Ten pounds? Fifteen? I grabbed some stomach, my hand sliding over the hot skin.

“All that schmutz – it’s going to drain right out. I’m telling you,” Bill assured me as he stepped into the shower stall.

I looked at more wall photos of sculpted smiling yogi's, then glanced in the mirror. A classic ‘before and after’ moment.

“Coming back’s the hard part. That’s why they give you the rest of the week for free. But you’ll come back, I’m sure of it.” I heard Bill’s voice echoing in the shower.

“Well … of course I need a few days to recover,” I laughed as I tossed a towel into the basket across the room. “So how many times is it good to come? Once a week? Twice?"

I listened to the running water as another man stepped into the room to get on the shower line.
“Four or five times a week should do it. Minimum,” the guy answered. “Anything less – a complete waste of time.”

“He’s right,” Bill chimed in.

I shook my head and finished the last few drops of my bottled water. “Five times a week? Are they nuts?!” I thought.

“9:00 tomorrow morning?” Bill smiled and patted me on the back as he dried himself off.

My head dropped. While every cell, pore and muscle fiber in my body seemed to be lobbying my brain to run for my life, another voice whispered, “Do the opposite, Harry. Just do the opposite of whatever it is you’re thinking. Then see what happens.”

I wiped drops of sweat still soaking through my skin and glanced at the photos one last time.

It was time to do some hard work.

It was time to make some difficult choices.

It was time…

… for more swim trunks.

* * * * * * * * * *


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