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Sweating with the Oldie

I am the oldie. Let’s just get that out of the way.


What now, Higgins? you’re asking. Pull your chair in closer. Auntie Kristan has a story to tell.


After a lifetime of thinking yoga was not for me, as I am as limber as plywood and lack a certain, ah, personal grace, and having been yoga-shamed when I did try, I started taking classes a few years ago. I had met my friend in frozen foods aisle of the grocery store, and commented on how great she looked. “I’m taking yoga with John,” she said. “You should try it.”


“I hate yoga,” I said, eyeing the Ben & Jerry’s.


“So did I! Until John’s class. Seriously, try it.”


Long story short, I did. John was a great teacher who not only told us to do only what felt comfortable, but turned the lights down very low so we didn’t have to see ourselves in the big mirrors. Alas, John took another job doing something else, and so I cast about for another yoga studio.


There are certain things I still dislike about yoga. The term yoga studio is one of them. Can’t we just say class, or, I don’t know, room? Also, when people say they practice yoga. I don’t practice. I just take classes. But I found a beautiful studio in an old mill building with a waterfall outside. I love the teachers. However, my balance and flexibility aren’t much better (probably because I don’t come often enough), so I decided to try a new class in a new yoga studio. This is where our fun begins.

Hot yoga. I’d heard good things. They jack up the heat to 90 or 95 degrees, somehow make it very humid, and you do yoga. The idea, I think, is that you’ll be more limber with the heat, and with the sound of the hissing humidity, perhaps your cries of pain won’t be heard as easily.


I could tell immediately upon arrival that these people practiced yoga. They had the outfits with the webbing and the designs. Everyone had many tattoos, but I recently got a tattoo, so clearly I was cool enough to be there.

At 58, I was also the oldest person there. Not a great sign. However, I was there, and I had driven 20 minutes to get there, so why not, right? Picture yourself in the jungles of South America. It’s hard to breathe, the air is so thick with humidity. You feel dizzy with the heat. Sweat streams from your body. Now, do an hour of power yoga. Squat, bend, push, balance, do a push up, twist your wonky knee and lie down on it, get up, downward dog, upward dog, stand on one foot and put the other foot behind your neck…


But I soldiered through. I did maybe 85% of what the teacher said, and she was quite nice, saying we were welcome to modify the poses, since this was our practice, or just stay in child’s pose…sitting on folded legs, face on the floor, arms outstretched. I’ve never seen a child do this pose. In yoga, it spells defeat.

At the end of the class, I felt…triumphant. First time, and I hadn’t passed out. I stood in the frigid air of the parking lot, waiting for my blood pressure to come down. When I could breathe normally again, I drove home. “Wow, your face is so red!” said McIrish as I walked through the door. Thirty-two years of marriage, and still he said this. “I think you meant to say I’m glowing,” said I, brushing past him to take a long shower.


The next night, I decided to go again. This was my mistake.


I should’ve known that, based on the level of bougie-hip-fly youngsters in the room, this would be a different experience. Shaved heads, even more tattoos, beards, lots of really pretty yoga outfits. I was wearing 20-year-old running shorts—older than half of the students—and a t-shirt. Last night, I’d been the senior person by maybe five years. This night, I was a solid generation older than everyone present. And this teacher was…well, the word cruel seems to fit here. She used terms I hadn’t heard before. “Fill!” she’d bark, and I’d look around to see what that pose was, only to realize she just meant we should inhale. “Down! Up! High! Back! Forth! Down! Stack!”

Ten minutes in, next to a woman so strong and muscular she could lift her entire body weight on her fingertips (is that even a thing?)—I was hovering at the precipice of death. Were those my grandparents standing in the corner, beckoning me into the light? I couldn’t quite tell, as sweat was blinding me. The lithe and graceful, fawn-like young women had a sheen, a glisten. My shirt was soaked through. Sweat dripped from every part of me, making my mat dangerously slick.

My face, the mirror told me, was indeed red. One solid shade of vermillion. I felt bad for the lovely fawns who had to look at me flopping and fumbling and doing crap pushups, and vowed, should I survive the class, that I would always take the spot in the furthest back corner.  “Lower in ten! Nine, eight, seven…” We did not pause. There were no water breaks. I had to stop from time to time to mop myself off, because otherwise, I would’ve been standing in a puddle. I could not keep up. I was not even in the neighborhood of keeping up.


At the end of the class, when were lying in the appropriately named corpse pose and I was wondering if I might be having a stroke, the teacher came over and put an icy face cloth on my forehead. “Thank you,” I whispered.


“You’re so welcome,” she whispered back, and in that sentence I heard, Oh, thank God, she’s still alive.


I changed in the dressing room. The soles of my feet were so sweaty, I couldn’t get my socks on, and I was too weak to force the issue. Again, I stood in the icy air—it was snowing, which helped. I was so drenched that I leaned forward the whole drive home so as not to slime the driver’s seat with my sweat.  


The next day, after I’d told my extremely fit son about my adventure, he said, “Well, it’s great to do something like that, even if it is tough. I doubt a lot of Americans in your demographic even attempt that.”


In my demographic. Oh, readers! How I laughed! He said, "I worded it as carefully as I could. It's great that you're trying to stay healthy."

Thus encouraged, I then signed up for two more hot yoga classes. Let those limber, athletic fawns see what endurance really means. ; )


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