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EVEN YOGA'S A CHALLENGE FOR ATHLETICALLY IMPAIRED

I went to my first session of yoga at a local fitness center, and my learning experience did not go at all as anticipated. I suppose I should have been prepared for this.

After all, didn't I take six months to learn to ride a two-wheeler while all the neighborhood kids were doing expert wheelies within days? Anyhow, there I was, conspicuous in my glaringly pristine gym shorts and T-shirt among classmates whose well-worn leotards fairly screamed experience.

When our instructor's first command was to touch our toes, I wondered whether, just this once, she'd settle for knees. As the teacher continued, my classmates, most of them with bodies that showed as many signs of age and misuse as mine, contorted themselves into positions that would do credit to a well-conditioned boa constrictor.

After trying to duplicate those moves, I discovered I have far more muscles than I ever knew were there. They announced themselves with stabbing little twinges in areas of my person that previously hadn't been heard from for quite some time.

I wondered whether my teacher, who was beginning to get a pained look herself as she constantly corrected my posture, was inwardly contemplating a career change. I had a sudden flashback to a previous degrading athletic experience more than six decades ago.

In my undergraduate days in a small, Midwestern college, the required swimming classes were unisex. For presumably sanitary reasons, we girls were required to wear tank suits made of scratchy gray wool. Rumor had it that they were on loan from the costume collection at the museum of history.

One day, when I was late to class, I had to take the last suit, which was two sizes too large for my then skinny frame. In the pool, I began paddling beside the captain of the basketball team, a real big man on campus. I decided to show off my mastery of the dog paddle, not noticing that we were approaching the water intake pipe.

As the water switched on with a rush, it took dead aim down my sagging cleavage, carrying my suit, sans occupant, almost the full length of the Olympic-size pool.

Have you ever noticed that there is no hiding place in a swimming pool? My gallant big man on campus quickly retrieved the suit and handed it to me with an averted gaze. I beat a hasty retreat to the girls' locker room in tears. Since that day, I've rarely been in a pool -- or any other athletic venue -- until I started the yoga class.

What proved to be the death knell of my brief foray into yoga was a move called "the downward facing dog," or, in my version, "the flat on my face dog." I don't see how any quadruped, canine or human, could complete that maneuver with an intact skeleton.

My instructor politely but firmly suggested that I "just watch this one," so I tried it later at home. My long-suffering husband nearly had to call the rescue squad to restore me to my normal, more or less, upright position. Perhaps jump rope for the athletically challenged might be a more direct -- if less trendy -- way to deal with my burgeoning body mass index.

The only saving grace in that yoga class was that none of my friends or neighbors were there. I sure hope the ladies in my lunch club don't read this.

Alice Stein gives programs to youth and adult groups on the Amazon rain forest and Tibet.