“Words are very unnecessary
they can only do harm…”
-Depeche Mode, “Enjoy the Silence”
Juggling a blue yoga mat resembling a Fruit Roll-Up for giants, water bottle, and face towel, I timidly enter the yoga studio. The paraphernalia is necessary, as is a lack of “strong colognes or perfumes,” per the studio’s website. I secretly pray nobody has an aversion to my heavily scented Old Spice deodorant that will eventually activate; when physically exerted, I sweat worse than an on-stage Whitney Houston (RIP) patting herself dry to no avail.
The instructor warmly greets me after realizing I’m a first-timer there. Full disclosure: I’m not a yoga virgin, but I’ve done it so infrequently that my muscles have become overexerted from too much weightlifting and too little stretching. That is what a masseuse told me a few months ago. She performed what is widely known as a deep-tissue massage on my heavily knotted back. I like to call her technique a spinal cord-ectomy, since the pain couldn’t have been any worse. “Yoga,” she said while jamming her elbows up and down the sides of my spine as tears quietly streamed down my face, “will help your muscles.”
I begrudgingly took her advice. And why not, since this is my year of living out new experiences tied to ’80s songs. Yes, yoga can salve the body, but it’s also nourishment for the mind. With enough practice, I’m told, the movements and breathing can silence thoughts and focus attention on the moment. There is a perpetual whirlwind inside my head, thoughts that seem to never end, which needs more attention than my muscles. The thoughts don’t fixate on one thing; one minute it’s work related, the next it’s remembering what ’80s tune played during last week’s episode of The Americans. It would be nice to “enjoy the silence,” as Depeche Mode sang in their hit that talks about the insignificance of words (or thoughts, for that matter) and the feelings that can be discovered in their absence. “Pleasures remain/So does the pain/Words are meaningless/And forgettable. (Music buffs: yes, I know the song was released in 1990, but it was written in the ’80s, so it’s fair game for my experiment.)
The yoga instructor points to the place where the magic happens: a darkened space save for three stationary lamps at the front, middle, and back of the room. Playing Goldilocks for a minute, the front would be too close to the instructor’s gaze as she eyeballs my completely botched poses. The back isn’t close enough for me to watch her perform them accurately. The middle is just right.
I sit on my mat and take in the serenity: a soothing hum from an above vent gently pumping warm air into the room, a mini tree with white lights, the utter lack of chatter. I’m feeling at ease and lie down on my back for some light stretching. Words quickly pierce my zen moment. “I’m not the one that spent $30 on Mexican!” says one Chatty Charlie to his tatted-up friend in front of me. Isn’t there an unspoken rule about keeping quiet in yoga studios?
Luckily, everyone–some 20 or so wannabe yogis–shuts up once the instructor enters.The first exercise seems simple: take in a few deep breaths. “You’ll notice how you’re breath gets manipulated once you’re aware of it,” she says. I do the required inhalations and exhalations but get sidetracked by the weird undulations of my stomach. My three-steps-ahead mind is also thinking about what’s next vs. practicing being present with the task at hand.
We move into child pose: my face flat into the mat as my bum is pushed back toward my heels. My arms stretch out on the mat, but the instructor tells us to elongate the arms even more. If I reach any further, I’ll tickle the tootsies of the person in front of me.
During the next sets of poses, I notice two things: a.) I have trouble following directions when mimicking a pretzel and b.) my knowledge on the human anatomy is laughable.
Balance on the balls (?) of your feet.
Take the pose into your shoulder blades (?).
Tuck in your tail.
Huh? Is “tail” another word for butt? Couldn’t she just say butt? I’m too deep into my thoughts to actually listen to her instructions for the poses, which are supposed to begin with an inhale and end with an exhale. Your breath is supposed to help guide your movements, but mine is so labored, I barely remember the importance of oxygen while the blood rushes to my head during a downward-facing dog. And don’t even get me started on the triangle pose, which Gumby himself would have a hard time mastering.
An hour into the class, and my face towel is soaked. My muscles finally get a break when the instructor asks us to relax on our backs. She turns off all lights. Legs spread and palms facing north, my breath returns to a steady pace. I slowly feel the air enter my nose and exit my mouth. If your thoughts veer from your breathe, she says, delicately bring your attention back to the breath.
What should I have for lunch? Come back to the breath.
My contacts feel glued to my eyeballs. Come back to the breath.
I hope I don’t fall asleep and start snoring in front of all these people. Come back to the breath.
Five minutes in, silence arrives inside my head.There is only breathing, the rising and falling of my stomach, the rush of air into my nose and out the mouth.
“Namaste,” concludes the instructor. I float to my car, guided there by all the air that was expelled during our exercise. While I know this feeling won’t last all day, I savor it for a few more minutes. Going against my instinct to crank up the radio, I ride home in silence.