23 May 2019

How much can a yoga bear?

Management Red Herring

It is ironic that one is supposed to concentrate on one’s breath at yoga. But in the humming silence, it is the Yoga Man’s grunts that disrupt the pranayama.

It had been building up for many classes now.

I had forgotten and set up, inadvertently, right next to the Yoga Man’s mat as all the other spots in the shade seemed taken. Then, as the snoring erupted, right in the blessed calm of savasana, the corpse pose, before we’d even done any active poses, I remembered.

I started wondering about his Mallampati score. Perhaps he had sleep apnoea? He did not fit into the class profile of young trendies, or menopausal women with dyed hair like myself, or wiry, tanned yoga die-hards. He looked more like the typical waistline-challenged, middle-aged male patient I would exhort to manage his stress better by starting yoga.

I closed my eyes, hoping he would not topple onto me as he had nearly done on previous occasions.

Despite the snoring, when we were directed to perform the first active pose he did actually move from the supine position. Most weeks he would just stay in savasana, only to wake with a start some 15 minutes later and laboriously move into whatever pose was being performed at the time.

But his new-found enthusiasm for participation was not without its downsides. With the very next pose, I found myself with a privileged view of the indentations of the mat right over his “plumber’s crack”.

I again tried closing my eyes, but found I couldn’t without risking falling over from bharadjavasana.

Exiting from this pose, the Yoga Man dropped to one side like a fallen tree, exhausted. A heap of limbs and heavy breathing, spilling across the floor between our mats.

As I pulled myself into Triquenasana, Yoga Man stayed prone on the carpet.

Our wonderful, ever-calm teacher kept intoning the poses, I suppose distracted by the forest of waving limbs in the packed class.

After 10 minutes and much grunting and groaning, he extracted himself from the ground and attempted uttanasana, treating me to another posterior display. He struggled through the rest of the class until finally, to the relief of all of us we were at the end, doing the final savasana.

This week for some unknown reason, Yoga Man started doing some stretches during this final savasana.

Our normally saintly yoga teacher finally snapped.

Obviously doing stretches during savasana was verboten. She strode to him with irritation. “Don’t do that during this part of the class. You are supposed to be absolutely still!”

In the shocked silence I wondered about the man’s thoughts about this unusual telling off. Today there was no camouflage. His non-conformity was brought into sharp focus.

Perhaps he had come to the sanctuary of community centre yoga to escape the madness of the rest of his life.

Hell, I recommend it to my patients for all sorts of mental and physical complaints.

In seeking the quietness of mind and centeredness that yoga is supposed to deliver, Yoga Man had been trying his best, marching to the beat of his own drum. Spouting when others burbled bubbles. Diving when everyone else arched into the air.

Perhaps he had his own demons, his own physical ailments like we all have.

I had felt scornful of him, as the rest of the class young and old had achieved some balletic balance around him.

Who was I to assume that he was deliberately zigging when the class zagged? Or think that he was being oppositional on purpose?

After resenting his disruptions and distractions all class, I now felt ashamed.

His humiliation was so unwarranted, especially considering he had probably exerted more effort and had overcome more discomfort than anyone else in the class.

No doubt he was doing his best, perhaps at his own doctor’s orders.

I left before he did, at the end of the class.

The last I saw of him was his less-than-lithe figure yet again lying on his mat.

I tried to catch his eye and give him an encouraging smile, but he was not looking in my direction. I can only hope the teacher’s post-class words were understanding and motivating.

Next week I will do better, even if it is from the other side of the room. I only hope he continues.

Dawn Oi is a GP in Melbourne who hones her literary skills by writing referral letters all day