LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — This morning’s workout involved me trying desperately to touch my toes. As I reached, I realized just how close the tips of my fingers are to them, and yet, as my hamstrings screamed in protest, just how far. Surrounding me was a sea of women not only touching their toes, but calmly pressing their palms flat into their yoga mats, the backs ramrod straight, their shoulders bulging with muscles.
This workout is my latest effort to get ultra fit, something I embarked on in earnest about three months ago. It started with getting in shape to run two half-marathons, which resulted in me spending a whole lot of time on the treadmill at the gym. While on said treadmill, my girlfriend Sarah and I noticed the aerobics room was getting packed many mornings with ultra-fit looking women. When we asked about it, we learned the class was called fusion and involved half an hour of core training, half an hour of yoga.
So we decided to mix things up. Running on the treadmill day after day can be pretty tedious, and my best friend Kristin told me she wished she had done some core strengthening before she ran her full marathon back in June. So, shrugging our shoulders, we decided to try the class. After all, I mean, yoga? Fffffft.
As we laid down our mats, I noticed again the degree of fit that had taken over that room. In this day and age, it’s not common to be surrounded by women who are of healthy weight, never mind sporting some pretty serious muscles. But these girls were buff in a long-limbed, ropey kind of way, their yoga clothes hanging on them in the way they’re supposed to look.
So the class started and the teacher started telling us what to do. I noticed she didn’t have the soft, gentle approach that some of my other aerobics instructors have had. She certainly didn’t seem like the seaweed-eating, wooden flute-playing, talk-to-animals kind of person I’d always expected from a yoga teacher. Instead, she was unapologetic and directive.
“Get on your hands and knees and start kicking your right leg up. Do it. Now.”
So I started, remembering the good, old days when I would do that same move while watching the Jane Fonda workout video with my mom. But then my bum and leg started to get sore.
“Ten more,” Teacher said so I gritted my teeth and started counting down. After 10, I dropped my leg, pleased with myself.
“Twenty more,” she said in a way that made me realize, no sir, she wasn’t kidding.
I managed the 20 and there were 10 more after that and another 30 before we were finally done.
“Left leg, go.”
At this point, I looked over at Sarah and saw she had the same look of fear I realized was on my face.
“I thought I was in shape,” she whispered.
“We were bad wrong,” I said.
The class continued much in the same vein, with each movement repeated and repeated until pain and prayers for mercy were the only things that occupied my brain. Then, the second half of the class started with the yoga portion.
I figured this would be easier until I remembered that I haven’t been able to touch my toes since I was 4. In fact, if I were to be likened to any character in any Julie Garland movie, it would be the Tin Man. Except in my 36 years I have not found my oil can.
Which didn’t end up being a helpful thing when Teacher kicked her leg up behind her ear and, like a flight of ballerinas, the ultra-fit girls followed suit. My leg lifted about two feet off the ground before my thigh woke up and put a firm stop to any more progress.
“Are you kidding?” I heard it whisper to me.
So I stood there looking like I was about to casually kick a soccer ball while everyone else looked like a splayed-open pair of scissors. I decided right then my career as a yogi was over.
But then the class finished and Teacher told us to lie down on our backs and close our eyes. This I could do.
Then Teacher stood over me, took my glasses off my face and rubbed my temples with the most beautiful scented oil, a magical potion that somehow reached inside me and calmed my heart. It was like being given the most delicious dessert at the end of a long fast, one you can eat and eat and feel absolutely no guilt over. I listened to Enya playing on the speakers overhead and basked in the smell of that oil, my body completely exhausted but somehow feeling alive and amazing. I decided I would stay in the back but come back to this class. One day, I would touch my toes again. And so, ever since, I’ve been trying.