When I was in college, I did yoga for the first time. I arrived at the local studio early, not sure what to expect. The door had a sign asking people to use noble silence as a class was being taught on the other side of the beautifully carved door. I wasn’t sure what noble silence meant, and I thought it was a strange way to say – be really quiet (please). But my mind wandered quickly and my eyes were distracted by the floor where a mosaic tidal wave of blues and greens swirled into a path leading me through this new space.
I was alone and one of the first ones there, so I took my shoes off next to the dozens of pairs of flip-flops and flats and walked along the ocean-like floor into the reception area. I was greeted kindly, and I signed a waiver, removing liability from the studio if I broke my neck or back trying something above my skill level. They obviously didn’t know I have a general fear of breaking my neck or cracking open my head and dying, so I signed anyway. Just to assure them I was not an idiot who would die my first time. (Maybe, my second.)
I waited patiently as the class finished up, and other people lined the walls, also staring at the beautifully decorated floor, and the new nail polish colors on the toes nearby. As the door opened, a wave of heat hit me square in the face and the people poured out sweating and clutching towels and water bottles that obviously did not give them relief in the hour-long class. “What the hell am I thinking,” I thought to myself.
I remember walking into the hardwood floor room with dim lights and placing my mat down on a carefully selected spot, and sitting on it not knowing what to do next. And after looking around the room for a few minutes, I was politely tapped on the shoulder and was informed I was facing the wrong way. Once again, I felt out of place. Yet a cute, petite woman, Jen, walked in moments later and I couldn’t back out.
The class started with a series of side bends and some weird pushup-thing in the middle that I didn’t quite understand, and couldn’t quite do as gracefully as the people surrounding me. We transitioned into the next series, lifting the leg and moving more swiftly than before. She called out words I didn’t understand. “That can’t be English,” I thought to myself. (It wasn’t.)
So I looked around the room and stared at people as they lifted their left leg up behind them, and somehow twisted their body to face the wall next to them, with their right hand raised high while their left fingertips grazed the mat below them. “Are they serious,” I thought to myself. (They were.)
I struggled with the whole breathing thing, but everyone else seemed to have a special aspirator-like throat that kind of freaked me out. I decided to just focus on the moves. As the flow progressed and I continued to stare helplessly figure out the twists and bends and sequence of movements, I sort of got the hang of it. Enough that I forgot I had faced the wrong direction at the beginning of class, and that I was only breathing out of one nostril with no Darth Vader-esque noises.
I felt like I was sort of dancing, which was probably because Madonna was blaring through the speakers. Despite the fact that sweat dripped from my forehead to the fast beat, I felt weightless and free. Flowing as best I could, she stopped calling out the poses. “Is she honestly expecting me to know this entire thing from 5 rounds of narration,” I thought to myself. (She was.)
I once again, looked around but soon thanked my lucky stars I was pretty good at picking things up quickly. (And by lucky stars I mean, my 8 years of cheerleading – learning minute-long chants and moves.) I kept grooving to the music and doing what I could. Before long, I found myself lying on my back as the music, my thoughts, and my stress drifted away, into the space above me and vanished. I laid there for what felt like an eternity, and almost nodded off asleep. And when I was told to wiggle my fingers, and toes – it was as though I had never used them properly before. They felt alive and purposeful. They had led me through a class as my mind grappled with the unknown, keeping me balanced and catching me when I wasn’t.
I stretched my arms above my head and pointed my toes, and felt my ribs expand like never before. I sat up and crossed my legs Indian-style, and placed my hands together at my heart. The teacher gave some parting words that I don’t remember, but I’m sure were somewhat impactful (as all closing words are meant to be) and I remember hearing her say “namaste” and watching her bow her head to the floor. And then I remember hearing everyone else repeat it, and bow theirs, as I sat straight up and once again, looked around not knowing what to do.
“Next time,” I thought to myself. (And I did.)