Last Tuesday I had the unfortunate experience of setting up my yoga mat next to the Incredible Hulk’s cousin.
The vinyasa class I attend is composed of primarily female students, but it’s not uncommon for a guy, two, or three to drop in. I’m always impressed to see a fellow in the room, and I silently commended the linebacker-ish dude as I set up camp next to him. (Totally random side note: Seriously, sometimes I feel like I’m going camping with all the junk I haul into a yoga studio: mat, two blocks, hand towel, mat towel, water bottle, sweatshirt for post-savasana…just put a tent around me, already).
Everything started off OK, but shortly after our opening pranayama and warm-ups, I began noticing that the sounds of my ujjayi breath were being drowned out by my neighbor’s grunts and exasperated exhalations. The noises were primal and angry. If I had been blindfolded and questioned about my surroundings, I would have guessed that I was on the weight floor at the gym, and that a some big beefy guy with a ripped tank top and a crew cut was doing dead lifts or hammer curls with 550-pound dumbbells.
We were doing a sequence of standard vinyasas, warriors, and triangles, not even close to, say, an ashtanga class with those handstand-to-chaturanga drops or 20 wheels or something. His noises were exaggerated and unnecessary, almost as if he believed that making bodybuilder huffs and grunts validated his yoga workout. Even more disturbing than the noises, however, was his composure: In each pose, his entire body shook with violent determination. I believe one of the biggest challenges of yoga is to remain light and fluid even during the most grueling of poses (Sthira sukham asanam: the posture is steady and comfortable), but my neighbor had the opposite approach: My veins must bulge and my muscles must quiver!
Even on our bellies for backbends, the aggressiveness continued, and I feared my neighbor was actually aiming to be a real cobra. He bore his teeth, biting viciously onto his lower lip, his beet-red head looking ready to strike. I tried hard to concentrate on my own practice, but his presence was so intimidating I couldn’t help but feel a bit violated. He was an energy vampire, sucking the lifeforce out of everyone around him.
Perhaps the scariest part, though, was during inversions. We placed our mats against the wall, and as the teacher moved around the room to help others with their headstands, forearm balances, etc, Incredible Hulk starting slamming out handstands boot-camp style, throwing his massive body up against the wall, feet crashing so hard I thought for sure he was going to bust a hole through the drywall. He’d hit the wall and fall down, and then go right back up again, boom.boom.boom. I was trying to do forearm balance next to him, but my concentration was mediocre at best. I feared for my safety, especially after he went up into one particularly forceful handstand, hit the wall, and crashed down hard, his head rolling to the side and his neck precariously rolling along with it and the rest of his body weight. Luckily I was out of my own inversion at that point, and another woman and I looked on in horror as he fell to the side; we were certain it was going to end badly for him. He survived, but the teacher was quick to initiate savasana after that, even though I never felt particularly relaxed.
You know, I’ve always been very sensitive to the sounds of a yoga class–his Omm’ing is out of key, that Sanskrit music is a bit too woo-woo, her blissful sighs sound too much like orgasms–but I think I’d take any of those over the grunts, snarls, and body slams of the anything-but-incredible Hulk.