Written by Kate McCorkle
I do yoga once a week at the Y. The class is located in the Mind/Body studio, one of three fitness rooms surrounded by an indoor track on the upper level of the building. Mind/Body is tucked into an end of the oval; two of its walls are windows onto the track. From the right angle, someone practicing yoga can see down into the pool abutting the track on the lower level. One can certainly see the lifeguard perched on her tall chair. Normally, swimming is my routine form of exercise, except for my once-a-week yoga practice.
Next door to Mind/Body is the large exercise studio for group classes. “Body Pump” happens at the same time as my yoga session. Body Pump’s loud club music throbs through the cement walls to yoga. The base beats time as the instructor barks orders—the yelling and the base, all vibrating through the walls. I envision intense women pushing, challenging muscles at a punishing pace.
In Mind/Body, we stand, hands at our chests in prayer pose. The lights are off. The music is a blend of Indian chanting, re-orchestrated modern songs (think Nirvana set to strings), and slower contemporary songs (The Dixie Chicks’ Landslide, for one). The room smells like rubber mats.
The teacher, a woman who—simply by virtue of not being a twenty-year-old-size-zero—gives me great hope for yoga, inquires of the group, “Why are you here?”
I am here, I think, because I am not there. I am purposefully not in the room with the aggressive music and the yelling. I have not yet gone over to the Body Pump side.
Part of me wants to be in that room—wants to push myself past a natural threshold, wants to use my precious gym time to full capacity. If I endured parking and the wicked childcare line—I better burn or chisel something. After all, I hail from a sports tradition that maintains, “Pain is temporary. Pride is forever,” and “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”
So why do I continually pick the second room where the workout is so chill half the women don’t bother pulling their hair up? Though it runs counter to my natural inclinations, a small voice acknowledges that pushing my way through life may not always the best thing.
My right knee is not good. I broke it a long time ago (see “sports tradition”), and the meniscus cartilage is not what it could be. Actually, it’s nonexistent. My warped knee lets me predict rain, but it does not take kindly to continued pounding. After a post-surgical year of painfully trying to exercise “as usual,” I tried swimming. Both the trying and the pain-free movement were miraculous.
“Respect your body. Respect where you are today,” the teacher suggests as we flow though sun salutations. I don’t intuitively grasp what she means. With the exception of my knee, I take my own flesh and bones for granted. Yes, it’s a miracle to walk, but whatever for the rest. I minimize aches and pains and ignore sickness. When I had H1N1 (swine flu) several years ago, I attributed my bone-deep lethargy to laziness.
Occasionally, I see where overlooking my body is not the healthiest dynamic (i.e., antibiotics, not willpower, ultimately defeated swine flu). That small voice recognizes a more sane approach with yoga: You ease into any given pose. If it hurts, you stop. You discern the difference between an intense stretch and outright pain.
I cannot get into pigeon because of my knee. The position even hurts when we’re focusing on the left side, with my right leg simply extended under my body. Initially, I tried to push into pigeon—reprimanding myself that I should at least be able to do it on my left side—but as the pain shot up my leg, I thought, why? What am I trying to prove? Who cares? So I can’t do pigeon. Why risk hurting my knee—thus making my life really difficult—in a class where the instructor says, “Respect your body”? Ah ha! That is what she means when she states, “Respect where you are today.” So, this is when I get into boat for the hundredth time.
I don’t think I would go through this process in Body Pump next door. I think I would feel the jock jams music, see everyone else sweating, hear the coach’s admonition to push — and I would push. I would push hard. I would probably push myself right into the O.R.
Part of me will hear “Bleed It Out” through the cement wall and always think I should be power lifting or kickboxing, that prayer pose is not a Real Workout—but I know I am where I’m supposed to be. I am here because I am not there. I am here because for seventy-five minutes out of my week, I can show some respect for my body.