By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
As a dedicated couch potato who would eat potatoes on the couch if my wife would let me, I firmly believe that exercise can kill you. After decades of being ridiculously sedentary, I still have not only my boyish figure but, on most mornings, a pulse.
Lately, however, I have begun to think that, at 55, I really ought to do more than what is now my main form of physical activity, which is to get up once a night to go to the bathroom.
So I recently took a yoga class.
I signed up for one very important reason: It was free. And, all modesty aside, I figured I was worth every penny.
Also, I received great encouragement from my older daughter, Katie, who is something of a yoga guru. She has been taking classes for the past few years and once participated in a "yoga challenge," which required participants to do yoga every day for a month. I would have been dead on Day Three.
"Are you doing hot yoga or regular yoga?" Katie asked.
"What’s the difference?" I replied.
"About 40 degrees," Katie said, explaining that regular yoga takes place at room temperature, whereas hot yoga is done at 110 degrees. At that rate, I’d have to be in either a sauna or Death Valley, so I was guessing – and hoping – it was the regular kind.
Then Katie said that I had to buy a yoga mat.
"What’s that?" I inquired.
"It’s a mat," Katie said, very patiently, "on which you do yoga."
Who would have guessed? So I forked over $12 for a baby blue mat that perfectly matched the baby blue T-shirt I planned to wear to the class. After all, sometimes a boy just likes to feel pretty, especially when he’s sweating like a stuck pig.
The first thing I noticed about the yoga class, which was held at work, was that there were 20 women and one guy. That guy was, of course, yours truly.
"Is this your first time?" asked Diane, who took a spot behind me.
"Yes," I said bashfully as I unfurled my yoga mat. Then I asked if anyone knew CPR, which I figured I would need, although I was worried that my T-shirt would blend in with my mat and nobody would notice that I had collapsed.
"You’ll do fine," Liz, another participant, said reassuringly.
I hoped I could say the same for the women around me because the instructor, Dawn, suggested that we do the session in bare feet. Fortunately, when I removed my sneakers and socks, nobody keeled over.
Dawn began the class by talking about positions, none of which was third base or, the place where I am always accused of being, left field. Instead, she said we would be doing down dog, plank, cobra and warrior 2. They involved gently stretching, twisting and otherwise contorting our bodies in ways I didn’t know a body could move. I must have looked like a cloverleaf on the interstate highway system.
Dawn instructed us to extend one arm while crossing the opposing leg over our bodies as we lay on our yoga mats. Then we had to get on all fours and extend one leg, then the other. I was so confused that I resorted to cheating by looking at the other participants to see which limb I was supposed to be lifting, extending or stretching at any given moment.
At the end of the 45-minute class, I had a sense of both peace (the soothing music helped) and accomplishment (because I didn’t have to be hospitalized). In fact, I have seldom felt better.
"You did very well," Dawn told me afterward. When I said I hadn’t exercised in years, she said, "You look like you’re in really good shape."
"Looks can be deceiving," I noted, "but this made me feel great. I’m not sore at all."
"That’s because we did hatha yoga," Dawn explained.
"Well," I replied, "hatha yoga is better than none."
Dawn politely ignored the remark and said that hatha is the regular kind of yoga, while Bikram is the hot version.
Either way, I had such an enjoyable experience that I would definitely take another class. Until then, maybe I can be a couch potato on my yoga mat.
Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima