The elusive Om

You should take R–‘s,” says the woman just ahead of me, when I ask at the neighborhood community center if they could recommend a yoga class. I’m hesitating between the three classes offered; they all promised to “accomodate” those with “limited mobility.” R–, it turns out, has had extensive training with the best of the best.

Despite the fact that the class is an hour and a half long, which summons painful memories of a brief and humiliating yoga experience in Baltimore, I decide to take the plunge. I set great store in word-of-mouth recommendations, particularly from elderly women with recent knee replacements. If she can recommend it, I should be okay. I sign up for a ten-class session.  I am not your typical yoga person. I wasn’t born very flexible to begin with – my dreams of being a ballerina were dashed early when it became very evident that I would never be able to lift my leg into a decent arabesque. Twenty-odd years of running hasn’t helped; my hamstrings are about as flexible as a Kryptonite bike lock.

But in Lausanne I was talked into trying it again. “This class is mostly about breathing,” my friend Michaela said. “Not hard core at all.” So I went. For three years, my long unbending frame attempted to master some semblance of the postures of yoga; I breathed, stretched, pushed a little bit, a little bit further. Nobody stared in wonder at my inability. I gradually stopped chastising my body for being what it was. Our group progressed to sun salutations and pigeon pose, each person dealing with her own particular challenges along the way.

Did you know that ultimate point of all the various yoga poses is to strengthen and prepare your body to sit for hours meditating without getting uncomfortable? That knowledge released some barrier in me; it put to rest my fear that I would never measure up.

You’ll have to find a yoga class,” my Lausanne mates said, over coffee, after our last class together in June.  In Vancouver, there’s a yoga studio on every corner, I said. It would be a cinch.

Once here, however, I hesitated. The thought of attending a class packed with young, lithe, spandex-clad bodies at a hip studio like Semperviva or YYoga intimidated me. They would stare, like the people in Baltimore had. The neighborhood community center brochure, however, promised that the classes were appropriate for “every body” at “every age.”

Thursday morning R– greets me in the spacious room, and I collect all the requisite props and lie flat on my mat with my legs angled 90 degrees up on the wall in front of me like all the others. It’s already a bit painful. Then the class starts right up – no introductions to the other women, no quiet centering, no focus on the breath. I’m taken a bit by surprise.

R– demonstrates each pose, deconstructing it into muscles and angles, degrees of precision. She then prowls the room like a drill sergeant while we try to get it just right. She moves my legs a few inches up, a bit to the left. She doesn’t mention breathing. I try to incorporate it anyway. At one point we crisscross a strap around our shoulders and use it to pull our “scapulas” back and together, R– explaining in detail what every muscle should be doing.

Finally we reach corpse pose, but that ends all too soon.  The women put the props away and disperse, a few chatting briefly, but no one interacts with me.

Once home, the force of my disappointment propels me into my running shoes and out the door. In the forest I feel better. I run ten miles in the quiet splendor of the trees. It’s okay, I tell myself. You knew it would take some time! What did you expect?


There’s another teacher, another class on Monday evening. It mentioned breathing specifically in the course description. Maybe that one will be better.

Monday evening, I meet G–. There are three candles burning near her mat, and soothing omm-y music coming out of a set of small speakers plugged into the wall. As we begin, I get the feeling G– is kind of making it up as she goes along. Some of the poses are very simple, some much too complicated for the beginner’s class that this is supposed to be. I keep waiting for the counter-poses, to be able to stretch my back, but they don’t come. Sometimes she remembers to talk about the breath, but mostly she doesn’t. I realize I won’t be able to trust her not to lead me into something that will injure my back.

After the class, she mentions that I should explore, that you can get a one-month pass at Semperviva and try lots of different classes. Maybe she got a vibe from me – in any case, I appreciate her suggestion. I go back down to the community center and ask if I can have a refund, since these classes aren’t really right for me.

Tuesday morning I spend an hour exploring the Semperviva website. There are loads of teachers, many different classes, four different studios. A one-month all-you-can-eat yoga pass is only $25 online. I should be able to find a teacher I like in one month, shouldn’t I? Then I could go back to doing yoga just once a week.

I lace up my running shoes and head out into the forest to think it over. IMG_0747


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