"It is the poet's job to remember"
Gerald Stern

Thursday, March 26, 2009


I have three friends who practice Yoga. They are toned. Not one of them has that older arm thing going on where the under part of your upper arm is capable of waving faster than your hand. They swear it has made their allergies better, improved physical strength, and charged their mental and spiritual circuits. I'm all for it, but not willing to take a class after my long ago "get in shape by joining Ballys" embarrassment. I went four times, and paid the membership fee monthly for the next two years. Ten years later they are still after me to re-join so I don't let my "pledge to fitness" falter. They're wasting their postage. My 'pledge' passed falter and took a nose dive many moons ago.

So, I bought a couple of books on Yoga. I'm smart. I comprehend and retain what I read. There were detailed illustrations. I figured it would be easy. The thing is, you have to lay down on the floor. Or sit in one position and look straight ahead. Or go from one position to the next in one fluid movement. It is impossible to look at illustrations in a book and do any of the above at the same time. The book has to be propped up and its pages turned and the pictures are not that big. This leads to very un-yoga-like contortions and many un-yoga-like thoughts.

So, I bought a Yoga DVD. I figured verbal instruction and a screen for demonstration was the way to go. Dixie Carter, that sassy sister from "Designing Women" was the instructor. I choose her from the others offered because she is older than I am. I thought she would have mercy on my joints and muscles. I thought she would be as gentle as her charming southern drawl. I thought we would do this one grandmother to another.

The breathing went well. It felt pretty good. Sitting in the first position was good too. She smiled a lot on the screen. Yep, Dixie was my yoga guru.

Then we actually started to move. Well, she moved. I winced and tried to follow along. I toppled more than most toddlers I've known. There was nothing 'fluid' about any of my movements...except my regret about the six cups of coffee I had for energy before we started. You know that thing called "salute to the sun?" It takes more strength and muscle than, oh say, giving birth. Dixie kept smiling. I gritted my teeth and growled.

At the end of the session, Miss Dixie does this relaxation thing. You lay down and she goes through a series of images and finally instructs you to let all the pain rise up and out of your body. So I lifted up my leg and used my foot to turn off the TV.


Before Miss Dixie and I parted our yoga trial ways, I had a brief fitness affair with Billy Blanks and his Tae Bo 'revolution.' In a moment of weakness and disgust at my so very out of shape muscles, I ordered his three video tape set.

I remember the moment. It was a Saturday morning, I was alone and lounging on the sofa drinking my third or fourth cup of coffee, reading a book with the TV blabbing in the background . There was Billy in his infomercial, with a bevy of toned and energetic folks Tae Bo-ing right along with him. Maybe it was the music, maybe it was that Billy was all oiled and muscular and looked pretty damn good, or maybe I was just shaking so much from the caffeine that my mind had rattled loose...but I watched the whole thing, reached for my credit card and the deal was done.

The tapes arrived and I put them on top of the VCR (this was pre-DVD). I dusted the package regularly, and occasionally moved it to the right or left for variety. Two years of Saturday morning sofa lounging went by. Once in a while, someone would say something like, "Oh, you still have those Tae Bo tapes," to which I would answer, "Uh huh."

Along about the time those tapes celebrated their second birthday in my house, my son, who had yet to fully understand what not to say to the women in his life, came upon me in my usual position...feet up, expending only enough energy to turn the pages of the book in my hand. He walked over to the VCR, picked up the tapes and said, "You have to break the shrink wrap on these things for them to work. Did you know that?"

It is really annoying when your kid is correct. But I decided it was time, ripped off the plastic and read the little instruction sheet I found tucked between the tapes. There was a beginner tape, a more advanced tape, and an instructional tape. My buddy Billy strongly suggested that I begin with the instructional tape. "Watch it all the way through," he stressed, "before attempting the other tapes." I looked at Billy and his buff crew on the cover, looked down at my middle aged self, and decided to take his advice.

I lasted about twenty minutes, but it was an interesting twenty minutes. I learned how to stand, throw a punch straight out without dislocating my shoulder, and kick my leg. All while standing still.

Then Billy turned on the music and coaxed us to start moving, very slowly, very gently. All his buddies were bobbing and punching...Billy was flexing and dancing a little boxing two step...I was panting and sweating, feeling a little nauseous, and convinced that I was born with all my muscles in the wrong place. I had to sit down, drink water, put a cool cloth on my head.

In short, I failed the instruction tape.

No one has mentioned Tae Bo to me since. If they noticed the tapes had disappeared, my family kept it to themselves. I'm sticking to my 'Sweatin' to the Oldies' old and yellowing, videotape. I like the ordinary people huffing and puffing around Richard Simmons. I like that he makes you stop and measure your heart rate so that your family won't find you fit as a fiddle and dead on the carpet. I love all that music from my youth. And I love that in spite of himself, Richard always looks just a little bit pudgy.