Friday, March 4, 2011

Crumpled and Uncrumpled

Some days I finish work feeling like a crumpled up ball of paper, crunchy and squished. It’s on days like these when I especially love going to yoga because I know it will smooth me out again.

I got hooked on the practice in high school, loving it because it kicked my butt without kicking my butt—I feel the burn without punishing myself or dripping in sweat. As I continued through college I noticed yoga would not only smooth me out, but give me something else to focus on when papers and tests were clogging my brain and sometimes my pores.

I knew when I came to New York I wanted to continue doing yoga, but I didn’t start until I had been here for four months, when it started to turn cold. Before that I had been running or walking up and down the East River, but as I began to lose feeling in my hands and my nose come November, I realized it was time for a change. In Florida I had done yoga at a gym, so I thought maybe I would try a gym out here. Little did I know I was soon to become the Goldilocks of gyms.

I started with a gym just a block west of my house. It was an intimidating metallic and glass structure with grey walls, had a waiting area with velour-upholstered armchairs and a coffee table upon which rested copies of magazines like Details and Vogue. I went up to the front desk, which held computers encased in glass, and was notified that a “membership specialist” (or something of that nature) would be right with me. A handsome man soon entered the room and introduced himself to me as said specialist. I instantly had visions of that episode of Friends where Chandler wants to quit the gym. The gym says okay, but how about first you take a tour of our facility with this obscenely hot chick in only a leotard? I braced myself. No handsome man would sway my decision-making!

He asked me, would I mind coming into his office and answering a few questions about my exercise habits before he gave me a tour and they may or may not invite me to become a member? I made a mental note of this phrase—as if somehow joining this gym was a privilege when really if you threw money at them they wouldn’t say no, of course. But my exercise habits were questioned, and I found myself bending the truth and making up answers about my routine to somehow appear more fit or active than I actually was (I now wonder if he knew/thought I was lying). I didn’t like this about myself, and made another mental note of this for later. Would I feel like I had to look or act a certain way if I came to this gym? I didn’t want that—I only wanted to look like crap, get my gym or yoga on, and get out. If I couldn’t do that, then the gym was not for me.

We took a tour of the gym and I began to notice something really upsetting about the entire environment. It wasn’t just clean, it was sterile. Devoid of warmth and personality, it was an unwelcoming environment that almost exactly suited the purpose of focusing hard on feeling the burn and dripping yourself with sweat. I suddenly realized where I was—I was in the evil gym from Dodgeball, Globo Gym, where over-muscled jocks and yuppies came to get pumped up: “Here at Globo Gym, we understand that "Ugliness" and "Fatness" are genetic disorders, much like baldness or necrophilia, and it's only your fault if you don't hate yourself enough to do something about it.”

The only thing I wanted to do was leave, but I had to sit through another short meeting with the handsome membership specialist. He asked me what exorbitant gym membership interested me and when I might like to join. I said I’d have to think about it. “What’s to think about?” he said, as if joining any other gym except this one would be a supreme joke. It made me hate the gym even more. We finished our meeting and I left, mumbling “Yeah fucking right,” to myself as I walked through the door.

The next gym I visited because a free three-day trial came for it in the mail. It was a couple blocks north of my house, so I went. The people signing me in were a lot more chill. There was no activity questionnaire, there were no special meetings, just a tour of the smaller facility with a pretty winding staircase. That was fine with me, I didn’t need a lot of bells and whistles—just a place to do some yoga and maybe some cardio. But I didn’t realize how small the gym really was until I was practically exercising in an old man’s armpit as I attempted a cardio workout. He was far too close to me for comfort, and it wasn’t his fault—the treadmills and ellipticals had to be smashed closer together so more could fit, more people could work out at once, more people could join the gym, etc. Though my normal cardio routine involved the elliptical for 30 minutes, then a series of stretches, crunches and weights, I only stayed for the elliptical portion because if I stayed longer I would actually vomit.

It was the first time I felt homesick since moving to New York. I know it’s a silly thing to trigger homesickness, but in Florida everything is spread out, there’s lots of room between exercise equipment, and it doesn’t get cold so you can run anywhere any time of the year (you have to be careful in the summer, but that’s another story). I was sad. All I wanted to do was exercise! And gym memberships in New York were not at all the same as in Florida, where they were five times less expensive. I didn’t have a lot of money to spare, and I just wanted to enjoy myself while working out. Was it so much to ask?

I gave up looking for a week or so, then I had a stressful day at work and all I wanted was some yoga. No gym, just plain yoga. So I found a studio near my house and resolved to go that evening. More than 10 blocks north, it was a little bit of a hike, but I didn’t mind because hey, walking is exercise too.

New York Yoga is a small studio, but it doesn’t matter. Classes are limited to 20. The walls are softly paneled in welcoming colors. The receptionist is always sweet, no matter who it is. There’s original artwork on the walls. Yoga mats and good-smelling candles are for sale in the back. There’s a plush carpet in the locker room that you can mush your toes into (no shoes are allowed beyond the tile in the front part of the studio so it stays clean). And the class I took was awesome. The teacher lit candles and played soft music, rubbed massage oils into our necks and spritzed our faces with lovely scented water during shavasana. The class challenged me and kicked my butt in that awesome I-don’t-hate-myself-and-want-to-die way, and it made me feel refreshed. It was what I was looking for all along—it wasn’t too big or too small, it was just right. I was a real-life Goldilocks…or should I say Yogilocks?

Nobody sat me down and questioned whether or not I wanted to join, nobody judged my exercise habits to see if I was a good fit. There was no smelly man’s armpit to extract myself from. On the contrary, I wanted to feel refreshed like this all the time. And, for a not-exorbitant price, I now do. I look forward to the yoga classes I go to usually twice a week and to that feeling of uncrumpled-ness that I know will come with it. I always knew that fitness could be happiness, but I didn’t know how until New York Yoga.