I love disco. 125 beats per minute, seamlessly melding from one song to the next. The DJ stirring the crowd into a frenzy, soothing us down to take a break and sip our 7&7, then whipping us right back up again. Dance floor nights in the go-go 70’s are among my favorite memories. Memories rekindled at Napoleon Club’s Josephine Room in the 90’s, and The Donkey Show throughout the twenty-teens, the only place left for a middle-aged man to spin and twirl and still be home by ten.
By my mid-century mark, as my dancing waned and my running gave out completely, yoga became my preferred form of movement. Hot, Hatha, Iyengar, Vinyasa, all good. Yoga revitalized my creaky body and, in time, my restive mind. It even triggered this blog, named for one of my favorite poses.
I still practice yoga, several times a week, but rarely write about it anymore. Not because I’ve figured it all out. Rather, because the niche it serves in my life doesn’t trigger the tensions inherent in the awkward pose. Until it does.
I eschew all things fancy, including boutique yoga. I take classes at my gym, the same place I lift weights and swim. ‘Gym yoga’ is different from studio yoga: more exercise-y, less meditative. None of which matters to me. I lay my mat out in a corner and follow the sequence the teacher announces, more or less. Since I breathe slow and deliberately; I am never in sync with others. Sometimes I achieve meditation; sometimes I just move my body. I’m not slavish to the instructor’s prompts, yet I like going to class; I almost never do yoga at home.
By and large teachers of ‘gym yoga’ talk too much. They give too many directions, offer confusing options, and use too many metaphors, as if afraid of the silent sound of simple breathing. Many unspool creative sequences; some possess deep yoga understanding, but they all err on running active classes.
‘Randy’ is a profound practitioner, with inventive poses that build in logical sequence to a clear theme. Yet her class almost never induces the hyperconsciousness that defines meditation. Randy talks at length about matching breath to movement. But she doesn’t actually teach it. She says the words, ‘inhale’ and ‘exhale’ without the timing that actually corresponds to mindful breath. She’s easily distracted by a given student, and then altogether abandons the flow of the class.
I have figured this out, and I work around it. I fill in her gaps by moving in my own methodical way. But sequencing myself requires conscious effort. And conscious effort blunts flow. And flow is what elevates yoga over mere exercise.
Sometimes we learn things by their absence. Since I rarely plateau in Randy’s class, I have been thinking about the elusive nature of flow; how similar conditions induce flow in some but not others, or induce flow sometimes but not other times. Releasing our minds is difficult. We have to be in a secure place. We have to transcend external stimuli. We have to be able to access the noise inside our heads, in order to sort it through. Yoga rooms are ripe for mediation. So are private sanctuaries. So is bicycling across the plains.
Then I realized: discos are also great places for meditation. True, they’re noisy, but the noise is a predictable, steady beat. The insistent pound penetrates our heads and puts us in touch with our internal thoughts. Eventually, the noise drives thoughts away. Discos induce flow, for sure. The euphoria I achieved by ‘Night Fever’ is the youthful equivalent of the centeredness I now find in satisfying yoga classes. One is not better than the other; only better suited to different times of our lives.