by Seth Rogovoy
When I was about eight years old, my uncle took a look at the way I was sitting cross-legged and asked me if I could adjust myself so that both of my feet rested on the opposite knees. “You mean like this?” I said, and swung my legs out and up, without so much as a touch of my hands. In other words, I easily put myself into Lotus position.
It didn’t stop there. I got up on my knees—still in Lotus—and walked around the room. On my knees.
My uncle asked if I could put my legs behind my head. I flipped them up there—no big deal.
And then he told me that I was born to do yoga.
But I didn’t start doing yoga. At least, not then—and not, in fact, for another 42 years or so.
I did my Lotus shenanigans for friends at parties for the next 20 years or so, and then for my kids when they were little, before their amusement turned gradually into embarrassment. I got a little stiffer as I grew older, and I stopped putting my legs behind my head and walking on my knees.
For a while, anyway.
My ability to get into Lotus with ease was probably due to the odd way my hip-to-leg muscles are strung. It makes me walk a little bit funny, and it gives me a natural turnout that would be the envy of a ballet dancer. But that, along with my uncle’s words, left me with a lifelong sense that I was destined to do yoga—even though, at first, I had little to no idea what “doing yoga” meant.
I had plenty of opportunities to “do yoga” over the years. I went to a college that required two years of PE classes, and one of the choices was yoga. But I would sooner take a beginners’ swim class (even though I already knew how to swim) or go for a run (whereby I ran out of sight of the PE instructor and then looped back to my dorm room, where I hid out for an hour or so, then ran back to the starting point to check in and get credit for having run four or five miles) or play mandolin in the school’s marching band (this was for PE credit, mind you). What was I thinking? Probably what everyone in the late 1970s was thinking: Yoga is for girls. (Although looking back on it, it would have been a great way to meet them.)
The “you should do yoga” ear worm quieted down for a few decades, as I fully entered adulthood and people generally stopped telling me what I should and shouldn’t do. And although I was pretty inactive much of the time—at least when I wasn’t taking my kids to the playground or on the (very) occasional hike through the woods—I got away with lethargy because I was blessed with a body type and metabolism that, at least on the outside, didn’t really show the effects of indolence.
A few times as I got older, my LDL cholesterol count crept into the warning zone, and my doctor suggested some sort of regular exercise to get it down. I bargained with him, and we agreed that before taking such extreme measures, I would up my intake of red wine and lower my consumption of products derived from refined white flour. That did the trick.
Then things fell apart. My marriage ended, red wine turned into copious amounts of single-malt Scotch, and dark clouds began crowding the horizon and my peripheral vision. Friends, work colleagues, and doctors alike said, “You need to get regular exercise.”
I tried walking. I liked it, but it didn’t quite cut it. It was too easy to find reasons not to do it—it was raining, it was too hot, it was too cold.
One day when it really was too cold to walk—it was January in New England—a close friend said, “You should try yoga.” She mentioned the mental benefits as much as the physical ones, and thought the combination might go a long way toward curing what ailed me.
So there it was again. I should do yoga. But this time, unlike all the others, the suggestion penetrated my wall of resistance, which had crumbled like so many of my other defenses. I still didn’t know exactly what it meant to “do yoga.” But I knew I needed to do something, and what did I have to lose? At least it was indoors, and I still had my secret weapon—the Lotus. Plus, there was a yoga studio right around the corner from where I lived.
So I put on a T-shirt and sweatpants I had kept in a drawer for years, in the event that I had a sudden urge to exercise, rolled up the mat a friend had given me, walked the 30 seconds to the front door of the studio, ascended the long flight of stairs, walked into the classroom, and said, “I’m ready to be here now.”
“It’s about time,” said the teacher. “We’ve been waiting for you.”
Seth Rogovoy is a writer and editor living in Hudson, New York.