Articles

I do yoga?

Maddie Aggeler, 126

 

For the first few weeks of senior year, my roommate and I didn’t have any living room

furniture. Eventually, we went to Goodwill and paid $8 for a couch. I also found an ugly,

oversized sweater that I thought would make me look alternative and mysterious, but just

made me look disheveled. My roommate and I were impressed by our own thriftiness, but

our guests were not.

“Eight bucks? Wow. I’m assuming you’ve checked it for bed bugs and everything? What’s

this stain? You know what, I’ll sit on the floor.”

Before the couch, we called the empty space our “dance studio”, but one day, when I

found a yoga DVD I had taken from home that summer, it became our yoga studio. As

college seniors, my roommate and I did not often do things like “exercise” or “be sober,”

so the video was a slog. We huffed and puffed through poses, our limbs twisted and trembling,

while the host said things like “Good! Now let’s go straight into Dancing Shiva.” That was

the first and last class our yoga studio ever hosted.

Later that year, in a feeble attempt to prepare for the adult world, I signed up for group

fitness classes at our college’s Rec center. Twice, I went to yoga at 8 a.m. I didn’t do it for the

yoga as much as I did it to talk about having done yoga.

“Yeah, I’m pretty tired. I don’t know if you heard me over there, but I was saying I woke up

this morning for an 8 a.m. yoga class. It’s early, but worth it. Following your breath and

stuff. Downward dog. You know.”

Then the Dunkin Donuts cashier would ask me to move along because a line was forming

behind me.

***

It will not surprise you to know that there are a lot of yogis in the Peace Corps. During

training, as I listened to people say things like “I had to go home and just rest in child’s pose

for a while,” and “Do you know any poses to open up the hips,” and “I do yoga”. I began to

wonder if there were benefits to yoga besides moral superiority.

By the time I got to my site, I was ready to give yoga another shot. I had no space or

equipment, so I would lay my towel in the narrow gap between my bed and the wall, and

follow along with yoga videos on YouTube. I was both unsure of myself and wildly

overconfident, choosing only the most advanced videos, and yanking my body into deep,

coplex poses. I would emerge from my room gasping for breath and covered in sweat, my

host mother and sisters eyeing me nervously, unsure of what activity would result in an

hour of groans and crashes.

By the time I moved into my own house, my aunt had sent me a real yoga mat, I had

developed a more realistic sense of my own abilities, and I had ample space in which to

practice. I had also begun teaching yoga to my fellow teachers after school. The day after

our first lesson, an older teacher came up to me at my lunch and grabbed my arm:

“After yoga yesterday, I had a really great poop.” She scrunched up her face and mimed

forcing a great weight through her stomach, to make sure I understood.

I have never been prouder.

Finding the right yoga video was challenging. For a while I watched a video by Bob

Harper, one of the trainers from ‘The Biggest Loser’. I thought I would respond well to his

grit and fat-shaming, but it did not pair well with yoga.

“TEN PUSH UPS. DO IT, YOU FAT LOSER. GIVE YOURSELF CREDIT FOR TAKING TIME OUT

OF THE DAY TO HONOR YOURSELF AND YOUR BODY. FIVE MORE PUSH UPS.”

The next video was from some guy named Chad, Brad, or Tadd, who sounded like

Matthew McConaughey, and moaned a lot. “That’s right,” he would purr, gripping the hips

of a woman in downward dog, “Just like the horse follows the cart.” It sounded like

gibberish, but I didn’t know enough to question it. The people in his video all gave off the

vibe that they had group sex while the cameras were off, which made me feel both

uncomfortable and left out.

One woman laughed too much. Another winked a lot. One video was objectively bad, but

I watched it a few times because you could see her French Bulldog snoozing in the

background.

No matter how much yoga I did, I never thought of myself as a “yoga person,” mostly

because I don’t use incense and I say the c-word a lot. Honestly, I had never reflected on my

practice until now. I sat down to write, and as I looked back over my two years of service,

yoga began popping up everywhere.

Ana’s early morning yoga classes during training; Kailei and I falling into the lockers at

Saphai Phae during a clumsy attempt at half-moon pose; finally mastering crow pose and

insisting on doing it regularly and publicly, to people’s dismay; crying on my mat after a

particularly trying day; squeezing into a Chiang Mai hotel room with John and Ashley, who

were not fans of my video choice; practicing with Skylar and Adrianna in my garage of a

living room; sitting at school on quiet days and planning my sequence for that afternoon.

Somewhere along the way, the experience of my yoga practice and the experience of my

Peace Corps service became inextricable. At times, both have helped me connect with my

community and fellow volunteers, and at other times they have been deeply personal. Both

have grown, and faltered, and changed, and developed. Both have challenged me, frustrated

me, inspired me, and thrilled me.

So there it is. Maybe I’m a yoga person now. I don’t know what that means or how long it

will be true. For now, yoga’s got a couple of more months of service to get me through.

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