Why yoga stresses me out

Until about five years ago I hadn’t thought about yoga for about 30 years, and it was a quaint and dusty memory from my high school and early college years. But about seven years ago it became hot again, especially after women saw what it did for Madonna.

So I tried it again last year, seeking to recapture the zen-like state and serene accomplishment I felt in high school – when I was leaner and more flexible – and conquered the “plow” and “headstand” positions in gym class with Mrs. Rush.

It was not as I remembered.

The studio, above a busy pizza parlor, was packed elbow to sharp elbow with stressed women determined to de-stress themselves whatever the cost. Clad in their Lululemon yoga pants, they unrolled expensive mats and stretched, with the same serious expressions as elite marathon runners before the big race. This yoga was a big deal.

My friend Jane and I had decided to take a “special” of five introductory classes to see if yoga was right for us. When my friend tried to unroll her own mat – a cheap and worn one rented for $1 from the studio – a woman clad in chic yoga gear gently but pointedly interrupted her.

“This is my spot,” she said.

The class was led by a petite blonde, who dimmed the lights and pressed a button on the big gray boom box, releasing a soft trickle of new-agey music. She delivered her instructions in a sweet and low voice, coaxing us into sun salutes, “child” poses, leg lifts, and positions that required extending our arms and balancing on one leg, like upended toy airplanes.

This would have been OK if the studio had not been crowded with at least 18 or 20 people. But we were unable to move our limbs into these contortions without nervously checking the GPS of our neighbors’ legs and arms.

Another challenge was the construction of a new building behind the strip shopping center. Our journey towards nirvana was constantly thwarted by the clanking of structural steel and the staccato pounding of the jackhammer.

But through it all, our leader’s soothing voice continued telling us to relax, to let all our cares go. “I wish she’d hurry up,” I thought. I furtively looked around for a clock and wondered when I could go home and have a glass of wine.

Jane called me the following week. “I can’t go to yoga because I have a meeting,” she said.

A Zen-like relief flooded into my whole being.

“Me neither,” I said. I poured another glass of wine and felt incredibly centered and relaxed.