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 Ruby's Road: Shiva Diva

Ruby's RoadBy Dawne Belloise

It's unfathomable that a flower child could come through the 60s and into the 70s without ever having taken a yoga class. I listened to plenty of Ravi Shankar's sitar while reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead in an altered state. I could sit perfectly still for hours on end watching the air move. Somehow, I experienced the entire era unscathed by yoga. We were all pretty flexible back then in our younger days – it went hand-in-hand with the generation's philosophy. Go with the flow, bend like a tree agility and dance all night to psychedelic sounds and amoeba-like light shows crawling across the walls.

Even after moving to Crested Butte and then to Boulder, practically neighbors with Naropa through the 80s, yoga was a luxury of time I couldn't afford. It was only recently, having passed my mezzo-centenarian landmark half a decade ago, that I realized I was in denial of my waning flexibility. It was getting harder to get out of bed in the morning but for entirely different reasons than my rock and roll days.

Despite that yoga and powder days appear to be the town's dominant religion, it took me months to overcome the fear of being required to perform pretzeled body movements while breathing in some controlled pattern and chanting “OOOOOHHHMMM” before I finally acquired enough determination and courage to just go to class. These are all locals, I told myself, familiar faces I have lived with communally in town for years so it would be like hanging out at the bar or running into them on a hike... only on mats in extremely close proximity, sweating profusely while maneuvering body and limbs into demanding, twisted positions and breathing heavily through grunts.

So it was that I shuffled into one of the most challenging yoga classes in town named for the Hindu god of destruction – Shiva yoga. Shiva, the destructo-god, must have studied Nietzsche's philosophy of “what does not destroy me makes me stronger.” The deity is also known as The Transformer and transformation can be a most torturous and painful process.

Grabbing a mat, I had decided it would be best to roll out somewhere in the back where I could observe rather than be observed but the class was packed – the sea of bodies parted to allow me space. It was clear that yoga had paid off for the collected limber souls – ready-to-sweat disciples with well defined arms, rock hard quads and abs and calves that popped like sculpted clay. No old Aunt Millie jiggling triceps or belly rolls amongst them. Then it hit me, like jumping off the high dive for the first time, too scared to even scream as you accelerated down, down, down into the water's hard surface at warp drive. What was I thinking? I was going to die without dignity in this class.

I tried to distract myself with mental babblefluff while I watched people prepare, breath and stretch, having no idea myself how to prepare for the impending death and humiliation. There were questionably suspicious straps, blankets and blocks of foam arranged next to the mats. I panicked thinking there might be additionally required Cirque du Soleil feats. I didn't see any safety nets...

The young yogi entered and greeted everyone, solid and gentle, explaining that as we moved our bodies deeply, the dark emotions and blockages hidden within would start to fall away, and as we free our bodies we free ourselves. The freedom aspects were encouraging and appealed to the Woodstock child within, who was whining about the excruciating effort it was already taking.

Twisted, bent, stretched, knotted and opened, for the next hour and a half my body was made to simulate Gumby on steroids. Why would I consider wringing memories out of my muscular depths when I had so carefully buried them there? My body, suddenly an emotional garbage barge, was being tugged back into harbor for a hull cleaning when I simply wanted to drift out to sea peacefully. My toes began to cramp, my limbs shook uncontrollably and I lost a contact lens. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of wondering whose body I was in, the yogi guided the class into “the little death” – laying flat on one's back breathing slowly. No movement whatsoever. My body wept with the tao of non-movement.

The yogi chanted a beautiful resonate vibration of song to the dead class. I had completed the challenge of my first yoga encounter and my body was already feeling the difference – shoulders rotated in two different directions, neck like The Exorcist girl and cooked-spaghetti legs. I was already anticipating what delayed pain tomorrow morning would bring as my body angrily rebelled against the work out. “This is the easiest of the classes,” my new yoga master smiled as I handed him a check for 10 more sessions of transformation.

Posted On Thursday, July 26, 2007

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