Quacking Up

1-ad6c56225e(Chatter Editor Letter, June)

In an effort to “Diaz-inate” myself — a term I developed in college for “working out” a la Cameron Diaz — I have been expanding my small horizons. I started by upping the intensity level on the Stair Master. (What a mistake!) Still believing myself capable of more, I signed up for a barre class. (Don’t you dare forget the double-r and “e” at the end.) When that was just too precious and pedestrian, I rolled the dice with a mode of exercise that finally ended up being way beyond the pale — Nia. The web site described Nia as “a sensory-based movement practice that draws from martial arts, dance arts and healing arts.” While the “healing arts” part put some strain on my evangelical tendencies, the whole thing in general seemed like a Vegas buffet of cardiovascular fun.

The class began in an un-air-conditioned room that featured one wall of mirrors, a wall of windows that faced the street, a brick wall with a barre (double-r, e!), and a sheet rock wall with a big white lotus painted on it. The eight of us were encouraged to remove our shoes and begin connecting with our “inner sense of time.” Our instructor was wearing gaucho pants that flowed like an inky mystery around her legs. She tucked the large billows into her waistband, which made her vaguely resemble Aladdin. “Thirteen joints and twenty digits,” she crooned, her wrists twirling, her fingers wiggling, and her head rolling around on her shoulders. “Don’t begin to move until your inner sense of time permits you…” The music was gaining intensity. I wondered when the structured portion of the class would begin, which turned out to be the height of wishful thinking.

Then, without warning, Aladdin began waddling. “Walk like a duck!” she commanded, and suddenly we were all swaying side to side in time to the beat (well, to the beats of our various inner times), heel-ball, heel-ball, heel-ball, QUACK!

Wait, did she just quack?

Yep. Unmistakably.

“And QUACK, and QUACK, and QUACK!” While I couldn’t bring myself to audibly quack, I believed my internal quacking was on a much more sophisticated level. I was also becoming aware of something happening with two of my twenty digits: my big toes were blistering.

“Now take a wide stance,” she said, bringing her hands together over her head like “I Dream of Genie.” With one fluid motion, her whole body turned serpentine as arms, hips, legs, and back writhed like one of those blow-up dancing guys they put out in front of car dealerships. She was breathless: “And UNDULATE, and UNDULATE, and UNDULATE!” When I caught sight of my undulation in the mirror, I wished that we could all go back to the good old days of duck-walking. Things only got worse.

“I want you to connect with your thumbs,” she continued, still undulating, apparently not giving anything other than mental assent to the existence of her thumbs, which proved difficult for me to do. After all, who can think about two very specific fingers when trying to support movement only performed in Hookah lounges? On blistered feet?

I caught sight of the other women in the room. It was difficult to appreciate their individuality because if I thought too much about how they each probably got up that morning and ate a bowl of cereal and brushed their teeth and checked Facebook, the scene of them all together undulating and connecting with their thumbs would surely send me into hysterics. And while most any form of personal expression seemed welcome in the Nia room, hysterics didn’t seem to be one of them. The women all appeared so deliberate, so born to connect with their inner senses of time. They truly danced like no one was watching, much as the plaque in your mother’s kitchen suggests. But I couldn’t help but steal glances. I couldn’t help but try to make myself look better than them. They were caught up in the mystery of whatever was happening under the watchful lotus flower; I was caught up in self-consciousness and scrutiny.

It takes great faith to let yourself go, to trust someone outside of yourself, even if it is just an exercise instructor. How much harder it can be to follow the promptings of God’s Holy Spirit, to release control to the one who made me and who is for me and who wants to move through me. When it really matters, I struggle to escape my own sense of propriety and self-possession that stand in total contrast to the childlike trust Jesus asks of me. Psalm 25:3 holds a promise for people like me: “No one who hopes in [God] will ever be put to shame.” Best word from that verse? Ever.

If only as much could be said for Nia.


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