Psyllium And Shaved Shoulders: How My Preparations For Yoga School Went Awry
I took great care preparing for yoga school. For months, I raised money and made logistical arrangements. I read Indian mythology and meditated for at least a half hour a day and lit incense next to a statue of Ganesha. Up in my second-story office with views of downtown, the palmed edge of Dodger Stadium, and several backyards housing angry ghetto dogs, I worked through the Ashtanga primary and intermediate series, with breaks for slow, stretchy “yin” practices on mornings when my ass muscles were really sore. I proceeded patiently and consistently and treated myself kindly, in complete opposition to how I generally conduct my life. My physical shape was good, my mental shape, at least adequate. Every night before bed, I dissolved three spoonfuls of psyllium husk in eight ounces of water, and, knowing what it would do to my colon the next morning, eagerly drank the solution. The Augean Stables of my body and mind got scrubbed clean.
I was ready.
But because drinking eight ounces of water before bed generally means a 3 AM trip to the john, my nightly fiber cocktail proved my undoing. In the middle of the night, about ten days before I was scheduled to leave for my yoga training in Boulder, I got up to relieve my bladder. My wife and I had recently gotten back from a two-night trip to the desert to celebrate 10 years of not killing each other. We’d not yet unpacked our suitcase. There it lay, in the middle of the floor, invisible in the dark. My left foot hit it awkwardly, and the leg swung out at an odd angle, and I felt a little tug. I walked a few steps; that tug persisted.
If yoga teaches you anything, it’s that you need to listen to your body, and my body was telling me, “Hey, you injured your hamstring, you fucking moron!” After conducting my toilet, I went into the kitchen, popped a couple of Advil, and returned to bed, hoping that all would be well in the morning. It wasn’t, exactly. That hamstring still felt sore, but I could walk on the leg without pain. If I just took a few days off physical practice, I figured, everything would be fine and I could go to Colorado in game shape.
Three days passed, and I was on my feet again in samasthiti. My practices flowed smoothly, without pain or disturbance. Only something really absurd could stop me now. But since I live in Hollywood, something really absurd was about to arrive.
The current trend in book publicity (a term that, for most authors, is an oxymoron), involves making video “trailers” to be distributed on the Internet. The idea is that if the trailers go viral then people’s interest in the book will be piqued, thereby bringing the art of literature to the same cultural level as short videos of cats playing the piano. My friend Alex, a commercial and short-film director of great renown, agreed to make a couple of spots for Stretch, my hilarious yoga memoir that Harper Perennial will publish, at long last, in August. I don’t want to ruin the viral surprise, but I’m not giving anything away when I say we shot one of the spots in a yoga studio.
Fewer than 72 hours before I left for Colorado, I found myself in the bathroom of the Shakti Box, standing by patiently while a stylist shaved my shoulders and neck. He even shaved my moles. After that was over, a different stylist slathered my now baby-smooth arms with pancake makeup and gel. I shone like a porn star.
The video involved a yoga-class scenario. We had to do a certain sequence of poses. Then we had to do it again while Alex’s DP filmed it from another angle. Then we did it again, and then a fourth time. Individual “coverage” followed, and soon one of the other people in the video, a fitness trainer who’d responded to a casting call on Craig’s List, said that she was getting a “really great workout.” So was I, but unfortunately our flow included repeated variations of paschimottanasana, or seated forward fold, and there’s no worse pose in the world to do when you have a mildly strained hamstring.
By the fifth take, I started to feel actual pain. By the seventh, the stylist no longer had to spritz fake sweat on my forehead. The director kept saying “you’re doing great.” I felt anything but great, but I had to continue. Anything else would have fatally damaged the continuity.
I woke up the next morning still hurting, and spent Friday night in bed watching the Dodgers game, my leg propped on a pillow, a RiteAid compression bandage with attached ice pack drawn tightly around my left thigh, my mind filling with angry, depressed thoughts. At last, I was on the verge of fulfilling my dream of going through a yoga-teacher training in a mountain town of well-heeled hippies. I’d done everything right. Then suddenly and unexpectedly, my body had failed me. Why, I wondered, had this happened to me? All was darkness and misery.
Now I type this after having completed my first day of yoga training, and I’m no longer bothered. My leg hurts, I can’t do half the poses, but it hardly matters. Yoga, if practiced diligently, has all kinds of wonderful benefits for the body, but it doesn’t promise you freedom from injury or strife. If anything, it warns you that such things are, inevitably, coming your way, and you should prepare your mind accordingly. Maybe I could have prevented my hamstring problem-no one required me to practice sloppy yoga with oiled-up arms while filming an Internet book commercial-but any mental suffering I felt came from false expectations of what my yoga-training experience would entail.
When the Buddha left his cosseted palace on the eve of his 30th birthday, he saw a sick man, and old man, and a dead body. Someday, he realized, I, too, will be sick, and old, and then I’m going to die. That realization was the beginning of his long and tortured path toward enlightenment. And he never went anywhere near Boulder, Colorado.
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