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Health And Family

The practice

MIDLIFERY - Twink Macaraeg -

Inhale .... Cobra .... Exhale .... Downward-Facing- Dog .... Inhale .... Child’s Pose.

The woman who looks like Will Smith’s wife before hair rebonding uses a melodic and soothing voice; the opposite of a Drill Sergeant’s but as effective at eliciting compliance.

I am now into yoga. When I first became aware of it in the ’70s, I thought it was something only hippies did. For decades, I would still dismiss it as New Age chorvah before I realized that there must be something truly mystical about yoga for it to stay relevant and new, even now, in my old age. 

 A Time magazine article identified meditation as one of the things that help stave off the effects of Alzheimer’s. That, plus a predisposition to osteoporosis by virtue of early onset menopause, my desire to resurrect a barely worn ’80s-era unitard, and a month-long, unlimited sessions promo in a nearby ashram convinced me to give yoga a try.

 With neighbors Loy and Jed, we formed something of a Support Circle.   Mainly, to make sure that we’re all awake at the break of dawn (when the classes are held) and for carpool duties. Later, genuine bonds of solidarity were formed as we flashed sympathetic grimaces at each other while our instructors forced us to tie ourselves up in knots.

I remember our first day. 

Yoga master Maan asks us if we’d ever practiced yoga before. Panicked, I thought, “Practice as in rehearse? You mean I should have been doing this secretly before unleashing myself upon an unsuspecting public?”

She goes on to explain that anyone  from a first-timer to a Cirque de Soleil contortionist  who so much as joins his toes together while regulating his breathing is practicing yoga. There’s no Opening Night. Practice does not make perfect because there is no perfect in yoga. Just a series of poses and ever-heightening levels of consciousness with the ultimate objective of cheating death. (OK. Journalistic shorthand here, but I swear that that’s the drift.)

Maan impresses upon us that yoga breathing or pranayama is the foundation of everything. One type, called the Ujayi breath, is as simple as inhaling through your nose, then exhaling through your mouth while constricting the base of your throat. It produces an extended kkkkhhhhhh sound, much like the snores I emit that my hubby’s earplugs fail to shut out. (How great that he can now attribute his sleep-deprived state to “my wife was practicing yoga all night!”)

Maan uses language that makes it easy for me to pretend that I’m keeping up. She doesn’t just tell us to stretch; she asks us to be the tallest version of our selves. She doesn’t just tell us to gently roll on our back, she asks us to picture our spine as a long necklace, each vertebra being lowered pearl by pearl. My head obliged by playing languorous strip tease music, interrupted only by the sound of flesh being slapped onto a butcher’s block as I flopped onto the mat. Plak! (Is this where the word plakda comes from? I thought.)

No one minds the interruption of my reflexive araykupo! We’re all wrapped up in the illusion that we’re performing tasks that aren’t actually humanly possible: wrapping our hipbones around an imaginary pole or ball .... lying on an egg without breaking it .… pointing our collarbones to opposite ends of the room. 

I’m someone of no great imagination, but I gamely bend my body to simulate a starfish, a sphinx, and some strange hybrid creature called a cowcat.

Of course, I am the kulelat of the group barely going halfway toward each desired end result. But Maan keeps cooing “Great” at me, never breaking the rhythm of her incantations. Take a Vinyasa, she says, as casually as if she were offering me a bonbon. Keep an honest distance between your right heel and left arch, she instructs (since when is honest a quantity?) No one calls attention to the fact that my brand-new foam mat has failed to absorb the puddle of sweat that’s collected just under the crack of my butt (though I notice Maan shrouds her hand in a towel before nudging my greasy neck just a little lower).

We do twists. Maan announces, “Now, don’t be dyahe to move your stomach out of the way with your hands, OK?” Wouldn’t you know it, when I threw all caution to the wind and pushed two fistfuls of flab aside, I found myself close to par with the rest of the people in the room. I was threading a needle and dissolving into gelatine with the best of them!

We’re relaxed and limber enough to try more complex poses. With our legs spread wide apart and our arms folded behind our backs like we’re in a reverse huff, Maan then commands, “Bring your hairline at the floor.” Loi and I take advantage of our unfettered bangs to bridge the distance. Jed, who is totally bald, yells, “Are you kidding me?!”

It’s just about past an hour and we’re seated Indian-style, spacing out our heartbeats, focusing on our breathing and  Maan says  halting the aging process (Jed sucks up all the room’s oxygen at this point and expands like puffer fish). Maan wraps up in the quiet monotone of a hypnotist: Shut your eyes. Exhale .… khhhhh .... tune out the noise in the room .… Inhale .… hear the birds singing outside .… exhale .… khhhh .... eject those negative energies .... inhale.... feel peace permeating your being .... exhale .... khhhhh .... stop worrying that you didn’t succeed .... these are just yoga poses .... you are still a good person .… khhhhh.

At that, I could have sworn I felt tears mingling with the perspiration dripping down my face. So moved was I by this patently silly affirmation.  When I blinked my eyes to clear my vision, Maan was bowing with palms joined, chirping, “Good morning. I’ll see you all Wednesday!”

On the ride home, Jed was making lame jokes about me. “Twink’s a Barbie Doll pala,” he said. I knew he wasn’t referring to anything related to pulchritude but to the inability of my limbs to bend within a normal living person’s range of motion.

I had no riposte because I was visualizing the ultimate comeback  myself, 50 years from now, honed by daily three-hour yoga practices to look like Tilda Swinton, standing tall over Jed’s shrivelled body on his ICU bed while a respirator does his Ujayi breathing for him. I then lean over and whisper in his ear, “Sorry, Jed. Practice does make purrrfehhkhhhht,” just before the line on his heart monitor goes flat. 

 

BARBIE DOLL BUT MAAN DRILL SERGEANT HELLIP MAAN WHEN I YOGA
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