Sunday, January 17, 2016

Second-Hand Joy

Author's Note: I wrote this for The Moth's December show at the Amsterdam Bar and Hall in St. Paul. But I didn't finish it in time, so here it is for your perusal!

People get joy from many different sources: loved ones, life-changing experiences, food. It’s more common to experience this emotion while in communion with nature, whether that’s in the form of humans, animals, plants or just the biosphere in general. But this sensation can also be produced artificially, some would say “reproduced,” through electronic media.

One should not be reliant on electronic media for joy or to meet any other emotional needs, yet I can’t help but feel joyful whenever I hear the introduction of my yoga DVD. “Here you are, at the beginning of a great journey: yoga.” These are the words coming out of Rodney Yee’s mouth. He is a predictably sculpted, serene man in a tropical paradise. 

“It makes all the difference in the world to get a good start,” he continues. “Colleen and I have distilled many years of our yoga practice to bring you the essential yoga postures for a good, strong yoga foundation.” Over the course of 45 seconds, it feels like he says “yoga” at least 20 times, but it’s really only six. I’ve watched that introduction so many times that I can recite it as he says it. I’m sure that, if he could hear me, Rodney would be very impressed.

Even though this is only a simulacrum of a yogi in Hawai’i, the effect is almost like being there. Just being reminded that such places still exist is soothing, especially when you live in Minnesota in the middle of winter, and you’re trying not to break your neck from slipping on the ice or contract some form of cancer from breathing in the car exhaust fumes as you walk back to your apartment.

I wish I could say this was a holiday gift, but it was just a random, non-seasonal purchase for myself. Although, in emotional terms, it’s the gift to myself that keeps on giving. The opening promos identify Mr. Yee as “America’s favorite yoga instructor.” This may be hyperbolic commercial messaging, but he’s certainly my favorite yoga instructor.

I’ve been forced to rely on the DVD because of the lack of beginner yoga classes at my health club. I’d much rather do yoga with other human beings who are physically present (if not always spiritually present). But the routines they practice are generally too demanding for me. Even the easier ones are a strain on my joints and muscles.

One of the instructors said she’d just come from teaching a class at a women’s prison. After trying to keep up with the routine for 20 minutes, I wondered if she was at the prison as a service to the inmates or if it was a violation of the Geneva Conventions. 

But Rodney isn’t like that. He’s a generous, considerate instructor who moves slowly and gently between poses. He says things like “reach through your heels” or “wiggle your waist long,” and, on some level, I feel like I know what he means. Even though our relationship is electronically mediated through artificial, one-sided interactions with a recording of him, we seem to connect on a very deep level.

There’s also a woman named Colleen on the DVD. I’m guessing she’s Rodney’s wife. They both appear to be wearing wedding bands. She’s OK, but Rodney is clearly the star of the show.

It’s like I’m with them on the beaches and verdant outcrops of Hawai’i, with the waves breaking in the background. I may not be caressed by the same sea breezes that are kissing their perfect bodies, but at least I know how it feels. To be in Hawaii, I mean, not to have a perfect body. I certainly wouldn’t own a yoga DVD if I had one of those.

I am often refreshed and relaxed at the end of each routine. But the real miracle is that I can feel anything after twisting and contorting my body into the pretzel shapes that Rodney and Colleen perform. This is a testament to their expertise and their ability to not make me feel like an out-of-shape schlub when my pose form falls far short of their example. 

So here’s to you, Rodney Yee! (And, to a lesser extent, Colleen.) I’ll probably never meet you, but I feel like I know you, and you’ve had a positive impact on my life (more positive than a lot of people I have met).