I’m Pretending to Be a Yoga Teacher so That My Husband Won’t Leave Me

by Natalie King

For two days straight, I watched yoga YouTubes and smoked a lot of pot. I burned a Krishna Das CD for fifty minutes of music. If you’ve never done yoga, and out of the blue you and your soft butt start doing bizarre contortions for five hours a day, well, your back is going to go out, and your skeleton is going to feel like a bunch of matchsticks that someone haphazardly threw in a box and stepped on. Yoga is extremely painful if you’re out of shape and you are aiming to be an instructor in just a few days. The worst position is downward dog. The palms of my hands just aren’t made to hold the mass of my weight and be drilled into the ground with the thrust of my shoulders and head. They feel like soft little grapefruits that are being squashed; I keep waiting to see blood on the yoga mat I stole from the local gym.

My husband, Greg, and I have been fighting for about seven years now, as long as we’ve been married. All along, I thought that I would leave him as soon as I got strong enough. See, I have anxiety, the kind that pops up whenever I do anything that matters to me and renders me nearly catatonic. At least, I stutter, I trip, I miss my mouth when I go to drink something, and basically, I can’t think at all. So I actually need Greg. But after seven years, I don’t want to get a divorce; now I admire this person, and I want to commit to him, not on paper, because we already did that, but in my heart.

It might be too late. My successful husband has grown weary of the long hours I spend smoking pot, reading, and admiring the landscape. He is putting his foot down now. He won’t yell; he doesn’t do that. He has a way of stating his position that leaves little room for interpretation, and he’s always calm about it. An inheritance from his stoic father. Get a job, or get out, was the ultimatum.

I was floored, freaked out; how dare he, what am I going to do? I imagined myself sitting all day in some lawyer’s office under fluorescent lights answering the phone, or something. Like I said, I have debilitating anxiety, such that a job interview seems like an outright detonation to my nervous system. I could tell he was serious. I knew he had come to the end of his rope with me. I am going to have to get a job.

The only way I can put my anxiety on the back burner is if I’m acting. I have to understand the role. It’s easiest if I can act like someone I know really well, like a family member. Then I can sorta let myself go into that persona. It’s not a foolproof tool. It fails often, and I become the family member who stutters and speaks incoherently, when other people are talking. I become a mix of my nervous self and a family member; basically, I become an instant turn-off.

I thought about my options, which are few, really; we live on a small island in northwest Washington State. I thought about yoga; it’s kinda like being onstage, and it’s really popular where we live. I’ve never been able to touch my toes, though; I attribute the lack of flexibility to the fact that my legs are really long and my arms are average.

My greatest fear is that I’ll fart in front of a class. Or, God forbid someone else does, I will pee my pants laughing. I haven’t matured yet around bodily functions; I guess nobody in my family has. A fart is always hilarious.

I outlined my class by the end of my second day of study. I smoked a spliff and downed a shot of vodka and set out to find a space where I could hold my class. I found a studio not far from my house where you pay an hourly fee and you can hold whatever kind of class you’re teaching. Most of the classes there are yoga classes. So the popular times were already spoken for. That’s okay, I told myself. I just need Greg to see that I’m trying. My class would be held at lunchtime every Tuesday and Thursday in the beginning. When I become really popular, I will expand my hours, baby steps.

I made little cards for myself and handed them out at local coffee shops. I had a girlfriend take a photo of me praying with my hands close together, like I’ve seen the Catholics doing when they kneel down ritualistically. I don’t know what they’re doing, but it looks spiritual, so I thought it would be appropriate. I tacked these posters up around town. People said, “Natalie, I didn’t know you were a yoga teacher.”

“Oh, well, I’ve been stretching most of my life,” I answered.

“What kind of yoga are you teaching?”

From the YouTube videos, I decided I was teaching Hatha Yoga, and people seemed to be satisfied with that answer.

It’s Tuesday, the first day of class. I say a lot of mantras to keep my anxiety in check. I have mantras for the grocery store, coffee shops, dates with friends; you name it, I promise it’s an anxiety landmine for me. I’ll be in my late thirties before I’m actually treated for it.

I start the ascent up the stairs to the studio. Thirty feet above sea level, you would have thought I was at the peak of Everest the way I was breathing. I’m okay, I’m taken care of, I’m beautiful, people like me, I couldn’t remember the rest of the mantra. And at that point, it was way more of a chore than a help to my hyperventilation. I rounded the corner and stared into the yoga studio like a Peeping Tom. Three people were sitting on mats in what’s called lotus position. I noticed that their spines were straight and their knees were all the way out to the sides, lying on the mat. How painful, I thought.

Oh, God, I realized that the guy in the middle was my ex-boyfriend from high school. Oh, geez, he’s going to be glad things didn’t work out between us. The other guy was a handsome hippy with thick, dark, long hair in a ponytail, and blue, penetrating eyes. The girl was one of my friends, who was apparently extremely flexible, judging by the way her knees fell out to the side like wet noodles.

Here it goes. This yoga class, I decided, is going to be especially silent. I walked in, put the CD in the CD player with my hands shaking. On came the lovin’ murmurs of Krishna Das, mmm…everyone was feeling it, slightly swaying, eyes closed.

I stretched farther in that class than I did when I was a baby. I gave it everything I had, and my body didn’t let me down. I’ve never been able to balance on one leg with the other going out behind me in a perpendicular way, but I was taken over by some stable yogic spirit. (I did feel like I had done the impossible, something so beyond my comfort zone; I would spend the next month at the chiropractor because my back was out, hips were out, or my wrists were swollen and inflamed). My voice cracked when I spoke, and I think I held my breath for an hour, but the class did come to an end.

I thanked people for coming. They said they would be back. I sat in the studio and I breathed down into my stomach, maybe for the first time in my life. I felt a hard, hollow ball push up through my chest and out my eyes in hot tears.

I thought of Greg, and I had deep gratitude that he made a stand for me to become something more. I continued to teach.  I expanded my teaching to another venue. I learned to touch my toes, without ripping muscles, I learned how to breathe, I learned how to be watched, I learned how to move into my fear. Down dog no longer hurt my palms.

I’ve never made more than fifteen dollars a week; I never stop getting that sick feeling in the bottom of my stomach; the voice in my head still screams, “You’re a fraud, and everybody knows it,” but that space right under my shoulder blades that is usually sore and tight, relaxes deeply, and I feel like it’s all going to be okay. I’m going to be okay.


Category: Memoir, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing