Yesterday I went to yoga.
That sentence could be a complete journal entry, right there, The End. But there’s more to the story than that.
It was my first time at this yoga center in town. Last week I’d stopped by, grabbed an informational pamphlet and called it a day. That was my step one. (I am slow to get going on the things I need to do to connect. It’s just my nature. I don’t like new situations. They make me uncomfortable.) My next step was to email the center. Make a connection. Ask for prices and times. After a few emails, I’d roped myself into saying I’d be there for Thursday’s class.
So I worked up the nerve and went. On the outside I might have been wearing my yoga spandex gear but on the inside I was my five year old kindergarten self, nervous and timid and new.
I walk in and see the sign, “Please remove shoes before entering.”
I was already in the door. I look around—everyone else is barefoot. You’d think I would know at least that, after years of intermittent yoga classes. No shoes in the studio. Quickly, I chuck my shoes off, hoping no one notices me—the dumb new girl with the shoes on—when a lanky middle-aged man with glasses and shoulder-length gray curly hair walks over to me.
“Hi,” he holds out his hand, “I yam Borvis.”
Only he didn’t say Borvis, he said Doris. At the time I didn’t realize this. I was convinced he’d said Borvis. Doris, in my mind, was the nice woman I’d exchanged emails with the previous day regarding the scheduled class times and the cost. She is the one who said it would be “marvelous to meet me” on Thursday at class. So naturally, I was looking for her. Who was this crackerjack in tight spandex?
“Regina.” I said, shaking his hand. “Nice to meet you.” I half sighed in relief that we’d gotten that out of the way. Now I could go find Doris.
But Borvis had other plans.
“Come.” He demanded, walking into the small, carpeted room. “Let us have a little chat.” He sat down on the carpet and tucked his knees up under his chin; a position I felt slightly uncomfortable with, given the tightness of his shorts.
I feel the little kindergartener inside me raising her heel off the ground in preparation to land a hefty stomp in protest. Why do I have to chat with him? Who is he? I didn’t come here to chat with him. I came here for some yoga. I came here to introduce myself to Doris!
Then I see Doris—I recognized her from the website. She was busy talking with other women so I figure what the hay, I’ll humor this guy and talk to him for a minute. I sit down on the carpet and try to keep my eyes from bulging at this guy’s very un-ladylike style of sitting. I still haven’t worked out who this guy is. Is he just another student? Is he a teacher’s pet? Does he work here? Come to find out, he owns the place. But I didn’t make that connection until later.
“So. Now. Vare do you come from?”
Oh God, I hate the part of introductions where you have to explain yourself and answer so many questions, inventing quick responses for long-complicated answers. I half-heartedly explain myself in a nutshell. “Well, I just moved here a few months ago from Italy, which is where I lived for the last ten years. But I’m American.” I guess he’d gathered that much. I realized I was wearing a bright red shirt that said “WISCONSIN” on it. So I clarified, “From Texas.”
Thankfully, he wasn’t really interested.
“And vhat kind of yoga do you practice?”
Hell if I know.
“That’s a good question, actually. I dunno know. Probably Hatha?”
We talk about that for minute and he tells me it really doesn’t matter.
I tell him I’m just a bit inflexible at the moment and need some stretching.
“Dat is ok. Vee are all inflexible.”
Aw, that was nice of him, I think, warming a little.
Then he comes at me with, “We do not drink during yoga.”
He must have seen me come in with my water bottle. I’d walked to class from my house. At a good, swift pace I can make it there in twenty minutes. But I was thirsty and I hate to be thirsty, so I bought a bottle of water at the dairy on the way.
“Huh. Ok, no drinking.” I guess I could accept this.
“That is because during yoga you ignite an inner fire and when you drink you extinguish that fire. We do not want that.”
“Got it. Inner fire is good. No drinking.”
“After class, you drink all you want. Is ok.”
Wondering where his accent came from I asked him, “Where are you from?”
That explained a lot, actually. I used to live with a Swiss girl and I thought she was really weird. Later I learned she wasn’t all that weird. The Swiss are just like that; awkwardly direct without explanation. They come off as unfriendly but they aren’t. They just interact differently than we do. Knowing this fact helped me relax a little with good ol’ Borvis.
“My wife and I,” he gestured toward the woman I believed to be Doris, “we came here seventeen years ago.”
Huh. Borvis and Doris. Leave it to the Swiss, I thought.It looked like Doris was free now for me to make my introduction so I stood up, left Borvis sitting on the floor and greeted her.
“Hi, I’m Regina. I think we corresponded yesterday via email.”
She squinted at me slightly but did not disagree with me. She probably said her name but I wasn’t really listening, convinced she was Doris. She looked at me vaguely and I could see from the corner of my eye that Borvis was watching. Then he quietly went into the other room where the others were laying down their mats, preparing for class.
Everyone congregated toward the back and I followed suit, finding a safe-looking, obscure corner spot. Borvis sat at the front of the room now, next to Doris—his wife. Despite the fact that the room had filled up now, it was very quiet. I noted that it was almost somber. I realized in that moment I’d been banking on lot on this class. I wanted yoga to liberate my mind, I wanted to out of myself for awhile. I wanted to meet some nice new women. And in that moment I realized this might not be what I’m looking for. I kind of panicked because I had not anticipated this at all. It was the first time it occurred to me that I might not like this and I wanted to so badly to like this. I had to like this.
Borvis told us we could close our eyes if we wanted to and that we could begin to breathe deeply, holding our thumbs over the tip of our index fingers. I did this and only peeked around the room once. We had our eyes closed for a long time, longer than it would take to say The Lord’s Prayer and a few Hail Mary’s. Finally I think Borvis told us to open our eyes again but I wasn’t sure because I could hardly hear him.
“We vuld like to apologize for last Thursday,” he said slowly and now he spoke loudly. “We could not be here, as you know, because we had some things get in the way.” He smiled and then paused again.
I was not sure about this. Were these people normal? Or were they total flakes? This guy was doing all the talking. She had yet to say a word. Maybe they have kids, I thought. Surely they had kids, because traffic certainly isn’t an excuse around here.
“We had to go to the hospital when she had a seizure last week in class.”
I quickly looked around at every else, sitting silently in the lotus position. Apparently this was not news to anyone but me.
“The doctors have discovered that she has a tumor on her brain.”
“We think it is benign but we won’t know until she has it removed.” He paused and looked at her looking at us, smiling.
“I’m fine,” she managed to say quietly. “Really I feel fine.” Maybe she was saying this because it was true. But mainly I got the feeling she was being kind and generous, trying to offset people’s concern and worry. Please don’t look at me like that, she seemed to say.
He looked back at us, “We have been telling people since Saturday and have just arrived at the point where we are able to share the news without crying.”
From the back of the room, in my anonymous, quiet little corner, my heart ached for them. How awfully sad and scary. All the things I’d been worried about in the moments before—my scruffy bare feet, finding Doris, questioning and doubting whether or not I was going to like this class—it all went out the window. None of it mattered.
He paused again and then continued, “These are just some of the things that life throws at you. You cannot do anything about it. What matters is how you deal with it.”
This is true, I thought, in full knowledge now that I was in a good place with brave, gracious people.
From there Boris (really Doris) commenced the class. What followed was one of the most intense yoga sessions I’ve ever had. I was sore and sweating profusely before the class was half-way done. For the next hour and a half Doris would often call out, “Bend your knees, Regina!” His wife came over to my corner to adjust my position several times. She was helping me through my discomfort and imbalance while raising my leg (which might as well been made of ply-wood) ungracefully in front of me. This consisted of her holding my leg with one arm and holding my opposite shoulder to balance not herself, but me. I was supposed to be focusing on my five breaths, but I was really focusing on her. Her beautiful gold necklace with a clasp the shape of a figure eight, the way her skin tone seemed to match her hair color, her strength and the way she knew I was uncomfortable, yet she was requiring me to push through that discomfort to break a barrier.
I looked in the direction of the blonde girl next to me because that is where we were supposed to fix our gaze, over our right shoulder. She looked back at me and smiled, trying to keep her shoulders from shaking. Dear God, I must have looked like I was shitting a five-ton brick. In a sauna. I managed to stifle my wheeze of a laugh.
“Remember to breathe!” Doris shouted. He pin-pointed me yet again. “Let me hear you’ve breathe! Regina, I can’t hear you’ve breathing!” I was trying not to laugh, which does in fact, require holding my breath.
The funniest part was that Doris’ wife, blessherheart, kept calling me Regyna—because it is the German pronunciation of my name. I hate it when people call me that because it rhymes with vagina. Still, I did not correct her. How could I? I was short of breath and she was teaching me how to align my head with my neck to support myself. So I was calling him Borvis, thinking Doris was his wife while she was calling me Regyna.
All the things I went there for? I certainly received them, alright, along with a few unanticipated, very much needed life lessons. Did I experience discomfort? Yes. But it certainly served its purpose; I was taken out of myself, far out of myself and told to breathe. No matter what, breathe breathe breathe. Indeed, barrier officially broken. I can honestly say, I even liked it.
Later that night as I tried to quell all my loud thoughts into more hushed whispers, I recapped the whole scenario. It was then, as I lay in a left-side child’s pose, right hand near my heart, eyes closed that I thought: BORVIS IS DORIS! So that’s who that was. And that’s who Doris wasn’t. With that, I sat up, took a sip of water and laughed to myself as I extinguished the last of my inner fire for the day.