Lord of the Mat

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10,000 Footprints

Lord of the Mat

My first yoga teacher was a hobbit.

A year later I sat in a large circle on the first evening of my 200 hours of Yoga Teacher Training and answered the question “what initially brought you to yoga,” I was met with gasps, glares and giggles when I answered that I came to yoga to impress a girl. And it was true. And it worked. This is not the ideal reason to venture into the world of downward dog and pigeon, but I am certain there are worse ones: world domination or developing a line of baby seal fur yoga mats spring to mind.

My actual first yoga class was bizarre affair from the outset, but I felt I needed to take one so I could converse with my future wife on one of her most passionate subjects. She had previously declared that she and her best friend could “talk for hours upon hours about yoga” and though I had no idea if I were going to be able to maintain nightly debates about the benefits of cobra over pyramid, I wanted to at least understand the basic concepts of why attempting crow can often lead to a broken nose.

The night of my initial class I hummed and hawed over what to wear. Men don’t usually have skin tight, religion identifying pants in their wardrobe, and if they do they are probably flexible and nimble enough to have been one of the lucky few to have practiced yoga since birth. I chose my one pair of sweat pants (Irish men of my generation do not own sweat pants) and a loose fitting t-shirt. Both of these were a mistake.

The class was being held in my old school and as I walked up the creaking stairs I was reminded of the last time I was in this building, about to step into my final exams before I left school. Both times I was terrified and thought I would faint or fart and, to be honest, many yoga classes since have filled me with a similar fear.

Outside the enormous door of the classroom I checked that my phone was off and gave a tentative knock. For several moments nothing happened until a strangely hobbit-like woman swung the door open and declared to the class of women behind her “oh look, a man, we do so love it when the boys come to yogaCome in, come in,” she said. “We’re actually at the last class of a 10 week introduction to yoga, but I’m sure you’ll catch up.”  What proceeded was one of the funniest hours of my life. Please imagine if you will, being plucked out of wherever you are now and being plonked center stage at any Broadway musical, West End show or Russian Ballet and being told simply to “catch up.”  I bent, I balanced, I bowed and bobbed and hadn’t the faintest idea what was happening; all I was certain of was that it was all hysterical to me. I could not keep the smile off my face nor the chuckle out of my diminishing breath. No one’s body is supposed to move like this and if your body does happen to fall into an extended triangle pose, you should be forbidden from doing so with a straight face. I have never in my life been so amused by the movement of my own body, but every pose she put us in made me laugh, often out loud.

Not only were the poses hilarious but my inability to replicate them in my own body made me laugh even more. I couldn’t touch my toes and keep my legs straight (I still can’t), and no amount of contraptions or aids could make my body twist one way, my legs another and my hands clasp behind my back without permanent disfigurement, but as I looked around the room at my seven classmates, some of whom were rather put out by my presence, I realized that neither could they. We were all in various physical examples of distress, and not a single one of us looked like the willowy hobbit lady at the top of the room, but rather than admonish us for our lack of perfection we were being congratulated on our attempted effort. Each pose attempted, no matter how far we were from its mirror, was met with encouragement and praise. I began to not just experience immense entertainment but physical enjoyment too. I lolloped and squirmed. I stretched and arced. I moved my body in a way that I had never before and it all felt wonderful.

It was around this time that I began to realize my choice of clothes for the evening were not entirely wise. Sweat pants were named such for a reason and though a loose fitting t-shirt may be well suited for hiding a belly while standing tall in tree pose, it also had the permanency of a €2 umbrella in a thunderstorm. So as the class progressed my legs began to bake and my t-shirt took every opportunity to flee from my body and turn this lesson into a clothing optional event!

Yoga Bilbo Baggins finally slowed proceedings and, with most of our limbs still intact, guided us to the floor and finally our backs. As we lay down on our mats, I saw my classmates cover themselves in blankets and the lights dimed. I had no idea what was happening and for a few moments thought it might be prudent to leave as, quite obviously, not only do these ladies yoga here, they must also live here as well, and it was way past their bed times. Cocooned under woven mats and eye blankets we all lay still with only an occasional fidgeted movement to remind you that you were not alone. It may have been seconds or it may have been minutes but before I could contemplate the possible infidelity of sleeping with these seven ladies and our Middle Earth leader, I was deep in slumber, cloud surfing with Gandalf and Legolas.

Several gongs from a hefty Himalayan singing bowl announced the end of our repose and an end to my search for the One Ring. We were all invited into a cross-legged seat and thanked for our participation and, with a bow, the class echoed a Namaste.

I don’t know if this was a typical experience for the yoga newbie, but the memory of this initial venture remains with me and visits me often in my growing practice. I still find many new poses make me laugh and I regularly fall asleep during savasana, but I am incredibly grateful to my first teacher for making my first yoga class a thing of high adventure, higher humor and  hugely addictive.

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