My last post was rather abstract. To make things a bit more concrete, I'll say something about a specific starting point--my own starting point. In grad school, I went to my first official yoga class (before that, somebody had shared some yoga postures with me, but I had never actually stepped into a yoga class) after a conversation I had with my friend J. We were hanging out at his mom's place in Florida one winter break (since my family lives halfway across the world, and I had no place to go to for the holidays, he very graciously invited me to spend part of the break with him).
I'll start by saying something about J. J is... how should I put this... something of a guy's guy. At least, he thinks of himself that way. He once told me that his life can be summed up in three words: Victory, (getting) High, Sex. He claimed that his relationships with everybody around him fall under one of these three categories. In other words, anybody whom he has anything to do with is either: A sex partner (actual or potential), a supplier of weed (actual or potential), or somebody whom he can exert some measure of victory or dominance over. I fall into his "Victory" category because, being his regular chess partner, he sees me as somebody who presents him constant opportunities for victory and dominance. Truth be told, he really wasn't that much better of a chess player than I am (and my chess abilities are nothing to write home about). But I'll leave it at that.
What has any of this to do with yoga? I'm coming to that presently. So as I said, we were hanging out at his mom's place. We were chatting, and the topic turned to working out. I told him that I was running and doing some Pilates on my own. This is kind of how the conversation unfolded from this point:
J: You do Pilates? Have you been to any of the Pilates classes at the campus gym?
Nobel: No. Why?
J: Don't you know there are lots of hot chicks in those classes? You're single, right? [Author's note: I was at that time]
Nobel: Yeah, okay... but isn't it a bit weird to go to a Pilates class to pick up women?
J: No, not at all! (Gosh, what planet do you live on?!) I went to this Pilates class there last month, and chatted up the instructor (she's hot) after class. Turns out she was already seeing someone... not that I would have cared, anyway, but she wasn't taking the bait, so I moved on. Did the same thing at this yoga class I went to a few days later (same results). But this is what you need to do. Go out there, make yourself available. If somebody takes the bait, great. If she doesn't, move on. Either way, you get a great workout [knowing wink]. You've nothing to lose.
I can't remember exactly what I said after this point (I probably thanked him for opening my eyes to his superior guy's guy perspective, or said something to that effect). But I decided to give his suggestion a shot. I wasn't seeing anybody at that point, and really wouldn't have minded having some excitement in my life. Besides, he was right: Either way, I get a good workout :-p
So, when school started back up, I went to the campus gym one evening. I can't remember the details now, but I think I was planning to go to a Pilates class, and it turned out that there was no Pilates class scheduled for that evening. But there was a power yoga class. So, remembering my friend's sage advice, I signed up for that class.
He was right about there being many women. As I stepped into the fitness room and unrolled my mat, I looked around me. Most of the participants (more than 90 percent of about 30 people in the class) were female undergrads. The class started. The teacher was a lanky guy with a ponytail in his late twenties or early thirties who had a soft-spoken, yoga teacher voice (you know what I'm talking about). He led us through a powerful "ashtangafied" sequence: Lots of sun salutations, with standing postures thrown in for good measure, ending with some forward bends and hip-openers. The interesting thing is, somewhere into the first 15 minutes of class, I found myself paying more attention to the intense sensations my body was feeling (my thighs burning in that Warrior II that seemed to last forever, that weird posture he calls Downward Dog that's totally ripping up my calves, etc, etc.) than to the female bodies around me. I mean, let's face it: How long (if at all) can a guy sustain a sexual fantasy when his thighs are burning and his lungs feel like they are about to burst?
The class ended, and I realized that I really enjoyed it. It felt like doing martial arts (I studied TaeKwonDo for a number of years in my teens) without having to worry about kicking somebody's ass or getting one's face kicked in (of course, I did not realize at that time that I would have to worry about falling on my face, but that's another story). I went up to the teacher and thanked him for the class. I told him that I was interested in practicing at home by myself, and asked him if there were any books or videos that he would recommend. Without hesitation, he recommended B.K.S. Iyengar's Light on Yoga. The following Saturday, I went to the local Borders, got myself a copy of Light on Yoga, and began my journey of practice. The rest is, as they say, history... well, not quite: I still haven't gotten to how I came to practice Ashtanga. But that's a story for another post. I'm kind of blogged-out right now, and need to go make some food.
But I'll leave you with these parting thoughts: I think my story so far offers some proof that one's practice can and does transcend one's starting point. Within the course of just one class (my first class, at that), my intention had shifted considerably from seeker-of-hot-chicks to somewhat-serious-beginning-yoga-student.