yoga means union

The sports club hides beneath Boylston Street like a supervillain’s lair. A narrow doorway leads to a winding staircase, opening into a huge subterranean expanse. Otherwise, it’s the same as any BSC: they swipe the membership pass on your keychain, suggest that you have a good workout and send you on your way. A shoe ad confronts you as you enter:

Next season don’t care if it’s cold! RUN!

You wind your way through the ellipticals, stair machines and treadmills to the men’s locker room. A printout sign taped near the entrance reminds you that tomorrow (when you don’t normally train), the men’s and women’s locker rooms will be switching so that maintenance and electrical work can be done in the women’s room. Precious snowflake that you are, this baffles you for hours. Why would they need to switch locker rooms? Only once you visualize the exchange does it occur to you: because there’s no such thing as an all-female electrician team.

Why is that, you wonder? There’s nothing about the work a woman could not do. The pay is certainly good enough: median annual wage for an electrician (per the BLS) is $46,420, which you could help support a family on. Then again, electricians are one of the few jobs in this country that still function like a medieval guild, with mandatory apprenticeships and esoteric ritual. Some of the trades still wear special rings. And labor unions have always dragged their feet at admitting new members en masse. So it’s not so shocking that you don’t see a large number of female electricians, even though women are now common in many traditionally male fields. Labor unions or women’s lib; take your pick.

This speculation occupies you from the men’s locker room back out into the workout area, down the hall and into the dim yoga studio near the back. Now you pass from a male-dominated field to a female-dominated one. The Boylston Street BSC draws a larger number of men than any yoga class you’ve ever seen, but you’re still in the minority here. You cross to the closet at the far end, taking a rolled-up yoga mat from a stack, and plop onto the floor. Every movement feels ragged and awkward compared to the poised students around you, as if they’re expensive vases you might knock over by accident. It’s adolescence all over again. You sit down and work on breathing until the instructor arrives.

You will never touch your toes. You accept that. Perhaps if you’d spent every day of your childhood practicing flexibility you could manage. But your hamstrings are like wet towels coiled tight and your lower back screams at you. Wrapping all five fingers around both ankles merits a celebration. Drinks on me, guys: I bent a little today.

But you go anyway. You make time once or twice a week to go to the yoga studio, sit down, and force your body to relax. That’s one thing jiu-jitsu has taught you: relaxing in a productive way. People think tension unlocks power. They hold their breath and grit their teeth while they lift weights, or groan and strain at crunches. But that just routes energy to all the muscles in your body other than the ones you want to work. True control consists of relaxing every muscle except the one you want to work.

You know you’re bad at yoga. More important, you know that, no matter how hard you try, you’ll never be great at yoga. Every day since you were five, you’ve been looking for things to be great at, or trying to improve at your few strengths. And while growth (for which read life) comes from improvement, you don’t always need to be the best. You don’t always need to compare yourself to the rest of the room.

One sign of maturity is a willingness to do something you’re bad at in front of a crowd. You don’t know that you’re there yet. But you’re closer.

So you go to the dim yoga studio. And you pile your rangy limbs onto the too-short mat. And you breathe.

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