It started off benign enough: Walker sent out an email to all the ambassadors inquiring who did yoga and would be willing to test out Patagonia’s new yoga line. Of course, I bristled at this. Yoga? That’s for girlfriends. I’m a climber, have a black belt, and have raced on the professional downhill mountain bike circuit. But, that noted, I’d be damned if one of the other ambassadors was going to get to test out the newest bra top before for me just because they “yoga’d” and I didn’t.
So I responded to Walker’s email that yes, I “yoga” and in fact hold bi-weekly yoga classes at my house – which wasn’t a total lie. My neighbor, Porter, who had attempted to espouse the benefits of yoga to me countless times and try to get me to go to a class with her, would come over to my house a couple of times a week for living-room sessions of grammar school PE-style sit-ups and push-ups, and loosely follow a late ’90s Rodney Lee “Yoga for Athletes” DVD (fast-forwarding through the parts I didn’t like). No “Oms” or “Namastes” with Porter and I – just general rants about life in SLC (like the local hoodlums’ uncreative tagging of garbage cans, fences and the nearby Mormon church’s dumpster). This was my yoga. No need to pay someone to show you how to stretch, breathe, and recite poetry while you lay on the floor. [Above photo: Porter Teegarden]
But alas, after 17 years of climbing four times a week without any significant rest, stretching or prehab, my 42-year-old body finally communicated with my 19-year-old mind that we needed a restart. A climber PT I know gave my body a quick once-over while lying on a boulder in Hidden Valley Campground and said, “You are a soft-tissue mess and have one of the most immobile spines I’ve seen. Have you ever tried yoga?” I looked at him unimpressed and irritated; if one more person said to me, “Ooh, have you ever tried yoga? You—should—really—do yoh-gaa,” I’d tear up their smelly yoga mat bit by bit and shove the pieces up their Pranayama-breathing nostrils.
But I had to admit defeat. I was desperate. My body needed help; the aches, pains and injuries were lasting longer and occurring more frequently. And so, like an addict finally caving in to “finding God” to save themselves, I walked over to the neighborhood yoga studio and self-consciously went to a class.
The first thing the yoga teacher asked us to do was to put our hand in a position that my gnarled fingers, from years of crack climbing, couldn’t do. Well, this sucks, I thought, I can’t even do the first thing! But then I became even more dubious when she instructed us to plug one nostril at a time and preform what sounded too complicated for something as simple as breathing. What?! This isn’t going to fix my rotator cuff! Besides, one of my nostrils doesn’t really work from a line drive I took to the face when I was a kid, so I struggled with that, too.
We sat cross-legged and she instructed us to close our eyes and breathe. This lasted an uncomfortably long time, about 15 seconds. After which I surreptitiously opened my eyes and saw that everyone was following directions but me, and that there was dog hair on my black yoga tights. I thought: Does anyone ever fart in yoga class? Will I be the only one who listens to Eminem on my iPhone on the walk home? Is there beer in the fridge? I picked at the scraps of nail polish left on my toes from a summer’s pedicure.
At the end of the class as we laid there in Corpse Pose (which, unbelievably, hurt my back) our teacher told us to roll over and “leave everything you want to leave behind on the mat.” Again, I was skeptical. I imagined what other people were “leaving on the mat”… stressful jobs, unfulfilling relationships, financial woes? I have none of that. So I thought harder. Why was I here? I imagined my elbow tendonitis, like a black smoker’s lung on the tobacco packages in Europe, and left that there on the mat.
It’s been a month now since I started regularly doing yoga. I don’t do the “rad” yoga, hot yoga or the yoga that hurts my wrists. I go to the classes that are usually filled with sweet grandmothers and dudes in Carhartts. I’m getting better at the breathing and keeping my eyes closed (but still can’t stretch my teeth). And although I’m not bashful about singing the Star Spangled Banner out loud at a baseball game, I still can’t do the “Om” or “Namaste” for fear that I will uncontrollably start laughing.