||TAMARA DINELLE, Contributor
I ventured off to my first yoga class: a pranayama breathing class. In Sanskrit, pranayama means life (prana) and breath (ayama) and is considered one of the five principles of yoga. The purpose of the class was to learn how to measure and control your breathing, drawing maximum breath into the body to optimize one’s yoga practice.
Click here to read My yoga holiday from hell (Part 1).
Prior to this retreat I had done a few pranayama breathing classes with futile results: If there was such a thing as a grading scale for yoga I would say I am working at a solid D average. An occasional social smoker with lots of allergies, deep breathing wasn’t my thing and I had developed an anxiety around the practice, perpetuating the cycle of failure.
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“Tamara, put your hands on your stomach and try to think about drawing the breath from there,” the instructor told me in her soothing voice. She singled me out for the next few minutes, patiently guiding me through some of the movements with limited results.
“Why don’t you watch Jennifer,” she instructed me. I looked over and saw one of the girls that had been sitting at the cool kids’ table that morning. Her flaxen-blonde hair was in dreadlocks, but other than that she could have been in a GAP ad.
Exotically beautiful with green eyes and a flawless complexion, her most enviable physical feature was her perfectly shaped yoga arms — the arms that were failing me no matter how many sun salutations I practiced.
I couldn’t help it as a series of negative emotions coursed through my body. Envy. Competition. Judgment. Not just of Jennifer, but of myself for feeling this way. OMG! What was wrong with me?! Here I was, supposed to be cultivating a spirit of peace and oneness with myself and the world, yet my ego couldn’t take it that someone who had dedicated the time and discipline to work on her practice might be better at breathing at me.
I hated a girl who had been born in 1991 — when I was learning to drive — for having fantastic arms. When had I become so burdened by my insecurities?
As though reading my thoughts, the instructor smiled at me and said gently, “It takes time and practice, Tamara. Your body adjusts as it needs to.” I smiled back and attempted to relinquish myself of all negativity through my breath and decided that if I saw Jennifer after class I would buck up and act like the person that I normally tried to be when out in the real world — open and friendly.
Madeline and I decided to check out the graduation celebrations at the Lotus Shrine — a building actually shaped like a lotus flower. As we arrived all of the guests were crowded around the front entrance to kick off the festivities with a group chant led by the graduates and volunteers. We all had to chant the word “jai” over and over again to a group of portraits of Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Buddha and, of course, the founding yogi.
I looked over at Madeline and started quietly mouthing the word “jai,” wondering when I could sit down. After the fifteenth round I wanted it to end, but the “jais” just kept increasing in volume. Then I felt myself being moved back and forth by the crowd. Apparently we were swaying and as the hands went up in the air I realized I was also supposed to clap and close my eyes. I was reminded of celebrations at evangelical churches and then remembered where I was: in the middle of Virginia. This was the way that people worshipped here. I forced my judgment to retreat again.
Each graduate was then assigned an instrument — bongos, drums, tambourines, even a sitar. As the makeshift band started to play, one girl performed a series of dance acts with her hula-hoop, enthusiastically jingling the bells on her skirt. Some guests joined in, clapping; some were gyrating to the music. The woman next to me started rocking back and forth, almost violently.
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Madeline and I stood in a state of shock and awe. As I scanned the room I caught the eye of another guest, a tall blonde woman who was in one of my classes earlier that day. She gave me a knowing smile and shook her head — hula acts weren’t part of her normal routine either.
Ever since I was a child I’ve had a silly nervous giggle in uncomfortable situations that will culminate into deep uncontrollable laughter strong enough to give me a bellyache. I knew I had to get out of there — immediately. I bolted out of the room to the nearest bathroom, where I rinsed the stream of tears off my face.
As I calmed myself down, I realized I wasn’t alone in the bathroom. I looked up and found Jennifer — the Pranayama princess — scrutinizing me. She was staring at my favourite yoga top and my Lululemon mat. I wear one expensive piece of jewelry — a Tiffany’s ring — and I caught her staring at that too. No wonder I reacted to her earlier in the day. Not only was I judging her, she was judging me. In her mind I didn’t qualify for this “authentic” retreat.
I found Madeline sitting on the bed in our room, reading a People magazine. Kim Kardashian had never looked so out of context.
Madeline sighed. “I am bored out of my mind! I don’t think I can do this anymore.”
Less than two hours away was a university town with lots of bars, where we would inevitably have a few cocktails and a lot of laughs. It sounded perfect. It sounded like our regular vacations.
“NO!” I protested. “We have been here for less than 24 hours. We have to be able to stay here for 10 more hours and then we’ll call it a weekend.”
“Fine. But we’re leaving right after 6:30 a.m. hatha,” she huffed as she threw me a protein bar, which we decided was probably considered contraband for having additives.
Madeline was packed and ready to go as soon as we had finished our mint tea and porridge; all we had to do was check out of the room, which we had no keys for anyway.
“You’re leaving already? You’re Julie, right?” asked the receptionist.
“No. I don’t think Julie made it. I’m Tamara,” I responded.
“Well, if I could just have a few minutes of your time, I will give you your departure gift.”
She produced two small plastic baggies with a brown substance that resembled heroin.
“These ashes are made with a potent healing substance that a friend of mine in India sends to me. You need to rub them into your forehead three times a day for eight weeks in order to realize spiritual enlightenment. If you miss a day, it sets you back three weeks,” she said.
I nodded, avoiding Madeline’s glance to stop myself from breaking into that unstoppable bellyache-causing laughter. All I could picture were the drug-sniffing dogs at Toronto’s Pearson Airport and the strip search that would inevitably follow.
I thanked her, took the bag and chucked it in the garbage bin next to the car as we packed up to leave.
Maybe I wasn’t cut out for the “authentic” yoga existence and would always struggle with Pranayama. We all have our limits, and traveling teaches us what those limits are. And as I left the ashram — eagerly anticipating the double mimosa and slab of bacon that awaited me — I felt okay with mine.
Tamara Dinelle is a marketing communications professional based in Toronto. When she can find the time and the means, she is a passionate adventurer and explorer. Her favourite destinations to date include Saigon, Barcelona, Melbourne, Kyoto and New York City.
Date Added: June 3, 2012 | Comments (0)
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