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HERB BENHAM: My practice is slow and stiff

IMG_1725 herb column

I bought a purple yoga mat. Isn't that half the battle?

I've decided to practice yoga again. "My practice," which is how devotees refer to yoga, is in its infancy. This means I bought a purple mat, put it in the closet and forgot about it. I felt virtuous and as if I was doing yoga, because I had a mat.

I showed the mat to a friend.

"That's not a yoga mat," he said. "That's a pilates mat."

"What's wrong with this mat?" I asked.

"It's too thick. You won't be able to do the balance positions," he said.

Balance positions? Like when you stand on one leg and have your arms go different directions? I couldn't do that if my mat came with a stripper's pole. At least if I fall on this one, it's cushy enough where I will break an arm and a leg rather than three of each.

The mat has a nap written all over it. That's handy for savasana, or the corpse pose, which calls for lying on your back with your legs spread apart. The goal is "relaxed awareness," which translates for many westerners as 40 winks or "lights out."

Twenty years ago, a friend seated next to me launched into savasana at the end of a particularly challenging hot yoga class. We thought we'd lost him, and considered stealing his doe-like slippers but then his chest moved. He came to but he was groggy and we almost had to take him out on a litter.

Hot yoga is good for people who are either old, stiff or male. It brings to mind "The Cremation of Sam McGee," the poem by Robert Service whereby Sam McGee freezes to death in the arctic cold but comes to life when they put him in the crematorium.

During our classes, I managed to get crossways with our instructor because when I entered the room, I would check the thermostat and if it wasn't 105, I would crank it up.

When the instructor arrived, she would turn it down. Back and forth we went and soon our yoga marriage was on the rocks.


Two weeks after buying the purple mat, I pulled it from the closet and scrolled through yoga videos on YouTube. There are a million, so I looked for one with the words "gentle and beginning" in it.

No matter what kind of yoga you choose, eventually you have to get on the ground. Usually, I try to stay on top of the ground. Sitting requires getting up, which, as my dad used to say, calls for a block and tackle in order to do so.

The friend who encouraged me to do yoga signed up for a yoga class for expectant mothers.

I asked him why, knowing that he was neither pregnant nor in the age range where that might be possible.

"I figured I could handle a yoga class with really pregnant women," he said.

He figured wrong. Halfway through the class, he nearly went into labor and had a yoga baby himself. The rest of the students did fine.

I started with two sun salutations, a series of poses meant to welcome the sun. If I were the sun, and I saw somebody do what I did, I'd go behind the mountains and wait for my sun to set.

"Don't rush," said my teacher on the video, a thin, patient woman with a stylish nose ring.

Don't worry. I couldn't rush if I wanted to. I'm slow, stiff and not pregnant.

Herb Benham is a columnist for The Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at or 661-395-7279.