It was 6:29 the last time Andy checked his wristwatch. He must have done it every other minute since the meeting had started, and now his hard deadline for walking out was less than a minute away. He felt uncomfortable leaving right when the topic of discussion concerned him directly, but it was time for him to go.
“Hey Dave,” he whispered to his closest colleague who was sitting right by his side, “I have to split. Fill me in on what I missed.”
“Okay,” David whispered back and nodded as Andy slowly and quietly walked towards the door. Another nod from Gottlieb granted him silent approval for his early departure. He was still struggling with the aftermath of a harsh hangover, and he certainly looked like someone who could use a break.
The yoga school was a few blocks away from the Harvard campus. Andy drove by the place on his way in that morning and estimated it would take him not more than fifteen minutes to get there by foot. He stopped by his office to grab the duffel bag he had packed with the new sweats. He checked his wristwatch again. There was no reason for him to rush but he was itching to get on his way to avoid the slightest risk of being late.
His speedy departure gradually turned into a leisurely afternoon spring stroll down Massachusetts Avenue, but that didn’t keep him from arriving at his destination five minutes early. Better than being five minutes late, he said to himself and grabbed a pamphlet from a rack that stood by the door. As he read through the description of the various disciplines, he could not believe he was going along with this spontaneous escapade. It was one thing to play with the idea of trying out yoga while chatting with Nate over beer, but it was a different matter alltogether to break his routine and step out of an important faculty meeting to take part in some recreational activity he barely had any interest in. That’s ridiculous, he thought. If it weren’t for Sarah, he wouldn’t even consider taking a yoga class.
Do your best, give it a try… he said to himself, and once the evening is through, you’ll never have to set foot in this place again.
“Hey there, stranger,” Sarah said softly from behind. “Been waiting long?”
“Oh – no,” he turned to her with a startled look in his eyes, feeling like he was just caught in some mischief with all the negative thoughts in his mind. “Just arrived.”
“Oh, don’t worry so much. It’s not that bad.” Sarah pulled the brochure out of his hand.
“Just looking through the list here. Seeing if I can fit something in my schedule.” He forced a smile, but Sarah could read straight through him.
“Is everything ok?” She asked.
“Fine. Why?” he clung to his fake smile and shrugged.
“You just look a little…stressed?” she patted him tenderly on the shoulder.
“Ah yeah, I had a rough couple of days,” He shook his head and sighed. “I guess I just need to unwind.”
“Well, you came to the right place, then.” She said and led their way in.
As soon as they set foot in the lobby, Andy was struck by the extreme contrast between the busy street they left behind and the calm atmosphere they walked into. With the mellow dimmed light, the sweet fragrance of burning incense in the air, and the soft Koto music in the background, he felt like he had crossed over to another dimension.
“Why don’t you speak to that lovely lady at the reception desk,” Sarah pulled him out of the spell he was under, “and I’ll be right back… Oh, and don’t forget to mention that you’re trying it out for the first time, for the free ride.” She smiled and disappeared in another dark corner.
Before he had a chance to complete filling out the form he was handed, Sarah returned with two small mugs in her hands.
“Here, try this.” She handed him one. “Some aromatic herbal tea. We still have a couple of minutes before class begins.”
“I’m more of a coffee person,” Andy reached for it with a hesitant hand, “but I’ll try this.”
“It’s good.” Sarah tried to assure him that the risk was worth taking. “It’ll help you relax.”
He breathed in the steam that rose from the cup. “Smells interesting,” he said and took a slow sip. “Spicy!”
“Ah-ha,” Sarah smiled. “There’s ginger, thyme… rosemary, and a bunch of other good herbs.”
“I feel more relaxed already.”
“Then we’re on the right track. The more relaxed and tense-free your body is, the easier it will be for you to get into it… and really enjoy it.”
“Okay…” there was a tone of concern in Andy’s reply, following his suspicion that there was more to yoga than just relaxation.
“Keep in mind this class is relatively advanced.”
Andy slowly nodded. Now she’s telling me.
“You’ll be exploring muscles and body parts that you rarely ever use, so the most important thing is to loosen up and be comfortable. And unless you have experience doing this sort of thing,” Andy shook his head, assuring her it wasn’t the case, “don’t even consider trying to imitate what the instructor is doing.” Sarah’s stern voice left the impression she was reading out a list of important safety rules for a very dangerous task. Andy kept nodding in response to her comments but felt a little lost.
“So…what am I supposed to do if I’m not following the instructor?”
“Just go along with what your body is willing to do, and you’ll be fine. The worst thing that could happen is that you’ll feel a little sore tomorrow, that’s all. Now, did you bring sweats?” Andy pointed at his duffel bag in response. “Great. It’s time to put them on,” she said and directed him to the changing room. “When you’re ready, grab a mat from the corner and I’ll see you inside.”
He quickly changed and rushed out of the dressing room to try to catch Sarah before she stepped in. Everything was new and strange to him, and he felt insecure without an acquaintance by his side. There was no one around, but he could hear footsteps from behind. Someone was coming. Maybe it’s her… it wasn’t. He followed the stranger in. The studio was dimly lit with scattered flickering candles. There was a strong scent of incense in the air, and ancient Japanese music played softly from all directions. The space was quickly filling with a few men but mostly women, marking their perimeters with small mats. Andy found the pile of mats and leaned over to grab one, he heard the instructor calling everyone to assume positions. Oh great, he said to himself. Now he was convinced he was never going to find Sarah before class began and started having second thoughts about the whole thing.
“Take this one,” a whisper came from behind just as he started planning his exit strategy. This time it was Sarah. He was so relieved, he wanted to hug her. “It’s softer,” she said. “It’ll be more comfortable, and comfort comes first.”
“How’d…” he whispered, but she completely ignored his futile attempt of inquiry.
“There’s a big empty spot right there.” Andy followed her and tried his best to keep up without stepping on anyone.
The circle of candles surrounding the slim instructor produced an illuminated sphere around him like an aura radiating through the dark.
“Let us all form a Virhabhadrasana.” The instructor’s soft-deep voice echoed. “Warrior pose,” he said and proceeded to demonstrate a perfectly arched-back. Andy turned to Sarah. She was already in position.
That doesn’t look too difficult, he thought and tried to imitate her. Sarah smiled and gave him a thumbs up for the effort.
“Take deep breaths… in… and out!” she whispered. Andy followed, trying to hide any signs of weakness.
The drills were becoming more difficult as the class progressed, but Andy had committed himself to the mission and tried to keep up as much as he could. Who would have thought yoga would be so hard, he thought and snuck a peek at his wristwatch.
Ten minutes into the session, he felt the nausea from two nights ago knocking on his door. Sarah noticed the grimace on his face. She told him to skip an exercise or two and lie flat on his stomach. The instructor stopped by and helped loosen up his stiff arms and shoulders. Like magic, whether it was directly induced by the gentle massage he was getting or from the herbal tea he drank earlier, the nausea was gone.
The instructor continued to call out the names of the postures in Sanskrit in a steady rhythm that was synched with the soft music playing in the background, following with demonstrations and an occasional walk through the studio to check and correct where needed. Andy was making progress, and though he was not aiming at perfection, he followed Sarah’s advice, abiding by his body’s limitations and concentrating on breathing properly. The next time he checked his wristwatch, nearly forty minutes had passed. It’s almost over, he thought to himself not sure whether he was glad that he made it through or disappointed that his first yoga class was about to end. The lights in the room dimmed further and the music turned softer. The instructor called for everyone to lie flat on their backs, loosen up every limb and muscle, and close their eyes. At first, Andy thought it was just a short relaxing epilogue for the strenuous workout and tried to enjoy it while it lasted, but he easily let himself indulge in repose. The next thing he knew, Sarah was calling his name, gently tapping his shoulder. He opened his eyes.
“I must have dozed off,” he said covering his brow with his hand.
“That’s okay,” Sarah replied and smiled, “we all have.” Andy slowly stood up and stretched his arms. He noticed that most of the classmates were on their way out and was a little embarrassed to have slept through all the commotion.
“What do you think?” Sarah demanded an immediate response as they started to blend with the exiting crowd, but Andy’s mind was still in a haze.
“I’ll have to think before I give you the answer to that.”
“It couldn’t have been that bad.”
“Actually, it wasn’t bad at all. I just need a little time to figure just how much I like it.”
“I like your diplomatic tactics,” Sarah said and turned to the dressing room. “I’ll see you in a minute.”