A man plies the yoga mat at Seaside Yoga Sanctuary for the first time in his life.

Not a Reach: Seaside Yoga Sanctuary offers community classes without a charge though donations are accepted.

Yoga has always terrified me. People twisting themselves into pretzels and attaining some sort of transcendence always looked like a real stretch. I’ve always had a hard time reaching my shoelaces to tie them and my joints usually pop and crackle like a roaring fire when I walk through quiet corridors.

I also felt I was coming to the party a little late. The ancient practice that features exercises for attaining physical and mental control has already been assimilated into American culture like sushi and world music. Housewives are doing yoga between dropping the kids off at soccer practice, and, even Wal Mart, hardly on the cusp of trends, now sells yoga mats.

Nonetheless, I took a deep breath– one of many I would take over the next hour– and entered the Seaside Yoga Sanctuary, a peaceful and airy space right on Seaside’s busy Fremont Street. Immediately, I was instructed to fill out a simple form by Jeannie Walker, who was teaching this Saturday morning beginner’s class in place of Kara Engel. When I got down to a section that inquired about any physical limitations, I paused for a moment and wrote in the space below: “Not that flexible.”

THE STRAP SCARED ME. I IMAGINED IT MUST BE FOR CONTORTING MY BODY IN OTHERWISE UNATTAINABLE POSITIONS.

A young couple and one middle-aged lady walked out onto the 1,200 square foot bamboo floor and grabbed a handful of items from a corner. “Go ahead and grab a pile of props,” Walker instructed.

I expected that I would be using a yoga mat but not the rest of this equipment, which included two blankets, two blocks, a sleep mask and a thick strap coiled up like a perturbed snake.

The strap scared me. I imagined it must be for contorting my body in otherwise unattainable positions. I could almost hear my ligaments snapping like overstretched rubber bands.

A nurturing soul, the frizzy haired Walker started out easy on us. She instructed us to pile our blankets on top of one another to construct a seat. Then, we did tame exercises like rolling our heads around. Throughout, Walker gave us instructions that could double as life lessons, like “follow the heart,” as meditative music plucked and twanged in the background.

As the poses slowly became slightly more challenging, Walker told us that we should shut our eyes as much as possible during this session.

“The journey is just as much within as outside of yourself,” she said.

This was sweet. No longer could my fellow classmates see me struggling with poses of increasing difficulty, but I could also crack open an eye to copy them and wrestle my own unruly limbs into the proper place.

Eventually, Walker instructed us to lie down on our mats and grab the blocks and strap. A light mist of perspiration suddenly covered my body. We were then told to place the blocks on either side of our thighs and to stretch our legs out and wrap the strap around the ball of our right foot. My knees popped like a batch of heated popcorn kernels as I tried to get them out in front of me straight. This brought on a series of sweat-inducing flashbacks to high school P.E. class: short gym shorts, awkward crushes and a realization that I was never going to play professional sports.

Walker then explained that we were to use the strap to help pull our right leg, which now stood up straight over our bodies like a sailboat mast, into a position to one side, which was way past any point my leg had been before. Using the strap, I swung my leg to the far side of my body like an unwieldy crane operator.

It worked– my right leg stuck off the side of my body at an almost 90 degree angle. I was starting to understand the genius of yoga. You start out doing a simple pose and as things progress that pose transforms into something that you never thought your body could ever do.

After a challenging maneuver called downward-facing dog, Walker ended the session with savsana, or the corpse pose. I laid down on the mat with my head rested on the two folded blankets and with my legs splayed over a pillow.

Walker told us to put the sleeping mask on and then she draped a blanket over us. My mind took me back to childhood nights when my mother tucked me into bed. She then started to read to us and one nugget of information she said immediately stood out: “Relaxation is the observation of tension.”

As I thought about the phrase, I realized how tense I still was. Suddenly, I didn’t care anymore if my body couldn’t contort into the perfect position, and my tension fell away like melting ice.

THE SEASIDE YOGA SANCTUARY,  located at 1360 Fremont Blvd in Seaside, offers beginner classes Saturdays from 9:45am to 10:45am and Tuesdays from 6pm to 7:15pm. $14/drop-in; $10/drop-in students and military; $90/monthly unlimited use; $80/unlimited use students and military. 899-YOGA. www.seasideyogasanctuary.com.

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