January 18, 2015

My First Utkatasana.

flickr/anothny crider

 A well-executed sun salutation is a beautiful thing.

There’s the energy-releasing dive from the very top of my reach down to the level of the toes. Just as satisfying is the fluid transition to a lunge, the brave back arc and then the plank, push down, cobra pose. Each movement of the body flows into the next and defines the shape of the air around me.

Peaceful effort, alignment, balance, undeniable grace, until—

“Now, instead of standing straight this time, come into Utkatasana, chair pose. Lean forward slightly, back straight, push the posterior out. Great, now hold.”

The instructor has asked us to take a position that seems incongruous with the rest of the exercise. I find myself in a yoga pose that seems not to have decided what it wants to be. My hands are locked into prayer position reaching above my head. My back is straight and in line with my hands, but I am leaning forward at a 45 degree angle with the ground, while my legs are planted on the floor, knees bent pushing toward ninety.

This sensation is distinctly uncomfortable.

My entire body is grumbling with irritation like an old man. My arms feel strained from fighting gravity. My back is complaining for having to support my arms while my butt is protruding into the face of the poor soul posing behind me.

My yoga instructor, on the other hand, seems to be at complete bliss in his Utkatasana. He stands like a warped tree—still, eyes closed, a beatific look parading across his features. No doubt he has forgotten about the rest of us in the room, struggling to hold the pose. He is in love with this point of pause, and somehow watching his enjoyment of Utkatasana  only makes me dislike the contortion more.

Seconds pass, maybe thirty, but probably five.

My teacher doesn’t open his eyes or move in the slightest. I peek around me without moving my head. The chick on my right is almost as bad as the instructor. She’s one of those earthy types who has all the right gear—a skintight racer-back exercise shirt, cropped stretch pants, her own mat for which I’m sure she has several backups at home. Her fuzzy dreadlocks are coiled into an impeccable, messy top knot, which despite its size never seems to get in the way of her ability to turn herself into a human pretzel.

I gaze forward again with an internal sigh and find myself exchanging glances with a guy mirroring my Utkatasana across the room. The corners of his mouth are twitching suspiciously; I can tell that he is fighting off a smile. We are instant accomplices in the crime of hating this ludicrous state. Recognizing each other, we let our mirth spread across our faces, and I can see in the corner of my eye that his buddy is joining in on the unspoken amusement. I have to glance away to stop myself from full-out laughing.

Our instructor remains crouched, suspended in ass-out glory.

Finally, he does move. Our yogic guide transitions us back to standing, then out through a series of much more acceptable poses as he winds down the class. I feel the lessening of tension in my body, like I’m coming back to the ground after a windy trip through the air. I use these last moments to turn inward again, focusing on my breathing and the rhythms of stretch and relaxation.

My limbs feel different than when I entered the class. Little protests in my joints have died down, and my head feels clearer than it has all week. My neck feels loose and long.

It seems as though someone has strummed all of my cells and succeeded in getting them to vibrate to the same frequency.

Was the Utkatasana responsible for any of this sensation? I can’t say for sure.

After class, we all congregate in the corner by the door searching out our shoes and gym bags. I spot my stuff buried under a black sweatshirt that I didn’t bring. I move the offending pullover to the side and push my feet into my sneakers one at a time. A hand reaches down to grab the black sweatshirt, and I look up to see that it’s my pose-hating acquaintance.

He’s joking with his friend. “Hey, how’d you like that Utkatasana?” he says, as he swings his small sports bag over his shoulder.

“I know, seriously” says his friend, a tall guy in a university-branded sweatshirt.

They both laugh, and the first one—the guy I locked eyes with during class—glances at me, inviting me into the joke. I smile and feel a lightness bubbling from the back of my throat. “Yeah, crazy pose,” I say with a shake of my head. They stand expectant, wanting something more from my reaction, wanting another signal of affirmation, but with a final smile I simply saunter out of the gym and into the rest of my day.


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Author: Stefani Cox

Apprentice Editor: Melissa Tamura / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Anthony Crider/Flickr

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