Yoga for beginners

6 03 2011

The primordial “OOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM” echoes through a darkened room. Nine men and women ranging in age from 25 to about 65 sit on their mats laid out on the bamboo parquet floor and call on the forces of the universe to strengthen them. A ceiling fan above whirrs quietly.

OM. The most important mantra of yoga.

Yes, I am trying out yoga for the first time. No, I have not yet joined the ranks of the truly esoteric. Though the smell of the aromatherapy essential oil in the room is slowly going to my head.

In the past couple of months, many of my friends have told me yoga would be good for me. Not only as a sharp contrast to all the exercise and physical activity I do, but also to help me calm down and relearn healthy sleep. So, I thought, if it works for everyone else, I’d like to see if it would really work for me.

From afar, and as a hopelessly practical, realistic and grounded member of the human race, I always thought yoga was something for spaced-out 60’s flower-power wannabes who either mourned the passing of time or were born a generation too late. Or for those who recently read “Eat Pray Love”.

The first class I attend, on a bright and fresh Wednesday morning, is taught by Gina, a very nice, petite yet strong-looking woman in her thirties. She welcomes me, the newbie, and makes me feel comfortable in a room full of folks who know each other and seem to have been doing this for a while already. The course is listed as “Basic – Level 1” but for the next 90 minutes, I have serious trouble keeping up and keeping my balance. I periodically peek through supposedly closed eyes at everyone else to make sure I’m doing this right. Every so often, petite, strong Gina comes by to introduce me to muscles I never knew I had.

Some of the positions I learn in my first 90-minute yoga torture session include: cat cow, downward dog (an alledgedly “relaxing” pose), child’s pose (oh, feel that pain!), warriors I, II and III, triangle pose, and the classic: tree pose. Deep breathing exercises are the core of yoga, and I now better understand how that can aid in bringing stability and centered-ness into one’s being. Or at least how you get a really good temporary oxygen high.

And if nothing else, my first yoga class instills in me a new respect for the practice. For the first time ever, I realize how truly physically challenging this is. It’s really hard! Makes me break out in a sweat even though it doesn’t really look like I’m doing anything all too strenuous.

But the whole time I still don’t think I’m doing this right. Maybe I didn’t call on the forces of the universe with sufficient conviction. Maybe I need to practice my “OM” some more.

I wonder if Gina will let me back in next week.

Just another transatlantic crossing

1 03 2011

It’s 9pm local time, 3am where I came from – waaayyyy past my bedtime. After leaving winter in Europe, the tropical air here in South Florida, though not directly stifling, will take some time to get used to. A noncommittal breeze meanders around the building as the sprinkler system kicks in at the golf course just below my 4th floor window.

Lights flicker on at beachfront high-rises in the distance, and the sound of suburbia is disturbed only by the dull noise of commuters hading home on a major highway, about a mile away.

Welcome to South Florida!

I arrive here on LX 64, a time-share inhabitant of seat 27A. 10 hours and 45 minutes wedged into a corner of a steel tube headed southwest. Right from the start though, something is different… but maybe it really is just the wind. We taxi to the wrong end of the main runway 16/34 at Zurich Airport, take off towards the northwest instead of the southeast, thankfully sparing me the standard-pattern, stomach-churning, nerve-deadening steep left-hand turn over the city at 500 feet AGL. (There are days when you wonder if thrust and lift really will deliver what they promise. Days when you think the wingtip is close enough to scrape the roofs of houses below. An engine failure here would be a human catastrophe.)

But this is an uneventful trip, as transatlantic journeys go. Vegetarian lasagna (bad choice) on my tray-table accompanied by Grammy-winner Lady Antebellum on the sound system. The Social Network entertains me for two hours and I spend time working on the To-Do list that will keep me occupied days, nights and in-betweens for the next couple of weeks.

Pick up luggage – my suitcase takes a long time to emerge from the airport’s intestines (despite the prominent tag that says “Crew”) – and walk out the big double doors that separate MIA airside from landside. Here I always get a knot in my throat, quietly wishing my father would be standing there, waiting to pick me up, like he did for almost 10 years… and that his death 3 ½ years ago was just a really bad dream. I’m always disappointed.

The time from wheels-on-the-ground to drink-in-hand is a respectable 103 minutes, but far from our record of 79 minutes. Traffic on I-95 sucks.

But now I’m here and relieved. Home. In a way.

My great adventure begins with a beachfront sunrise skate at 6am.