Moving from California to Michigan has meant a significant shift in how I approach winter. And by that I mean, I cannot avoid the arctic snowpocalypse squarely headed for my house.
When you live in California you’ve undoubtedly heard of winter, and perhaps even turned on the television to witness people dressed up like yetis shoveling piles of snow and cars sliding into one another like bowling pins.
But then you turn off the TV and uncork a bottle of Pinot and walk outside to enjoy another perfectly sunny, warm day.
Snow is something Californians choose. If they want to frolic in the snowy Sierra Nevadas, it’s just a few short hours from their home. And perhaps after a day on the slopes, they’ll decide to drive back, head to the beach, meet the cast of Baywatch and enjoy the warm breeze coming off the Pacific.
In Michigan the choices are different. How many layers can I wear so I slow down the inevitable numbness that will leave me feeling like I have no feet? How many ski masks is too many? How can I wear gloves thick enough to keep me warm, that don’t double as a cudgel? Is it normal that the tears being ripped from my eyes are forming mini icicles?
I love being outdoors and would regularly go on hikes during California’s winter, when the golden hills would turn green. I had nice weather twelve months a year in exchange for outrageously high rent – officially known as the “sunshine tax”. Here in Michigan, in an effort to not hide under the blankets for several months, I have been trying to figure out what to do with myself. I turned to the gym.
Let’s get one thing straight. Me agreeing to go to the gym is like agreeing to vacation in Damascus, have elective brain surgery or go low carb. I am about as comfortable in the gym as Kim Kardashian is buying clothes at Wal-Mart.
So I am not going to just any gym to spend my time – this is the fancy gym. You need to max out your Lululemon credit card just to walk in the door. I am not exactly willing to look the part, but if I am going to hunker down in the gym for a few months, I want a beautiful space, free of meatheads dragging their knuckles through the free weights and staphylococcus lurking in the showers. I want all the amenities: three kinds of fruit water, eucalyptus infused steam rooms and a hunky manservant in a toga to feed me grapes while lying on a chaise after a strenuous workout with a thigh master. Since I no longer have to offer a human sacrifice to afford my rent, I am willing to pay for it.
The gym has a buffet of classes to choose from: Spinning, Get Screamed At By A Former Marine Crossfit, Dance Jam, Crush It, Kill It, If You Don’t Die Of A Heart Attack You’re Doing It Wrong. It’s intense. Many of the classes are held in the general workout area, where I can be seen lazily pedaling along on the recumbent bike, while I witness middle aged men who seem more like late registrants to the Navy SEAL BUD/S training, jump around the floor like frogs, crab crawl across the workout area to sprint on the treadmill and be hit with medicine balls faster than they can catch them. All while having orders barked at them by a tiny, but fierce woman with a crew cut and biceps bigger than my head.
Among the classes that seem less lethal to my physical and mental well-being, are a variety of yoga classes. Hanging out on a mat, listening to singing crystal bowls while clearing my mind? What’s the worst that could happen…
For the uninitiated, yoga is a mind-body practice designed for people to feel morally superior to you because the path to spiritual enlightenment is paved with shots of wheatgrass and folding yourself into a pretzel. You learn to detach from your ego by taking pictures of yourself doing a handstand with legs spread eagle and posting them on Instagram with hashtags like #LivingLaYogaLoca #NoEgo #LookAtMe #Namaste. As far as I could tell, serious yogis employ a professional photographer to follow them around to capture them in tittibhasana (an actual yoga pose which translates to, “tits in a sauna”). Not only am I afraid I would cause serious bodily harm doing anything beyond bending over and touching my toes, I didn’t have the foresight in college to major in Sanskrit. I have serious concerns about understanding what a jali mudra is, how to get into adho mukha svanasana and what to do when my kundalini starts awakening.
Despite my reservations, this sounds infinitely better than getting screamed at by the aforementioned trainer cum drill sergeant. There is just one more hurdle.
I’ve seen the women who go to this yoga class, and honestly, I’m intimidated. Their perfect yoga butts and color coordinated clothing, $150 yoga pants made out of vegan leather, yoga mats made from recycled plastic bags and a metal bottle filled with diamond water that is so expensive, each purchase goes towards supporting an entire Amazonian tribe. They have wooden mala beads with a dainty red tassel dangling from their wrists that give off that unmistakable aura of inner peace. They wear those fancy bras (which is entirely unnecessary because fake boobs hold themselves up) that look more like a top and have 20 straps criss-crossing along their perfectly toned backs. I have no doubt that I would strangle myself trying to get that on.
So I have resisted even attending a class, wrapped up in my own insecurities. But then I saw this video, “Why Plus Women Shouldn’t Do Yoga,” and I was galvanized.
I put to rest my insecurities and went to a restorative yoga class.
I can do this!
I don’t want to say it was terrible, but my Fitbit recorded the entire hour as sleep. It was basically a lot of lying on the mat doing twists and trying not to lapse in a coma.
Restorative yoga — I OWN YOU.
I thought to myself, “This is yoga? I just lie around and relax for an hour? I GOT THIS.”
And, because I appear to have such a knack for this yoga thing, the wheels start turning:
“If yoga is this easy, I could open my own yoga studio. Ooh… in the Caribbean! It’s going to be a vacation yoga destination. And since I’ve mastered this ‘lie on the floor and breathe’ stuff, I’ll be a great teacher and help people feel amazing. Maybe Richard Branson will visit. And Oprah. Oh yeah, we gotta get Oprah there…”
Feeling more confident in my mad yoga skills, I decide to take the yoga basics class. I’ve already taken the restorative class and it was easy as pie. Wouldn’t basics be easier?
The next day I confidently sway into the yoga basics class. The room is a little warm. I overhear the teacher tell us she’s heating the room to 80 degrees. As I have come to learn, this is not even considered “hot yoga”. In hot yoga, participants show up effectively nude to do yoga in a 104 degree sweat lodge. If we left our children or pets in a car that hot, it’s considered criminal negligence. In the world of yoga, it’s “detoxifying”.
11:15 I plop my mat down at the front and center of the room (“Watch how this is done, bitches.”) and get ready to kick yoga’s ass.
11:20 And we start moving. Hmm. This is different. In the other class I barely moved at all. Are we sure this is how it’s done? Maybe the teacher doesn’t understand this is BASICS.
11:25 I’m having a hard time keeping up with the changes in movement and realizing that not all yoga is done lying on a mat. We’re actually standing up here. And wait a minute, what is that I feel on the back of my neck. Is that sweat?
11:30 My hair is officially stuck to my face as we move through vinyasa (sanskrit for torture). I’m beginning to feel a bit like a sweaty Cousin It from the Addams Family, as hair begins sticking to my forehead. I cannot move the wet strands of hair out of my face fast enough. I am no longer able to clearly see the teacher, who is fluidly taking the other students from one move to another.
“Find your breath,” the teacher coos.
11:35 My breath has left the building.
11:36 I become good friends with my breath’s less elegant cousin: panting.
11:40 My mat officially turns into a Slip n’Slide. I am yoga surfing on the mat as I try to hold warrior poses without my legs giving way under me and flying in opposite directions.
Can we turn the heat down?
11:55 I’m in a shower… of my own sweat. Literally not one part of my body has been spared. I look around the room through my sweat-soaked glasses (yes, even my eyebrows are sweating) and everyone looks totally normal. Not drenched in sweat. I’m not sure anyone but me has even broken a sweat. They look totally calm and collected…
12:05 Savasana. I lie in corpse pose, completely dead to the world. Well, except for one nagging thought. At any moment, I expect to hear over the PA, “Cleanup in row 3 of the yoga room. We’ve got a wet one. Bring a bucket.”
12:10 Still looking for my breath, which is now hovering near the entrance to the room as if to say, “If you think I’m going back into that room, you’re crazy.”
12:15 The class ends and I literally peel myself off the mat. The mat should probably be burned. I leave the room and confirm that everyone else looks totally enlightened and camera ready, while I look like I just got off of Splash Mountain.
12:20 Put on hold the beachfront yoga resort idea.
12:30 Something feels funny.
1:30 Muscles I didn’t know I even had begin to ache.
4:30. I cannot lift my pinky.
This is going to be a long winter.