When I Was New

I arrived twenty five minutes early, though they suggested fifteen on their website, and I turned the knob to the yoga studio. Locked, lights out, I sat on a plastic chair outside the room. Holding my gift certificate for the five-class pass, I considered leaving, knowing no one had seen me yet, and no one was there anyway.  I wandered the halls a bit, looking too interested in flyers for Royal Travel, for a packaging company, for a chiropractor, walking the steps to kill the extra time I had built in so as not to be late.

Finally, a petite, muscular woman arrived, unlocked the door and said “You can come in whenever.” “Thanks” I said, not wanting to be that woman who was still 15 minutes early to a class, I continued to sit and look very busy checking email on my phone.

Finally, I mustered up the courage to be the first one to arrive at the class (other than the instructor) and walked in. The instructor was polite enough, sign here, here and here, mats are there, grab two blankets, a yoga block, bathroom is there, water is here, take your shoes off, hang your coat there, line your mat here, we’ll start facing each other, then it’ll be lined this way. It was a lot of information for a first timer, even someone who earns a salary helping people do new things and meet new people. “Okay” I said, trying to be confident. I’d been to yoga studios before, but I’d never been to this one.

I filled out the paperwork, grabbed a mat, the blankets, hung up my coat, and began to set up. “We’re in a shoe-free zone.” Muscular instructor said without looking up from her computer. Right. She had said that, along with the list of other things I was supposed to remember. Why was I so nervous? Who doesn’t know to take off their shoes for a yoga class?

Beth, a fellow 20-week pregnant lady arrived, also early, and I overheard she and muscular instructor talk—she slowed down on the instructions this time, perhaps due to my inability to follow all of her list correctly. Beth took off her shoes, hung up her coat, filled out her paperwork, grabbed a mat, two blankets, a block, and sat next to me. We smiled politely. I wasn’t sure if talking before a yoga class was permitted, it wasn’t on the list of things to do, so the silence hung in the air.

Next, super fit pregnant lady arrived. She and muscular instructor must have known each other because the silence was immediately broken with chatter. Super fit pregnant lady just found out she was going to have a girl and muscular instructor exclaimed that she had a feeling this time was a girl for her. They’ve clearly taken other pregnant classes together, and were happy to reconnect over the good news.

Beth and I sat, with our legs crossed awkwardly on the floor next to each other. I wondered if she was also thinking about feigning some illness or important phone call.  She fidgeted with her socked feet, and I stared out the window.  There was still time to escape, but neither of us were brave enough to leave.

As others arrived more confidently that Beth and myself, the room relaxed a bit.  I took mental notes comparing their stylish yoga wear to my lacking outfit.  Apparently neon is the new black, and fitted yoga tops are the rage for pregnant fitness gurus.  Small talk was made by some regulars, silence by others.

Eventually, the class began with a round of say your name, expected due date, and things you wanted to get out of the class.  Having facilitated groups, I recognized the technique of getting people talking, and having done it myself to others, was a little annoyed it was happening to me.  (I thought this was just an exercise class!)  Nonetheless, when it was my turn, I obliged.  Jo taught us in our own facilitation series at Starfire that rarely will someone be the person that says “pass” when it’s not that hard of question.  She was right.

Muscular instructor led us through some stretches, positions, and breathing for about 20 minutes.  “Next” she said “grab a partner.”  Beth and I quickly shot glances at each other, eyebrows raised.  Though not clairvoyant, I could tell her she was thinking what I was thinking and was as put off by the idea of “partnering up” as I was.  We smiled and chose each other, having found some sort of unspoken comfort in each others discomfort.  (It reminded me of “choose a person you know the least” and I immediately had sympathy for anyone who ever attended a strategic planning session in 2010.)  Muscular instructor informed us that we would be grasping each others hands, supporting each others weight, and lowering our bodies to the ground through squats, repeatedly…and go.

Pretty much this, multiple times, with a pregnant, sweaty-hand, stranger:

We grasped hands awkwardly.  And did as we were told.  As two of the only apparent newbies in the class we weren’t very good, and muscular instructor made note of it, aloud.  “You’re not really leaning back, Beth & Candice.”  (She’d remembered our names and was comfortable using them in front of the class.)  “You need to support each other more.”

As 7:00PM rolled around, I was grateful for it being a one hour class and for the laying down positions, the ones where you’re supposed to be in some sort of deep reflection at peace with the world.  I was more concerned with how quickly I could leave, and that at these position were eyes closed positions.  As we ohmed and namaste’d each other, I was happy to be excused.

Being new was hard.  It was difficult to go alone to a place I’d never been and learn all the rules and norms.  I felt out of place when everyone else already knew the routine.  Relying on a stranger to support  you was uncomfortable.  Neither of us really let the other hold our weight– we were too unsure of each other to trust that we wouldn’t collapse our pregnant bodies to the floor.  We barely knew each other.

Each day we ask people, their families, coworkers to have conversations, forge new relationships, get involved, create new projects, and change the world!  In stories on Cincibility, it often seems so lovely, groups of strangers coming together to create beer tastingsmusicals, unique works of art together, and more.  It looks easy even in the photos.  Having been new, I know that it’s not that easy and the class was a great reminder at the time it takes to get comfortable doing something you’re uncomfortable with.  But, getting started is always the hardest part.

Wednesday is another class and I’m hoping a little bit that Beth returns.  I’m hoping that Beth will recognize me, and that we’ll be partners again.  I hope we won’t be the new people this time around.

And I really hope we don’t have to do partner squats again.

Candice Jones Peelman