Yoga works

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In Boston we like to think we are on the cutting edge of many things — politics, culture, and fitness. We are even trying to get the Olympics to come here in 2024. One big fitness motivator, at least for Boston women, is Giselle Bundchen; we have her now. She lives here. Every so often has photos of Giselle by the Charles River, stretching elegantly in a yoga pose while nursing a baby, sipping a kale smoothie and inking a clothing deal, all at the same time.

Yoga is so spiritual and transformative. (Deirdre Reilly)
Yoga is so spiritual and transformative.
(Deirdre Reilly)

While at my gym last week, pedaling a stationary bike half-heartedly while reading emails on my iPhone, I overheard two very fit thirty-something moms talking about yoga. It was apparently transforming their lives, imbuing them with a calmer vibe that carries them right into their first mocha latte/free wifi of the day.

“I’m in,” I thought, slowing down to pull up my leg warmers. Bring it on, Downward Dog, Sloping Giraffe, and any other misshapen animals yoga wants to throw my way.

There is a conversation in eastern spirituality circles about whether yoga is an exercise or a religion. Since in America fitness is a religion, yoga is soaring in popularity. With yoga, we kill two birds with one stone — we tighten and tone while dipping into a vague spirituality that we don’t understand, and don’t want to invest the time into understanding.

My mother did yoga in the seventies and eighties, until it went the way of the Tom Collins, the shag haircut and the Carter Administration As I walked through the door of my first yoga class I heard slow, meditative music that immediately reminded me of the film “Eat, Pray, Love,” and made me feel as if other cultures more enlightened than my own were right under my nose, right here at the good old YMCA.

“There are mats in the back,” the calmest woman I’d ever seen told me dreamily (was everyone here puffing on something?) pointing languidly towards a row of colorful sit-up balls. I had brought only a water bottle and a Snoopy beach towel, unsure what gear I might need for class. I grabbed a mat and dropped it near the far wall (unfortunately I was backed up to a mirror that showed me multiple angles of my long hibernation with carbs).

I gotta take this call ... (Deirdre Reilly)
I gotta take this call …
(Deirdre Reilly)

The instructor then began folding us into shapes that should be forbidden by the AMA. My back and neck cracked softly like cascading dominoes during Plank, while languid, tinkling music reminded me to find my inner child — sadly, she was hiding somewhere, probably eating Captain Crunch. Breathe, the teacher reminded us. We all breathed as one; forty nostrils inhaled in sync.

At the end of our class we posed our hands prayerfully, and bowed our heads. “Who are we praying to?” I quietly asked the young woman sitting cross-legged on the mat beside mine. “To our own divinity, I think. Or maybe to the sun,” she said, smiling gently and shrugging.

“Namaste,” she whispered, to herself, to an invisible deity, or maybe to me.

“And to your spirit,” I answered back, just in case.

Walking gingerly to my car on super-stretched legs I thought, will this calm feeling last? Will I go back to the yoga studio? I probably will, I figure. I forgot my Snoopy beach towel.