Noe Valley Voice February 2003

Let Bylines be Bylines
Yoga and the City

By Irene Moore

It's 6:45 on a Tuesday evening, and I'm watching Larry King, in classic yellow suspenders, lean over his table and shoot questions to a Palestinian representative. The discussion of suicide bombings and tank retaliations is getting to me. With conscious guilt, I start to retreat into my own little world. I wonder if the guy I had a date with last week is really single, if I can lose the proverbial 10 pounds, and, on this Tuesday evening, if I can get into Nathaniel Bliss' 7:45 yoga class. I feel shallow for obsessing about my own "inner peace" when outer peace is so unobtainable. However, the events in the Middle East recede along with the volume on the TV as I plan for a night of yogic bliss with Nathaniel.* I must hurry: Getting into Nathaniel's class is like getting a good parking space for a movie at the Clay on a Friday night.

At 7:00, I dig out a Lean Cuisine from the freezer. While pushing the buttons on the microwave, I visualize walking around the next day, calm and poised. This post-yoga image sets me in motion. I quickly rummage around in my dresser for some casually chic but stretchy clothes. For women, the "look" seems to be a spaghetti-strap tank top with black stretch pants that flare just above the ankle-- a far cry from my mother's yoga of the 1970s, which entailed nothing more than long khaki shorts and T-shirts bought on summer vacations. For men, things are easier, but I have noticed a recent wave of stylish Adidas and Nike shorts, the kind that also do well in inversion poses. Finally, I discover a purple top that is Downward Dog­friendly and a pair of black, boot-cut stretch pants that will stay with me during the Shoulder Stand.

It's now 7:15, and I'm eating my nuked airplane meal. Suddenly, I realize I haven't called to make a reservation for the 7:45 class. Though making a reservation seems to contradict something in Eastern philosophy, I know I must do this to get into Nathaniel's class.

Nathaniel, a short, slender man with large compassionate eyes and a shaved head, is a popular teacher. His movements are confident and lithe, like a panther in complete control of his terrain. He's always reminding us to love ourselves, and occasionally he will compliment a yogini's aura if he or she is surrounded by a particular glow. Everyone, male or female, seems to have a crush on Nathaniel.

At 7:20, I call and get a soothing feminine voice...on a machine. Something tells me that this is a bad sign, but I leave a message anyway, asking them to reserve me a space. I then scarf down the rest of my radiated "steak."

At 7:30, I leap out the door to start the blustery eight-block trek to the yoga studio. Within a block of the yoga center, I tense up as I see a line of young, attractive people on the sidewalk. Maybe it's a group congregating outside the bar next door, I tell myself, but I know better when I see a profusion of black stretch pants and rolled-up purple sticky mats. Picking up my pace, I join the line outside, wondering anxiously if I'll get into the class.

At 7:40, the steam-soaked French doors inside the studio swing open. Dozens of sweaty, serene people emerge from a Bikram "yogafitness" class. Meanwhile, it's chaos at the main desk. The wood-paneled reception area, the size of a large bathroom, cannot accommodate the influx of wannabe yoginis. Behind the desk, a curly-haired woman, with peace symbol tattoos and silver bangles from wrist to elbow, calmly checks off names as people enter. Outside, I'm drowning in a sea of North Face jackets, cell phone jingles, and conversations about weekends in Tahoe. What am I doing here? I ask myself. But then I visualize the next day: I won't spill my coffee, get food stains on my clothes, or run stop signs. I'll be on time to work and will interact smoothly and wittily with others.

With this image, I scoot through the door. I notice two women in Patagonia vests sitting on a bench, glaring jealously at those walking in with assured spots. Announcing my name like one who has a Saturday-night reservation at Delfina's, I expect to get a nod from the even-keeled receptionist. Instead, she feigns dismay, telling me she hasn't received the message and the class is full, but she could put me on the "wait list." Now it's my turn to sit and stare with envy at those who float in with rolled mats and a space in Nathaniel's class. I wish I had taken an extra dose of Paxil that morning.

That old high-school feeling that I'm not part of the in crowd creeps over me as I plop down on the bench and watch people stroll in, announce their names, whip out their platinum credit cards, and glide into the dark and steamy room of nirvana. I even smile with a slight sense of malicious pleasure at those who, like me a few minutes ago, enter the door expecting to get a space and find there's no room. One short, stocky man in a Yale T-shirt rolls his eyes when he hears the class is full and the wait list long. But because of some tacit rule in yoga, he can't vent his anger. Instead, he forces an understanding smile, mutters an "OK," and walks out into the cold. The clock ticks past 7:45, as the wallflower group anxiously awaits their fate.

At 7:50, the yogi master himself parts the red curtains and emerges from the dark den of tranquility to announce that he can take three more. All of us bench-sitters look longingly at the receptionist. She announces three names that are not mine, and in a very un-Buddha-like fashion, I start to complain about the now irrelevant message I'd left. Smiling, she tells me my name is fourth, and they cannot honor messages left on the machine. There is some hope, however. If one person with a reserved space doesn't show up, then I'm in. The clock is ticking. Standing with his hand on his hip, Nathaniel seems to be enveloped by an aura of annoyance. With furrowed brow, he tells the receptionist, in a very Western tone, to hurry things up. Then in a huff, he whips back through the curtains.

It's 7:54, and the person hasn't shown up. Yeah! The placid receptionist tells me to go in. I feel blessed. As I part the drapes to enter, some people chanting "Ahmm" in the Lotus position frown at the unwelcome light beaming into the room. Overcoming the smell of foot odor, I squeeze my mat between two long-limbed people. Imagining a graceful and composed me the next day, I salute the sun, bumping against the legs and elbows of my fellow yoginis. h

Irene Moore is a San Francisco writer and educator whose articles have appeared in the Children's Advocate and Terrain (both published in Berkeley), and the Tico Times (San Jose, Costa Rica). She wrote this essay while trying not to spill her coffee at Martha & Bros. on Church Street.

*Some names have been changed to protect the innocent!

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