Sure, self-improvement is a serious business. But, if we’re truly going to self-develop then we really will need our sense of humor. Probably more so than when we were just happy to not be self improved. My recent experience with Yoga is a fine example of what I call the funny side of self-improvement.
As part of the new and better me, I wanted greater flexibility. Flexibility and agility make being young at heart easier. Grunting and groaning with effort every time you get off the sofa or pick something off the floor is terrible for positivity. So in addition to strength training, I decided to add a stretching routine to non-gym days.
Simplicity (and any 1970s gym teacher) would dictate that a basic set of stretches are all that is required for flexibility.
To me, simple answers never feel complex enough to get the job done.
Plus, stretching is boring. I can’t stay motivated and I never know how long I’m supposed to hold any pose. Unlike weight lifting, I needed coaching for my Yoga commitment.
I could not, however, find any program that specifically aligned with my motivation for greater flexibility—stretching to look 20% more attractive—so I settled on an old Yoga DVD that I found next to a PX90 DVD (or what I call Satan’s home workout for out of shape people who want to feel even worse about their fitness level).
The Yoga cover claimed it was a beginner’s guide. The cover image featured Rodney Yee, whom I recognized from those Prada Mattress commercials. I figured a guy who promotes luxury mattresses would be an excellent choice for a beginner. Especially one like me who loves mattresses . . . and naps.
Since I already knew how to sit cross-legged on my own mattress I assumed that I would sail through the beginner tutorial.
(Patience is not one of my core values)
For my first day I practiced the chapter on Introduction to Yoga Poses.
It went as one might expect. I did okay. (Although at one point I was certain that Rodney gave me a look that said, “that looks like clown-shit, dufus.”)
I obviously couldn’t do all the moves with perfect form. In a few of the poses, I found it difficult to breathe, which seemed odd since all I was doing was touching my toes.
(Dad bods “rollover” we don’t “bend over.”)
In other poses, my muscles stretched and it felt like watching a little kid mess with a balloon—the anxiety of anticipating the inevitable pop.
Anyways, encouraged by my first lessons on mountain stance, cobra, and downward-facing dog, I felt it was time to move on to lesson number two: Beginner Flexibility.
It started well enough. I had the mountain pose thing down to a science. (It’s basically demonstrating your ability to stand.)
The trouble began on the second pose. It had a “name” not covered in the introductory tutorial.
It all went downward dog from there.
To follow the narrated instructions I had to watch the television. But when I did watch, I fell behind. It was like trying to walk and chew gum at the same time.
I opted to just listen to the instructions and conduct my interpretation of the movements.
At one point I found myself laying on my back with an arm behind my head, a hand on my hip, legs twisted to the side.
It was as if I was being photographed for one of those amateur boudoir calendars. Except that I wasn’t dressed in sexy lingerie or adorned with any sense of dignity.
I looked at the television to see if Rodney was faring better than I.
He was in a standing position.
He looked nothing like my interpretation which was somewhere between five-year old’s first attempt at tying a shoe and that place underneath my desk where all the wires get together.
Of course, to my credit “things” were definitely “stretching.” I felt confident my chiropractor could work it all out later in the month.
I stood up, regrouped, rewound, and began where things had gone off the tracks—which was probably the moment I hit “Play” on the DVD.
I still found it impossible to “do” Yoga without watching the screen and I couldn’t watch the screen and “do” Yoga.
I asked Rodney if this was meant as a spectators’ sport. If it was, I warned him, I’d be switching to a more attractive and female host.
As the lesson progressed, the pose terminology became richer.
I was supposed to do things like “extend my hips,” “open my chest,” “pull through my back leg,” and “reach my head upwards.”
WTF does any of that mean?
Yoga seemed full of purple prose.
Rodney’s narrator fired off commands for new poses and positions. None of the terms sounded familiar to anything I had learned in the first lesson. Where was that stuff?
The routines moved faster and faster. I moved with all the grace and synchronicity of a binge drinker at a sobriety checkpoint.
As I tried to figure out what turning my right foot fifteen degrees looked like, Rodney was already “expanding through the left hip to touch mother earth.”
If the poses were purple prose, then the instructions were definitely new-age.
“Reach, feel your center, now pirouette, spin in your karma, turn your butt skyward and soften your tale bone, push through the crown—jump, spin, glide.”
The only thing that remained was a search for my inner goddess.
The instructions began to blend together.
I heard: turn to right—bump, bump. Turn to left—bump, bump. Left foot two steps—bump, bump. Right foot two steps—bump bump—Aaaahhhh macarena!
That was it.
I lost my cool and gave Rodney a long volley of profanities. He just continued touching his head to his knees while the narrator suggested we all soften our spine and feel our breath.
I discard my attempt at the cow-face-go-fuck-yourself pose (reminded myself to double-check my chiropractor appointment), stood, shut off the DVD, and lit a cigarette.
I paced the living room. Pissed for giving up but also equally angry that they had the f’in gall to call this a beginner’s routine.
(In a moment of unfortunate child-like I anger I hoped that Rodney had come forth from his mother’s womb Lotus Style.)
My mind settled on two possibilities for this outrageous labeling.
First, I considered that Rodney Yee had not been a Yoga beginner since he was four years old.
Maybe this was what he whole-heartedly believed was the minimum possible flexibility for a human being. In which case I should invite him to a month-long visit at my home so he could experience that way desk work and Netflix binging turns people to stone.
The second idea was more likely. In Yoga, there is something that comes before beginner. In the same way that amateur boxing doesn’t mean “people who have never boxed.”
Perhaps beginner Yoga isn’t meant for people who have never Yoga’d.
I still like the idea of Yoga. I still believe it can help me achieve greater flexibility (and look 20% more attractive).
I just need to find a Yoga video for inflexible people who don’t speak Yoga and need actual, meaningful instructions.
If you have a suggestion please leave me a comment.