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Yogi, Barely

A meditation on trying something new

Bernadette, relaxing on my mouse pad.

Like many people, I know the value of physical activity but struggle to find exercise I enjoy. I don’t mind spin class but prefer my own music to the instructor’s. Bike riding is great but not when a cold wind whips off the Anacostia or the D.C. summer humidity makes me sweat like Albert Brooks in the anchor chair in “Broadcast News.” The excuses go on. Besides physical fitness, I also need to relax an active post-deadline brain. What could deliver without feeling like slogging through the federal code of regulations?

Yoga and meditation are popular, I figured. Maybe I should try them.

I installed the Headspace app on my phone. I sat on my couch for the first session (meditation should take place in a comfortable spot, right?). The narrator urged listening to the sounds around me.

I listened to the cat’s scratching the living daylights out of the litter box.

I listened to the city bus, stopping and re-starting, at the stop near my house.

I listened to a police car siren.

This must be what people who understand meditation refer to as “mindfulness,” awareness of the present moment. I was mindful that my cat is a cacophonous litter box digger. I was mindful that I live on a bus line. I was mindful that my neighborhood is popular with the Metropolitan Police Department.

It became clear: My brain has a mind of its own. But no harm done. Maybe yoga would produce deeper results.

I signed up for a bargain entry package at a local studio, an ingenious set-up above an auto repair shop with a deck for outdoor class that will be nice when spring truly arrives.

I already own a yoga mat, a thoughtful gift from my boyfriend a couple of Christmases ago when I first expressed interest in the discipline.

The mat was sticky and stiff from sitting undisturbed in my hatchback for months.

Finding a spot in the classroom, I unrolled the mat a little noisily. I was the only one wearing gym socks. Removing them, I tried to conceal them the best I could. Turns out, a balled-up pair of socks was handy for mopping up a water bottle leak.

The class, or “practice” as I learned it’s called, proceeded well enough. My glasses fell downward my nose during my downward dog. My arms and legs shook during the plank pose. My ill-fitting discount store work-out pants probably revealed more of my Costco underwear waistband than was ideal. But the room was dim, no one could see what I was doing, and more importantly, no one seemed to care. Maybe I was indeed achieving a quieter state of mind and improved physical fitness. I went home relaxed and signed up for a class the next morning.

As a non-morning person, I set an alarm. Still, I barely had time to make myself a travel cup of coffee. Do advanced yoga practitioners need an alarm? It seems unlikely I’ll ever greet the rising sun without one unless I’m starring in a Folger’s commercial.

But I made it to class. I felt more comfortable this time. I unfurled my mat and did my best to listen to the instructor. Still, my mind wandered.

When the teacher told us to set a goal for the practice, I thought of a joke: How do you get to yoga class? Practice, practice, practice.

When she told us to focus on our breathing, and listen to others’ breathing, I listened to the music playing softly as accompaniment. I thought, that Coldplay song is terrible. Did anyone who figure-skated to Coldplay at the Olympics do well? Some really boring stuff. I tried to refocus on breathing sounds. A moment later, Thievery Corporation came on. I thought, I still really like them after all these years. D.C. locals. Saw them perform once.

I tried to snap myself out of my distraction. The instructor asked us how we felt at practice end. I thought, I feel I could use more coffee. Is my Starbucks gift card with me? No, rats, it’s at home.

I wasn’t sure I was any different, mentally or physically, than before class.

But as I left the studio, the sun out, the temperature warming up, I thought maybe yoga really was helping me shake stress and late winter doldrums.

I heard a song I love on the radio. I came home and made myself more coffee. I sat at my laptop at the dining room table, writing for pleasure for the first time in ages, with the loud litter box-digging cat planted on my mouse pad (she’s not allowed but wouldn’t budge). I felt as if I could accomplish whatever I wanted. I felt rested. I had a pleasant muscle soreness from stretching in new ways. I cranked out the first draft of this piece, having great fun with it. A sardonic expression is that if you keep an open mind, people will fill it with garbage. Not true. I kept an open mind about yoga. I’m glad I did. I intend to keep at it. As with anything in life, the key to getting results is practice, practice, practice.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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