My most-detested part of high school was Wednesday Afternoon Sport – the enforced display of wobbly body and uncoordination in front of peers beneath blazing Australian sunshine. Grrrreat. But there was some relief in the senior years when we could pick our own sports. In Year 11 I chose indoor carpet bowls, down at the local Services Club instructed by an old man who smelled faintly of urine.
Then in Year 12 I chose yoga, taught by one of my favourite teachers Mrs W. I discovered a whole new level of physical hopelessness but I didn't care, I was out of the sun!
On graduation night (1995) in my matronly garb, I demonstrated my skillz by posing for this picture with Mrs W and my friend Susan.
Since then I'd done the odd class and accumulated a dusty pile of DVDs. But a few months ago, after reading about Mary and Beth and SJ and Phil and Erin et al getting bendy, I decided I needed a new obsession. As much as I love my weight training and tolerate hillwalking and HIIT intervals, I needed something more mellow; something to get lost in.
So last month I went to a class at the local council gym. It's in a poky room, with bodies of all shapes and sizes and ages. There's a faint whiff of salt and grease from the chip shop down the block and you can hear cars and buses and spotty young blokes gobbing and swearing on the street below.
But somehow that all melts away when our teacher starts turns down the lights and starts speaking. She has this rich, low voice so every instruction sounds like singing. I don't know what the hell she's talking about half the time so I'm always peeking at other people for a hint. Whenever she says quietly and pointedly that we should all Go At Our Own Pace and that Yoga Isn't A Competition, I'm paranoid she means me and want to say, "Dude! I'm not competitive! For once. Just clueless!"
I do like having a quiet competition with myself though. I love trying some wacky pose and feeling my body stiffen in protest. But then I breathe a wee bit and try again and ease deeper into it, stretching and unraveling. It's hard not to "woohoo" out loud sometimes.
It's been strangely confronting too. In the first class we did shoulder stands. I watched the teacher demonstrate and thought, "No bloody way". I started doing a modified move but she came over and gently pulled my feet into the air and told me how to adjust my upper body and lift lift lift. Arrgh! It was bloody terrifying, that upside-downy feeling, like my guts were going to fly out of my mouth! I'd never done anything like that before in my life; I avoided cartwheels and somersaults and monkey bars when I was a kid. It was such a shocking sensation but I got a mad rush from pushing through that little barrier, mental and physical.
Afterwards I raced home and babbled happily to Gareth for hours. Life's great! Yoga rules! I felt high like I'd guzzled a whole pack of jelly beans. I blew the dust off the DVDs and counted down the days til the next class.
Last week was bloody awful. I haven't been in a positive frame of mind lately; my confidence has been a wee bit shaky. When I got to class I proceeded to stuff up every single move, confusing left and right (I always have to make an L shape with my hand as it is), tripping over my mat and clomping on the floorboards like an elephant. It just seemed like a metaphor for my general ineptness and inability to get my shit together.
Normally I love the quietness of the class and disappear, but last week the quiet just meant I could hear my brain bubbling over. It reminded me of when I got that full body massage earlier this year – when confronted with yourself and your body in such a raw way, all the things you've try to ignore seem to come to the surface. I actually was in tears doing a stupid triangle pose! Raaahhh!
So there's been some up and downs but quite like how yoga screws with my head. I'm officially hooked. It's a lot more challenging than carpet bowls, anyway.