By Ed Staskus
Frank Glass hadn’t been to a yoga studio since before spring broke into brightness, preferring to practice at home, and riding his bicycle on sunny days, taking advantage of the season. There aren’t many of them, sunny days, in Lakewood, Ohio, on the south shore of Lake Erie, during the six months of fall and winter.
Most of them are cloudy moody challenging. Behind every cloud there’s another cloud many days in the Land on the Great Erie Lake, although that’s not what the Erie called it.
Before they were wiped out after the Beaver Wars, the indigenous Erieehronon lived on the lakeshore. They thought panthers surfed the waves. They wore bobcat tails like strings of pearls on their heads. Erie means long-tailed in their language, even though bobcats have short tails.
French trappers didn’t call it Lake Erie. They called it Cat Lake.
There are plenty of sunny days in spring and summer, easy and breezy, some not a cloud in the sky. That’s when it’s Cloud 9. They are good days to go riding, even when sunlight is staring you straight in the face.
Frank had been practicing yoga more at home than at studios for more than a year. There had been a time when he twisted breathed meditated over and above at studios, only barely once-in-awhile at home, until one night when his wife looked up from the stove.
“If I only made meals at cooking class you would starve to death,” said Vera Glass.
What she meant was she prepared dinner, even if only a Caesar salad and a glass of wine, almost every night, not just when she took a cooking class. She might also have meant Frank was looking like a slow learner, taking so many classes.
“Remember what Napoleon used to say,” she said.
Frank Glass’s wife was a self-employed business manager and bookkeeper, but had a college degree in history. He waited to find out what Napoleon Bonaparte used to say.
“If you want a thing done well, do it yourself.”
“What about if you’d rather someone else do it, for example, like make a fool of yourself,” asked Frank. “Then it’s better you don’t do it all by yourself, right, and never mind Napoleon?”
Vera stirred the pot. “Like they say, to thine own self be true.”
Yoga practice at a studio is inspiration positive energy pushing your limits, and a rubber mat buzz. Frank’s motivations for doing yoga at home were money time one-size-doesn’t-fit-all.
During the half-dozen years he took classes three four five times a week he spent thousands of dollars a year on the practice, as well as spending the time getting to and from studios.
The two years he practiced Bikram Yoga were even more costly. He drove farther to the hot class, 45 minutes, suffered in the so-called torture chamber for 90 minutes, and after a cold shower drove another 45 minutes home. He gulped down quarts of coconut water and electrolyte drinks before, during, and after every class.
When the first month’s hellish heat cramps finally subsided he never stopped stopping at the drink coolers of 7-Elevens and slapping his loose change down before, during, and after every class.
Practicing at home meant simply walking up to the attic loft where he kept his mat, blocks, and twelve-inch Yoga Wheel. There were two skylights cut into the pitched ceiling and a futon for Sky King, the white and gray cat, and Alexander Pope, the dark Maine Coon cat, to curl up on while watching him.
Sometimes he wondered what they were thinking, when they stretched by second nature, but most of the time he didn’t want to know. They were inscrutable, anyway. He knew that cats, whenever they slipped and fell, always pretended like it hadn’t happened. All the same, not many cats trip over people. We trip over cats.
The practice on and off the mat is like carrying a cat by the tail, learning something you can’t learn any other way than by doing it.
Although Cleveland is not considered to be a hotbed of yoga, there was a studio within walking distance of where Frank and Vera Glass lived on the west side of Lakewood, an inner-ring suburb on the west side of Cleveland, there were two within biking distance, and another two within a short driving distance.
Yoga studios are good places for guided practice, adjustments, and finding new ways to do things on one leg. It was either the last day of summer or the first day of fall, he couldn’t tell, and Frank Glass felt like it was good day to get out of the house.
He grabbed his mat and some cash and drove across the bridge across the river to the Better Bliss Yoga Studio in Rocky River. He hadn’t been there for several years, but walking in it looked like nothing much had changed, although he didn’t recognize the desk help, the instructor, or anyone else in the class.
He recognized the Apple iMac the studio used for checking in and payment processing, and the Apple iMac recognized him, too.
The studio boutique was new, selling oils and balms, leg warmers and jewelry, infusers and candles and something called Spiritual Gangster. Frank was a big fan of gangster movies, but he thought of yoga as an inquiry, of questioning one’s intent, of looking for meaning, and knew from the movies that gangsters don’t ask many questions.
But, Spiritual Gangster turned out to be tanks and pants. One of the tanks was emblazoned with the breezy slogan ‘I’m Just Here for the Savasana’.
The class was crowded, like squids squeezed into a subway at rush hour, but he managed to slip in near the corner near the back near the windows. There were maybe a hundred men and women in a squarish room that should have fit seventy, at most. The mat map spread out over the gleaming wood floor was rows of them facing the front and rows on the sides turned 90 degrees towards the center.
The class was a vinyasa, or flow-style class, the action sequenced and done in time with inhalations and exhalations. Vinyasa is a catch-all, overlapping many styles of the practice, based on sun salutations and continuous movement. After a salutation and some hurrahs from the instructor the class got to their feet.
Almost immediately, as they moved into their first down dog, Frank Glass was confronted with the back end of a pair of skintight tie-dyed pants on the mat less than a foot in front of him. The legs were printed in blue and the hip-hugging waistband was purple.
He found out later they were ‘Waves of Vishnu’ haute Capri’s by k. deer, “strong, sexy, transforming, and proudly made in the USA.”
Back in the day Vishnu’s pants were baggy and wrinkled, not so sexy, handmade in the sub-continent, but that was a long time ago.
“They feel invisible when you’re wearing them,“ the young woman wearing the Capri’s told him after class.
Shades of lululemon’s ill-fated see-through pants, he thought, trying not to agree too heartily or look too closely.
“Oh, and they don’t retain stink, either,” she said.
“That’s good, not making a stink, I mean,” he said.
The flow class was challenging, the pace relentless and perspiry, accompanied by a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame soundtrack. The Beatles once chanted “jai guru deva om” on one of their hit tunes and Mick Jagger still practices yoga, which might explain his Jumping Jack Flash moves at the age of 73.
Frank Glass did his best to keep up with the class, which was not a low-key group, but rather go-getters getting their money’s worth. He wasn’t in shape for game speed yoga. He could feel his face scrunching, feel himself muscling through poses, trying too hard, and breathing erratically. He finally settled into doing the best he could.
“Do it at your own speed,” said the instructor in passing, nodding at him, making modifications and offering encouragement as she went down the rows of mats.
Frank’s tie-dyed neighbor had a neighbor, another young woman, wearing a muscle tee. Every time she moved her arms a clanking sound echoed the movement. She was wearing loose bracelets. They slid up and down and up her arms as she twisted and turned into and out of poses and jumps.
Frank was surprised at the fashion statement. He had seen a woman once in class wearing a pendant necklace jump through and the pendant swung and smacked her in the mouth when she landed. She had a black and blue fat lip for the rest of the hour. He thought there were two rules about jewelry. The first rule was leave it at home and the second rule was take it off when you got to the yoga studio.
He couldn’t have been more wrong.
From Satya Jewelry to Lovepray Jewelry to Pranajewelry there is a wealth of eye-catching bling to show off your love of all things yogic. There are stainless steel bracelets etched with positive-sounding mantras like “Be the Change”. There are Happy Buddha! gemstone necklaces handcrafted of turquoise and silver. There are Garden of Ohm earrings stamped with the likenesses of deities like Shiva, Ganesh, and Durga.
There are stylish toe rings that match the color of your mat, although if you snag an open end of the ring on the rubber, you may go toppling over in downward facing dog, ending up as face first dog down on the mat.
There are many kinds of distractions at yoga studios, from people who stare to loud breathers and groaners to body odor perfume pools of sweat smells and hairballs. It’s a group practice in a confined space. Some people charge their iPhones, check their iPhones, and answer their iPhones in class. Sometimes people even think out loud while engaging in a practice designed to quiet the mind.
At the peak of the class Frank sat down lower in chair pose, but there was no rest there. The instructor led everyone through backbends, supported shoulderstand, some twists and forward bends, and finally it was time for corpse pose, or as the Spiritual Gangsters would have it, what they were there for.
Gangsters are always trying to convince people to become corpses.
Savasana was Frank Glass’s number one yoga pose. It meant the class was winding down, all the physically challenging work was over, and he was confident he could do it right, since it only involved laying on the floor, letting your belly go soft, and breathing.
He didn’t think it had anything to do with acknowledging mortality or making friends with death, like some people thought. He thought of it as slowing down, letting his body get both heavy and light, and being in the few minutes between the nothing that isn’t there and the nothing that is.
Like many things near and dear to one’s heart it was over before he knew it and before he knew it everyone was sitting upright cross-legged. The instructor saluted the class.
“Namaste,” she said.
Suddenly, a bright white light blinded Frank.
Until the 21st century, when yoga morphed into physical fitness, it was a mind body spirit united states of being practice. Although physical fitness and brainwave control were always elements of yoga, it was training for the body and mind to self observe and be less self centered, and for the spirit to get to a place of more consciousness. That place was called samadhi.
Samadhi is the eighth and last limb of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. It means the act of concentration and what is being concentrated on and the body mind spirit that is doing the concentrating all becoming one. It is yoga’s end game of union. It’s a thrill, but a thrill in the thrall of stillness.
It’s like the light at the end of the tunnel.
Frank Glass blinked and turned his head and realized he wasn’t having a samadhi moment. He had been blinded by the sun spilling through the studio windows and reflecting off a big diamond ring on the finger of a woman’s hand in mudra pose. She was sitting on her mat between him and the sun outside the window.
He knew it was a real diamond because the way diamonds reflect light is unique. Inside the gem mirror-like facets sparkle a brilliant white. Outside the gem bending reflecting refracting light they sparkle a white fire. Frank Glass knew big girls need big diamonds, but it was still an eye-opener to see the splashy lozenge in a yoga class.
Maybe it had something to do with Joan Rivers, who said, “If God had wanted me to bend over, he would have put diamonds on the floor.”
When Frank Glass got home his wife was in the kitchen making dinner.
“Did you learn anything at class today?” asked Vera.
“Yes,” said Frank. “Leave the family jewels at home.”
A version of this story appeared in Rebelle Society.
Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.