ColumnThe precious practice.
As a girl, I once read a book where the main character would frown with great purpose every time she saw a smiley face sign. I can’t recall the book, but you know the sign: those cheery yellow faces that blithely instruct you with just one word. Smile! “How do they know I’m not already smiling?” the girl character fumed. Yes, yes, yes! My eleven-year-old self shouted in her loudest inside voice. Finally, someone who gets it! In a good mood already, as a matter of fact, and you have ruined it, smiley. Where’s the humility, you piece of paper? What do you even know? Nothing.
Which brings me to yoga and yesterday.
On Sunday nights, when I can, I like to take myself to dinner, notebook in hand, for the express purpose of eavesdropping on humanity. The key is not to go anywhere so cool you’ll only overhear boring bits about things he should have texted, nor to go anywhere so sad you’ll want to die.
Last night, a woman at dinner with her three friends was in a total tizz over being dumped by her yoga partner.
“She says I’m too loud!” said the woman, loudly. “Too loud! Can you believe that?” It appeared her friends could believe it. “I explained, Claire, the entire point of yoga is to breathe! If you’re not really breathing, if you are not really sounding out the breath, it doesn’t work!” Here, she paused to shake her head in disbelief.
“But she says she won’t go. She won’t do it. She’s done with how loud I breathe.” The three friends nodded in silent unison.
“I don’t get it. I just can’t believe it,” the woman continued. “You’re supposed to chant, to breathe, with intention! She isn’t even doing it right. Most people aren’t, which is such a shame! Ommmmmmm” – sucking in a huge breath for the demonstration – “You know?”
My ears sharpened. Could it be? Was it she? The Loudest Lady in Yoga Class? Before she could notice me staring a little too long, I buried myself. Don’t mind me, just nerdy girl with notebook, probably a grad student. (Note to the novice: Bun that hair and wear a hoodie to dinner. You want free pearls, not free drinks.)
Sweet Jesus, I thought, this is the obnoxious Om-er right here, in the flesh, alive and explaining herself to the rest of us. Earthly understanding shall be ours! We have all experienced this woman, and sometimes man, in their terrifically varied but consistently exasperating varieties.
There is the Orgasmic Omer, belonging to the woman who has apparently never had her pelvis opened up the old-fashioned way, who also seems to experience the miracle of revirgination just in time for next class. If her Oms could talk, they would say, “I need to get la-la-laaaaaid more.”
There is the Male variant. He chants so smoothly. He really gets deep. He smiles at you with intention, all right. And, after class, he stares at you as if he’s just given you the greatest gift, because he’s pretty sure he has: your first orgasm. Shall we hold clammy hands over bowls of carrot ginger puree with primrose oil? We can discuss our alimentary tracts. He is wise in the ways of wheatgrass, say his Oms.
There is the Shamer Omer, the bald one who lets you all think she went through chemo even though she didn’t just because she likes the attention of it, as well as the attention that comes from hurtling her chants across the room like a bull moose in rut, and when confronted at last, accuses you of being the angry one, to which you burst out, “I was fine until you got all Om Shanti Shanti on us at 120 decibels!” and you never go back to that yoga class again. You don’t want to know what her Oms say, but they’re a true story.
There is the Quantum Omer, who ascribes spiritual glory to our shared celestial chemistry with stardust, whereas I find it scientific. Hers is a very special knowledge. Her Oms say, “I eat powdered placenta.”
There is Suzy Super Omer, who rolls up in her Range Rover, sporting her Lululemon. She has changed her email signature to Namaste. This is worse than anything that could have happened to yoga, including Portlandia. Her Oms say, “I’m the easy target. But be nice to me. I’m trying.”
My spiraling notebook taxonomy was interrupted by another protest about Claire, and I looked up to see the woman’s friends nodding once more. Two insights came to mind there in that restaurant. First, that woman needs better dinner friends.
Second, while I have loved yoga for years, I’m not sure I’m loving it the way others who love yoga seem to love it. I feel like a fraud, a phony, a huckster. After all, my inspirations are Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde and H.L. Mencken and House and Hitchens, not the Dalai Lama and Eckhart Tolle and goji berries. I like Dorothy Parker and contemporary art and high fashion and alcohol (the last, preferably with rich food). I like comedy and code. The History of World War II was one of my favorite courses in graduate school. I genuinely feel nothing after a superfood smoothie. My years as a vegetarian were, literally, a gas. I am unmoved in the face of granola. Anything to do with groups of women makes me feel like I have a pending case of hives instead of a pending case of empowerment.
Something is definitely wrong with me. But no matter how many times I resolve to try, I find afresh that I must stand by my principles: I just don’t feel the need to get in touch with my inner anus. I don’t want to communicate nonviolently about my two-days-late class bill, I just want to give you my new debit card number because I’m fine, I haven’t lost my job, I just got sent a new card, no I’m really fine, no I’m not being resistant or defensive, if you’ll just let me explain, I…Oh God! Please just let me give you the new number!
Does a cat care? I want to stretch like a cat. Does the cat ask his cat friend, respectfully, lovingly, compassionately, for some room on the cushion?
I breathe, even if you can’t hear it. I breathe because sometimes it makes me cry trickles of relief and sometimes it makes me grow pent up with joy. But sometimes it feels like a job, and sometimes I go through the motions and I smile, knowing I actually just need the old-fashioned way.
And sometimes instead of Ommmmmm, I just say, Oh.
This is the latest installment in your editor’s column, The Insider’s Guide to Life.
Image: Christian Parreira