By Mary Lowengard
SOME 55 MILLION American adults practice yoga—and that’s 301,342 more people than the entire population of Myanmar. A dozen or so of those millions are cottage owners in Bucknoll. And for a while, I was the lucky 13th.
“Practice,” though, may not be exactly the correct word for what I did. Muddle through is more like it.
Indeed, yoga was never really my thing. Relaxing does not come naturally to me. What comes naturally is snorting back he-haws while watching otherwise intelligent humans stand on one leg while trying to put their big toes in their ears.
Still, I maintain that a cottage in the country without its own yoga program is like a fish without a bicycle. Or something like that. I took care of this.
As Easy as Falling Off a Horse
For me, exercise has always been about sweating and grunting, wearing myself out, swinging a tennis racquet and occasionally falling off a horse, if only for the opportunity to get right back on it. Metaphorically speaking.
Prior to buying my cottage, the two or three times I dipped a toe (the big one, of course) into yoga, any peace and serenity I acquired in a 40-minute $40 session evaporated 39 seconds after class ended, at which point I was seized with anxiety over rolling my mat tight enough to get the strap around it. Seriously, this is challenging.
A few years ago, I attended a writing workshop that happened to be held at a famous yoga retreat in the Berkshires. It was dreadful. Apparently, the meditative state is incompatible with friendly conversation at meals, decent coffee and Internet service. Who made up these rules? I left a day early, snapping on E-Street radio as I tore out of the parking lot just as Badlands came on. No song could have been more appropriate, even in James Taylorville. I turned the volume up to 11.
The Birthing of Bucknoll Yoga
Thus, it was quite improbable that I found myself bearing the title of the Baroness of Bucknoll Yoga not too long after. Here’s how this happened.
It started one summer when the proprietress of a local nursery referred me to a woman to help overhaul, renovate and tend to my Grey Gardens-like long-neglected cottage grounds. The half-life of garden helpers in Bucknoll, I learned from sad experience, is slightly more than that of Tylenol. Which is four hours. I was hoping against hope this individual—let’s call her Jenny—would stick around at least through leaf-raking season.
One day on a lemonade break, Jenny let slip that she was also a certified yoga instructor and had in fact owned and operated a studio at some point before she returned to the Bucknoll environs.
“Ommmmmm,” I said. By then I had realized that while offering frequent refreshment breaks was a pleasant bonus, it wasn’t quite compelling enough to secure Jenny’s tenure.
Not long after, the lightbulb flickered on.
“What if I set up a yoga class in Bucknoll for our cottagers?” I asked the next time Jenny took a break from her hard work, and we were sipping iced tea on my back porch.
I had her at “What if.”
Thus, Jenny and I became partners in the joint venture creatively branded Bucknoll Yoga. She got the money; I got the tsouris, which is a Quaker word for glory. [Editor’s note: It’s not.]
We hung out our shingle, a xeroxed flyer that resembled a kidnapper’s ransom note, right after Labor Day. I amended my Bucknoll Weekend Guest Agreement to require weekend house guests to attend 9am Sunday Bucknoll Yoga, thereby pumping up Jenny’s income and ensuring her continued attention to my gardens.
I scouted sites for a studio, deciding to squat in a back room in the Bucknoll Rec Center (emphasis on “wreck”) and put on my marketing cap to spread the word. I found and recruited a small but loyal crew of cottagers who professed to actually enjoy yoga, a sentiment that puzzled me.
Music, Candle, Oil, ‘Better Call Saul’
Jenny brought the music, the candle, the lavender oil and her yoga know-how.
I handled reservations and nagged everyone who walked in to sign a waiver based on legal knowledge acquired from watching “Better Call Saul” combined with some mumbo jumbo I took off the Internet about holding harmless. I feared that a single herniated disk would put us out of business otherwise. And my garden would suffer.
Jenny’s repertoire encompassed an all-purpose, set routine, with variations to keep us on our toes.
First, Jenny issued the all-critical ground rules: Proceed at your own pace, it’s not a competition, and when all else fails there’s a Child Pose, which approximates the duck-and-cover position we assumed during air-raid drills when I was in second grade at Bugbee School.
Six Sun Salutations Rain or Shine
Next, she entreated us to surround ourselves with peace, whereupon we launched into six vinyasas, also known as sun salutations, a series of interlinked stretch-and-balance moves executed whether the sun is shining or not. I was okay at least up until we were instructed to “fold at the hips while inhaling” and then exhorted to “exhale into the bend.” This is yogaspeak for “touch your toes.”
I peered around the room. Dani, Mindy and Betsy not only had their fingers touching the floor, two of them had their hands flat on the floor. Mine were hanging at least a foot above. Was it that my legs are too long or my arms too short? Both, I decided.
But this was not the time to ruminate. I mean meditate. Hands on the floor, left foot back, then right foot (if you do right foot first apparently something dire will result, like your intestines explode) and down, oxymoronically, into Upward-Facing Dog, then up into Down Dog.
Hold this for five deep breaths, which I was thinking should be doggie pants except it’s hard to pant when you’re breathing through your nose.
Five iterations later I was no closer to a higher state of consciousness than I was to the state of Colorado. But at least we were allowed to do a little quick stretchy thing called the Lie Flat on Your Stomach and Stretch Your Arms Out Pose. I was flummoxed. Yoga was invented five millennia ago and they still haven’t figured out a name for this?
The Yoga Mat as Swiffer Substitute
While in this pose I made the following observations.
- The hair stuck to one of the legs of my yoga pants reappears on the other leg just as soon as I pull it off.
- Yoga mats are dust magnets.
- I could use a pedicure.
- If instructed to focus on something in the room that is not moving, Gene is not the best choice.
- More people in Bucknoll than you might guess do not know right from left.
- A side plank is the impossible dream even for a guest of some cottagers who happens to be one of the highest-ranking US triathletes in his age group.
- The three sweetest words in the English language are “and now release.”
Also, it would have helped to specify which bridge was the bridge in the Bridge Pose. Verrazzano-Narrows? George Washington? Bear Mountain? The Governor Mario M. Cuomo (the Bridge Formerly Known as the Tappan Zee)? And is there a toll? Or worse, a troll?
The end of every session was signaled by an instruction to lie prone and go to our “safe happy place.” I was immediately medevacked to Fairway Market, where I discovered wild shrimp on sale for $13 a pound. Or perhaps Lowe’s, to scout out Suncast Tumbling Composters.
Just before I got to the front of the virtual checkout line, Jenny was inviting us to “come back to the room” for a group ommmmm, and the accepting (with gratitude) of Jenny’s peace blessing of three shanti’s and a Namaste, which roughly translated from Sanskrit means “Time to hit the tennis court for some real exercise.”
At some point it occurred to me that perhaps I didn’t really need to participate. After all, I was management, meaning I could sit in a corner playing Angry Birds on my phone while observing the class. As a famous Yogi once remarked, “You can observe a lot by just watching:”
That would, of course, be the Yogi as in Berra.
Bucknoll Yoga, I am happy to report, is alive and thriving, though I cashed out years ago. Jenny and the garden have parted ways, however, a story for another day.
Mary Lowengard really did own a country cottage once upon a time somewhere in Pennsylvania. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. She is grateful to KW, JM, JAR and Woody, who made these stories possible. To start at the beginning, click here. To read them all, click on either tag under the headline.