Letters from Boot Camp: So, About That Yoga …

Inflexible as ever, Michael caves and tries a few down-dogs as he nears the end of boot camp. Can he find his inner yogi?

“Have you been getting in your C Series?” Meredith, Fusion’s pixiesh flame-haired manager, asked me a few weeks ago as I checked in for yet another session in the exercise gulag.

I hesitated to answer, because I knew I had the wrong answer. Which was, in fact, “No.” As part of boot camp you’re supposed to take at least three other sessions at Fusion each week, and almost all of these are strength and conditioning classes (the “A” and “B” series). But sprinkled throughout are “C” classes, which consist of cardio followed by an hour of yoga. Being about as limber as a redwood, I have avoided the C classes the way I avoid eating cauliflower and wearing horizontal stripes. But in this case I had no choice but to fess up—Meredith is basically the only one who teaches the C series, so she was, in effect, asking a rhetorical question.

I told her the yoga sessions were offered at bad times for my schedule (actually true), but that I would try to get a few in before the end of boot camp. “You really need to do it,” she told me. “It’s part of a balanced program of health and fitness.”

I had tried yoga only once before, a dozen years ago, when I was living in New York. In Manhattan everyone does yoga, even old people, so in keeping with the cultural zeitgeist I rolled out a mat and took a beginners’ class at the New York Sports Club. I was 10 minutes in when I realized I was in deep trouble. I hung in until the instructor, without irony, said in that breathy NPR-host voice all yoga teachers use, “Now, breathe through your shoulders.” Breathe through my shoulders? I rolled up my mat and walked out. (And, no doubt, in to the Krispy Kreme next door.)

There is a brief yoga stretch after almost every Fusion class, and I have stayed for most of them, putting a toe in the water, as it were. But the prospect of spending an hour trying to contort my body into a pretzel and feeling relatively confident of my inability to do same didn’t exactly thrill me. Still, I knew Meredith was right—as I said to instructor Kelly when she once offered to modify an exercise for me and I pressed on with the original, “I’m in for a dime, I’m in for a dollar.”

So I signed up for one of Meredith’s “C” sessions last week and hoped for the best, or at least that I wouldn’t end up in traction. After the cardio portion I got a mat and dutifully took off my shoes and even my socks, which I never do because I think it’s disgusting to exercise in sweaty bare feet. But when in Fusion, do as the Fusionistas do.

In summation, let me just say this: My child’s pose rocks. I also do a mean Warrior 2, though on closer inspection I suspect I look like an aging surfer now a bit too wide for the board. My downward-facing dog has gotten steadily better—I’m getting more arc in the back, I think—though my up dog needs work. As for the rest of it, well… hmmm.

Planking is appropriately named, because I certainly feel like I am walking the plank every time I have to do it. I’ve gotten a bit more adept, but only in that I no longer drop like a sack of potatoes six seconds in anymore. But as I looked to the stern-faced Asian girl next to me, all I could notice was how she seemed so utterly bored with it all, as if she was secretly hoping we would soon be instructed to do a side crane pose. (Check it out. Is this even physically possible?) Effortlessly balancing on her forearms, her body as straight as an ironing board, she looked like she could have kept planking until morning.

As we rolled through various poses Meredith kept shooting the occasional glance in my direction, at one point even blurting out, “I’m watching you!” Of course she couldn’t keep it at that, and at another juncture hustled over to make sure my limbs were all in the right place during yet another rubber-band movement. I tried my best to keep up, though the fluidity of going from one pose to the next completely escaped me. I found myself constantly resetting instead, at some points literally grabbing a leg and putting it into place, and generally flopping around my mat like a beached dolphin. It was like watching the Tin Man trying to do synchronized swimming. How graceful!

But other than doing my downward dog and realizing I needed a pedicure, I found myself actually liking yoga. The stretching, especially when you’re not flexible, is tough, but pushing your body does make you feel stronger. I wasn’t good at it, but I was better than I thought I would be, an affirmation that all of these weeks of boot camp have made a difference—even if my stomach still feels like a water balloon.

Buoyed, I took Kelly’s class this week and ended up partnered with my good pal Carmen Miranda, who I am sure was on her third workout of the day. After a humid session of upright rows and suspension-trainer push-ups, I wasn’t feeling great—my form was all over the place, namely on my ass. Afterward Carmen told me she had a friend she was trying to convince to come to Fusion, and that she wanted me to talk to her, because well, her friend was overweight and hated working out and thought everyone at Fusion was fit, and so wouldn’t it be great if I could set her straight?

Wow. Translation: Hey, you’re cranky and fat and grumbling about all of this and you’re still here, so maybe you can get her to come here, too!

“Who hates working out?” Kelly asked, overhearing the tail end of all of this. I assumed that was also a rhetorical question, because, well, really. But in a primal urge to defend myself I pointed out that I was still here, that we were almost at the end of boot camp and I was still showing up for my weekly pummelings, and that I had even tried full-on yoga. “Good job,” Kelly said. “Showing up is half the battle.”

When it comes to boot camp, I’ve certainly learned that. Namaste.


Michael Callahan, the executive editor of Philadelphia magazine, hates working out—which is what makes this little experiment so very awesome. He blogs about his boot camp experience—the good, the bad, and everything in between—every Friday on Be Well Philly. Catch up on the series here.