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Despite best efforts, yoga just isn't for me

Last month, I tried yoga. Again.

Years ago, I took yoga classes. I struggled to hold each pose. Not the corpse pose. That I loved and could hold. I continued taking classes. I am not a giver-upper and I reaped benefits: I became aware of my breathing. I became aware of how much I didn't like yoga.

So I switched to Pilates. For three 10-session classes, I had the same patient instructor. She loved teaching. Pilates has become part of my routine.

But at the beginning of 2012, after learning the plank and boat poses from my sister-in-law, I resolved to try yoga again. I registered for a 10-week course.

The course began shortly after the yoga injury excerpt from William Broad's book "The Science of Yoga" appeared in the New York Times Magazine, giving even longtime practitioners pause. "Make sure your teacher doesn't push too hard," one suggested.

Before our first session, I asked the teacher -- Yvette, I'll call her -- if she'd read the piece. She hadn't. She hadn't heard about it. Upon arriving, she informed us she woke up earlier than she wanted and traveled an hour to class. A full-time nursery school teacher and a former dancer, she answered my question with, "People get injured walking across the street, you know."

Duh! I'm a longtime teacher. My job, particularly at the beginning, is to make my students feel safe. I did not feel comfortable with Yvette. But I'm not a giver-upper. I got on my mat and listened to her "meet and greet" talk: a monologue about her dancing days and her tough job with her "babies" at nursery school, and an explanation on what to expect: aches. Next she told us to stand. That I could do. Then the five others -- in their 20s and 30s -- contorted into poses I could not hold. Or pronounce.

My body ached. I felt like Woody's Allen's fumbling cellist in the marching band in "Take the Money and Run." Yvette walked around, adjusting limbs and saying, "Uh huh. You got it." To them.

Me, she adjusted. Adjusted and twisted, pulling my body parts in directions they didn't want to go. Her response to my injury inquiry had made me tense. Now I was tense, resistant and in pain.

"Much of why we can't do things is in our heads," Yvette said, looking at me.

Brilliant! Did she share that with her nursery school babies when they used finger paints?

We got to the plank pose. I could hold that. I had been doing it at home. After Yvette gave me my first and only, "Uh huh. You got it," I asked, "Is there a yoga class for people who can't do yoga?"

Despite my physical pain and our bad start, I chose to stay on her good side. Yvette was the teacher here. She might still have plenty to teach me. She might also hurt me. A picture of an erstwhile boyfriend, whom I took to a yoga class 15 years before, came to mind. He twisted his body so far with one sitting pose, he got stuck. Had the teacher not unwound him, he might still be on the mat in that pretzel pose.

Fortunately, Yvette stopped pushing my body. Instead she had us breathe through alternate nostrils, closing one at a time. Easy! Stupid, but easy.

I bought Epsom salts on my way home. I soaked in the tub. My body hurt. I don't know if Yvette got to the corpse pose the following week. She did not become my spiritual master. I did not go back to class. I figured I could close one nostril at a time at home.


Nancy Davidoff Kelton, who grew up in Buffalo, is the author of six books and is working on a memoir.