Stretch Armstrong

As you might expect, I've gotten my ass kicked plenty during the past 26 years. Generally it's a direct result of opening my stupid mouth--an involuntary action that just can't be helped, sort of like breathing. I am proud to say that I've never been beaten up by a girl. Well, I was proud to say it. It's no longer true.

Right now, I'm getting my ass handed to me by two girls. Two Mavs dancers, actually. They're not physically bruising me, but they're the reason I'm in this mess, so it's all the same. It's quite humiliating. I feel like David Gest.

The beginning of this sordid tale came a few weeks ago. I was interviewing Cerissa Hulme, a 21-year-old beauty who graces the cover of this year's Mavs dancer calendar. She told me that she had gone to yoga earlier that morning and remarked that it was a terrific workout. I scoffed and made a remark about how stretching for half an hour hardly qualifies as taxing. Besides, how hard could it be if a 100-pound girl could do it? (I'm a sportswriter; misogyny, not to mention idiocy, is part of the job.)

"You'd be surprised," Hulme said. "You should try it sometime."

It sounded like a challenge to me. Being absurdly competitive, I asked her to take me to a class sometime, figuring if she could do it, I could do it better. That was mistake No. 1. Mistake No. 2 was actually going through with it.

To begin, I was late that morning because I couldn't find the joint, and I nearly delayed the class. (A quick aside: When I called Hulme from the car to request more/better directions, she asked if I had just driven by in the Jag...clearly she's never read our paper.) I wish I had missed it entirely. See, what I thought I knew about yoga was totally inaccurate. I thought it would be a half-hour of Yanni and herbal tea, candles and some of that Mr. Miyagi deep-breathing garbage. (Daniel-san, breathe in through nose, out through mouth.) I couldn't have been more wrong.

Hulme signed us up for what's called Bikram yoga--power exercises in a room that's heated to more than 100 degrees. There are ceiling fans, but all they do is circulate the hot air. The only thing missing is a pack of Honduran children hunched over a pile of Nikes.

Hulme brought along a friend, another Mavs dancer named Diana Kleper. They're both nice girls. Still, I hate them. The two of them are the stars of the class. I, on the other hand, am not. While the girls effortlessly contort themselves into improbable positions--i.e., touching their toes--I sweat profusely and struggle to catch my breath. You have to understand, I'm not the most flexible person. I can't scratch my own back--during college orientation, I had to lie down on the floor and roll around like a bear to get a particularly hard-to-reach itch; my new classmates watched in horror--and my body cracks and pops on the regular. We're about 10 minutes into the class now. It lasts an hour and a half. If Vegas put a line on this sort of thing, the odds on me going the distance would be longer than Dennis Kucinich heading the Democratic ticket in 2004.

The guy who runs the class is named Derrick. Derrick scares me. He's somewhere in his early 30s, speaks softly and is crazy in shape. Every time he opens his mouth, it means more pain for the rest of us, or at least me, and I think Derrick enjoys that.

He has the class strike various poses--cobra, balancing stick, warrior. They have good, healthy-sounding names. It's all a big ruse. They should be called things like ouchy and hurty. They aren't just "positions." They are demands on your muscles and endurance the likes of which would reduce the strongest weight lifters to sniveling shells.

"Really hold that airplane now," Derrick says.

"Airplane" is a position that demands you stand on one leg, bend at the waist so that your upper body is parallel to the ground and your arms and free leg make a straight line. It's terribly unnatural. The girls, of course, have no trouble pulling it off. My airplane frequently crashes because I have the balance of an 80-year-old with an inner-ear problem. Luckily, I'm not the worst in the class. Derrick is around here somewhere--I can't really see him; my sweat is blinding me--making fun of some guy named Mark.

"You know, Mark," Derrick says, "you're pretty flexible...for someone who doesn't ever stretch. Now really hold this pose. It helps release toxins...and you look like you need that, Mark." The class laughs at Mark's expense. I laugh, too. That poor inflexible wretch. He must have booze coming out of his pores. I'm not sure who he is, but I'm glad old Derrick is picking on someone else.

A good while later, I realize he thinks I'm Mark. Which means everyone, including me, has been laughing at me for the past 35 minutes. That rocks.

Hulme--who is only a few feet away and who keeps shooting me good-natured smirks and mouthing, "I told you so"--corrects Derrick. I wish she hadn't. Now he's not only targeting me for the butt of his jokes, he's also giving me extra-special instruction. And by that I mean punishment. (While I'm trying to touch my head to my knee, Derrick comes by and "helps" by pushing the back of my head and straining my back until it reaches its destination...are back transplants possible nowadays?)

By the end, half my muscles are numb, and the other half are in full spasm. The air is so thick and humid I can feel it on me like a heavy coat. I'm completely disoriented, close to hallucination. The only thing that keeps me going is my dumb pride. No way I'm leaving before the girls do. I'd rather end up in a vegetative state.

Just when I think I can't take it anymore, Derrick tells us that it's time to cool down; class is over. We're told to lie on our backs and concentrate on our breathing. I'm close to crying I'm so happy.

"So, what did you think?" Kleper asks after class. She and Hulme look invigorated, full of life. Me? I look like I was just steam-cleaned.

"Oh, yeah, it was great," I say. "Can't wait to come back."

They look suspicious. Probably because I was moaning more than speaking.

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John Gonzalez
Contact: John Gonzalez

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