Leigh K. in pigeon crescent pose

Leigh K. in pigeon crescent pose

My second class in my week of free yoga at Kindness dawned chilly and rainy. Perfect yoga weather. Cheryl must be the regular instructor of Forrest Vinyasa I-II because she greeted the other lithe-bodied women with hugs and by name. She’s very high-energy and positive but there was a somber tone during her dedication of the class to Phil, a member who was injured in a climbing accident.

We started the class with some breathing exercises I had never done before, like short bursts of breath and I don’t know if it was because all I had eaten was a banana but it made my stomach all twisted-feeling. It got my abs all tingly and ready for one of the most intense ab workouts of my life. We didn’t do more than 20 crunches put together but each individual crunch lasted maybe 30 seconds. The focus was on where the breath was at each point of the crunch. Sometimes our shoulders were lifted, sometimes our pelvises were lifted, and sometimes both, like one of those remote control beds where you can elevate the head or foot of it at will. It got to the point where I would dread taking another breath because that meant another round of shaking limbs and burning muscles. I was sore for days.

There were some segments of flowing through poses but the focus of the class was definitely hanging out in poses like Extended Side Angle Pose for much longer than usual. We were always intensifying the stretch by sinking deeper or wrapping our arms and clasping our hands behind our backs or under our thighs and holding it there, concentrating on breathing, until sweat was pouring off our foreheads onto our mats.

We used a yoga roll and a strap for some poses on the ground which was new to me because I’m a bare essentials kinda gal. After doing Bow Pose with the roll, I definitely could have done without it because it felt like my insides were squished into my throat (lovely, right?) but the strap saved my life, pain-wise. I have found that I have absolutely zero flexibility in my quadriceps and any movement where my heel moves back and up is impossible for me. The strap gave me a few extra inches (ok, a lot extra inches) to stretch back and grab my foot in Pigeon Crescent Pose. I was glad to incorporate these kinds of poses into the class because it showed me exactly what I’ve been missing as far as stretching goes. And it showed me that for an ex-dancer, I’m miserable at Dancer Pose.

The end of the class was dedicated to Scorpion Pose, either on the hands or on the elbows. Some of the women had been practicing the pose, but I didn’t know what it was so Cheryl executed a beautiful one to show us. When she came out of it and we applauded, she bashfully swatted her hand and said, “Oh, don’t do that! I’m still perfecting mine!” I liked that Cheryl acknowledged the fact that no matter how experienced you are, in yoga, you’re always perfecting. “The hardest part for me,” she said, “is letting go of my center. I’ve worked so hard on balance and finding that center that to let it go for this pose is such a challenge.”

I watched from my mat while the ladies went into handstands up against the wall or, from their elbows, kicked their feet up over their heads. Cheryl asked me if I wanted to try it and OF COURSE I had to. I went into a handstand (nothing made me want to try it from my elbows) and slowly walked my feet down the wall until the tips of my toes were just barely touching while Cheryl held my waist and I dropped my chest so it was moving towards the floor. I stretched my feet towards my head and arched my back and realized I wasn’t doing a damn thing by myself because Cheryl was pretty much holding me up. I shifted my legs and hips back over my hands and felt my body work that much harder before I thought my arms were going to give out. I came out of it and Cheryl patted my shoulder while I felt all the extra blood drain out of my head. To my right, a woman was on her elbows, her eyes looking at the ground, her thin torso curving backwards and her legs in a perfect arch, with just one big toe stabilizing her on the wall. As I watched, her toe came off the wall and she held it for a few seconds, completely still. Maybe that’ll be me someday. Maybe.