I have always thought “pose” a nice word; firm, artistic, even stately. For instance, one poses for a photograph. One poses to model clothing, or to be captured artistically. Posing, to me, brings to mind ballerinas waiting to be painted by Degas, or Leonardo squinting at his Mona Lisa, paintbrush aloft and palette at the ready.
A few years ago, my kids started using the word “poser.” Being the inquisitive and sharp-witted person that I am, I quickly picked up on the sarcastic nuance. Further scrutiny revealed that “poser” meant one who pretends to be something he is not.
So I kind of got used to that. Even used the word once in a while.
But last Thursday changed everything. I think I stumbled over the roots of this word when I accidentally took a yoga class.
I went to the gym anticipating an interval-cardio class, but I’d looked at the wrong class schedule. The class about to begin was called “Bodyflow” which is actually yoga with a few other things thrown in that I cannot pronounce. At first glance, I found it included mats and bare feet.
I decided to participate, because I had already spent significant time preparing for the gym and did not want to have to do it all over again the next day, and so with a huff of irritation, I untied my shoes and pulled them off along with my cute little Nike socks and threw them in a pile against the wall. I really do not like the whole concept of a workout that makes me take off my shoes, but if I wanted to work out in the time frame I had allotted I had no choice.
I mentally shook myself and gave my attitude a lecture about holding plans loosely and letting go of expectations and tried to ignore the fact that the guy behind me looked like an emaciated, wizened prune and the women appeared quite granola-esque and comfortable in bare feet. Everyone seemed hushed and expectant. The lights dimmed.
I am thinking, why are the lights dimming? Then I noticed the music. Very new age-y with undertones of Chinese water lilies. Or maybe Japanese water lilies. Actually I found out the undertones are attributable to Indian water lilies. Yoga originated in India in 3000 B.C. and is defined as: the process of union of individual consciousness with universal consciousness; a precursor to Hinduism and Buddhism. (See http://www.tibetanlife.com)
My exercise routine goes back as far as Jane Fonda and Jazzercise, which are two very different workout streams, but the point is I am comfortable with lots of upbeat music, yelled and chirpy encouragement from the instructor, and rapid, pounding, dance moves. Even though these types of exercise classes are outdated, they were responsible for an enviable level of personal fitness, and I still cling to them.
I am completely unacquainted with the process of individual and universal consciousness having anything to do with my fitness level, so a question mark hovered above my head upon entering the yoga arena.
The music wafted eerily through the darkened room, which put me more in the mood for a massage than a workout. The instructor, eyes half-closed, arched both arms upward, hands tilted in prayer and drawn down in front of the chest. We repeated this in different variations for approximately 20 minutes. In my head I heard “Ommmmmm,” or whatever it is that is chanted in India on those prayer mats. Then it got harder. We were told to perform the Tree Pose. I am thinking, tree?
The instructor drew a foot up the side of one leg and held it firmly against her knee. The Tree Pose. I wobbled a little, but I managed to become a rather respectable tree. Then we were told to perform the “Downward-Facing Dog Pose.” I am thinking, who comes up with these names? I had never seen a dog pose this way. I had actually never seen ANYthing pose this way, except maybe in the game “Twister.” I obligingly threw my head upside down, planted my hands on the floor and thrust my hindquarters high into the air. I am wondering what the wizened prune-guy behind me was thinking. Then I realized he was wheezing so hard he probably was not paying attention to anything but his own Downward-Facing Dog Pose. Lung-Impaired version.
Then we were told to whoosh one leg forward and plant a foot under our chins, thereby accomplishing a lunge, which I do not think constitutes a pose, but I am not sure. From the lunge position we were supposed to smoothly transition into the Warrior Pose. This pose roughly resembles a mother with outstretched arms between two young children desperately trying to keep them from scratching each other’s eyes out.
At one point we were all wobbling mightily on one leg while attempting to stretch the other straight out in front of us, and then cross it over the knee on the other side. I was pretty pitiful at this. Each pose was held indefinitely, and I noticed a lot of red faces, muffled grunting and heavy breathing during this stage.
People enjoy this?
When we finally got to lie on our backs on our mats, though, I was masterful. The “Happy Baby Pose” was easy and I pictured my kids as babies doing the very same thing. I almost sucked my thumb. The “Lotus Pose” was totally a breeze for me, too. This pose was basically sitting, Indian-style. Made me wonder about lotuses. Loti. Whatever.
There is a huge amount of time to wonder about stuff during a yoga experience.
I find this quite hilarious to write about, because names of the poses are too delicious to be ignored. For instance: Half-Moon Pose (This pose is for men who have, unfortunately, developed a huge paunch. It is performed standing, hands on top of said paunch with woeful gaze downward at their own personal half moon); Half-Frog Pose (Are these frogs cut in half? Are they standing on one leg? And more importantly, is this where frog legs come from?); Half Lord of the Fishes Pose (Lord of the Fishes? Seriously? Is a Lord of the Fishes a whale? If not, what is a Lord of the Fishes and why is there only half of one?); Corpse Pose (I thought exercise was geared to prevent the premature occurrence of this pose, but what do I know?); Cow Face Pose (the pose for really, really ugly people); Reclining Big Toe Pose (I did not know that big toes actually…um…reclined, but I would certainly like to see this phenomenon); Noose Pose (Wow! Did this originate in the Wild West? I mean, think about it…there would be no westerns without hangings); Firefly Pose (the pose for the young at heart and accompanied by a quart jar with holes punched in the lid)…I could go on. The list of poses is quite lengthy, but I am seriously over-posed at this point.
I am suspicious of an entire discipline dedicated to posing. Maybe I have become jaded.
The wizened prune guy approached me after class and demonstrated how to properly perform a Warrior Pose.Then he told me I should buy a yoga mat, as I cannot be a tree and other assorted landscape items or creatures without this type of mat. I smiled, thanked him for the instruction and headed for the door. He followed me eagerly, like Yoda with yoga wisdom, sniffing a potential convert. I finally made it out of the gym, wiping sweat off my brow and glancing over my shoulder. I hopped in my car and zoomed away before he decided to demonstrate the Cow Face Pose at my window.
I do not think my individual consciousness should unite with universal consciousness. I am not sure what a universal consciousness is, but I am pretty certain it has something to do with frogs and fireflies and trees and dogs and lotus. Loti. Whatever.
I’ll stick to cardio and strength training, and let the Yoda people get up close and personal with yoga.
Besides, I do not think I have much in common with people who actively pursue a Corpse Pose.