I woke up yesterday to the sounds of a woman throwing up for fifteen straight minutes. It might’ve been the woman who lives next door. Vomiting seems to come with the territory in India. And vomiting is not one consistent sound. If someone says to you, “I just heard a note from a piano”, you’d have to ask, “was it a C sharp? Was it from the high end of the piano or the deep end? Was it loud, soft, long, staccato? For fifteen minutes this woman played for me a complete symphony. The deepest recesses of her throat were the most beautiful instruments I had ever heard.
Which brings me to yoga. I’m not an athlete (but I was a mathlete in school). I’m not flexible, pliable, and my back muscles aren’t ripped and shredded. I’ve never stood in my head. And I get embarassed when I hear people chant for religious reasons. So, practicing yoga in India becomes a story of humiliation, weakness, disappointment, and frustration for me. And I’m only on my second class here. Some of the things hard for me so far:
1. Worst in class. In class, I’m the first one who was forced to stop. There’s about 100 people at my level (beginner). The moves start off fairly easy, and then get harder and harder. Saraswati, the daughter of Pattabhi Jois, who started Ashtanga Yoga, is leading the class. About 45 minutes in she looks over at me. I’m drenched in sweat. Everything hurts. The other people in the class are shining like gods, their sweat illuminating the etches of their brilliant muscles. I smell like gutter. Saraswati looks over at me, “you stop now.” So I’m the first to stop.
2. Everyone looks at me. I have to stay until the end of the class because we all do the closing moves together. So I’m sitting there not sure what to do. I’m in the back of the class. There’s one move where everyone twists around. When I say “twist around” its almost like a science fiction movie where the aliens twist around their waist 360 degrees in order to make sure there’s no danger. So everyone is twisting around in this impossible position, looking straight at me, the one guy in the back of the room not doing the move. Is this fair? Do I look back at them? Should I pretend I’m the teacher and they are all looking back at me for approval? Instead, I look down and act like I’m meditating.
3. The men in the class are perfect. I’m the only guy in the class who keeps my shirt on. Which is why I mention above I smell like gutter. Its worse than that though. I smell like something is dead in the walls of your house. The other guys take their shirts off. They have tattoos of dragons on their backs and crawling up their arms. They have muscles in places called tibias, femurs, psoas. Parts of the body I never heard of. Like when you suddenly look at a map of the world and realize for the first time that Africa is broken up into many tiny countries that you never knew existed and most likely will never visit.
4. My secret revealed. There was a move where both teaching assistants and Saraswati had to come over and put me in position. I knew that they knew my secret then. That I was just pretending to be here. One woman pushing my back down. The other woman whispering urgently, relax your arm and stretch it out this way. Saraswati saying, “leg wants go here!” My leg had never taken directions before. It never wanted anything before. I was praying at the time, “just let the fingers from my left hand clasp the fingers from my right hand behind me so they could leave.”
5. Yoga vision. Today I was waiting outside for Claudia to finish her class. Today was my “rest day”. The advanced class was waiting to go in so there were about 40 advanced level students and me waiting outside. They all looked at me when I showed up. I was the special guest. Yoga supposedly makes your eyes shine brighter. This is what Claudia tells me. All of the advanced students looked at me with their x-ray vision. Their heat vision. I melted into the dust.
6. Sanskrit. At breakfast at a local restaurant there were no Indians. Only yoga students, still glistening from the sweat of their practice. Everyone was comparing notes on their class. “I had trouble with the full stretch on Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana”. “I finally got past Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana”. It seemed like everyone was fluent in some sort of yoga-ized Sanskrit. They all ordered things like granola. I had two orders of pancakes with bananas inside. Mmmm. It was good.
7. Chanting. At the beginning of class there’s a chant. It starts off with a big “Ommmm”. I can handle that. But then it goes into something else that I can’t understand. Everyone else is doing the chant. For some reason I blush and I try to hum along with it but then blush more because why am I even humming?
8. Earnestness. People say things like, “its good its crowded here. More people in the world are doing yoga.” They are earnest about it and everyone is agreeing. I’m not sure how to respond. Maybe, “I feel like world peace might be right around the corner.” Or, “If only everyone had a fully developed tibia muscle less people might get divorced.”
9. Coconuts. After practice on the first day I was sweating so much I thought I would have no more water left in my body. “Drink coconut juice,” Claudia said to me and there was a guy cutting coconuts right outside the class. “It will give you electrolytes.” All of the other students were outside drinking coconut juice already. They knew the drill. We’re monkeys from a million generations ago and we need our coconuts so we can mate and have children. But I don’t like coconut juice so we leave the other students there, all filling up with electrolytes so they can laugh and flirt once again.
10. Cold Shower. After the first class I went home to take a shower. But I’m not quite used to the smell of the water here yet. I am saying this very politely. And I couldn’t figure out how to get hot water. So I took a freezing cold shower and couldn’t get the soap off my skin. So for the rest of the day I was scratching all over like a wild animal, leaving scratch marks everywhere, when the soap dried into my skin and mixed with the general grime and dust outside.
Its day four and I’m loving every minute of my trip here. Tomorrow is my third class.