It all started 21 years ago when we immigrated to the United States and joined our local YMCA, where I enrolled in yoga classes with an instructor I shall name Kate. I would come home raving about them to my husband: “Cesar, you don’t understand. You won’t believe how hard you work your body doing yoga!”
“Me? Yoga? No way,” was Cesar’s (predictable) response.
“But, but,” I’d insist. “You gotta believe me. You leave feeling ten years younger!”
Given that I was 31 then, this last utterance implies I left the Y feeling barely drinking age. Did I really feel old and tired at 31? Youth is wasted on the young indeed.
Anyhow, it took weeks of nagging and a bribe (“Just come once! If you don’t like it, I’ll do (this or that) the entire year!”) for Cesar to drag his butt to his first yoga class. My words didn’t count, I know that. To his unenlightened mind, yoga would be a royal waste of time. It was the bribe that enticed him to join a group of folks sitting around like fools doing weird stretches, chanting senseless syllables and taking funny breaths.
As it turns out, Cesar didn’t dislike yoga. In fact, he was blown away, a reaction that didn’t go unnoticed by Kate. I can’t say if it was Cesar being the new eager student or just one of the only two males in the class, but Kate would give him, and his breathing in particular, a lot of attention.
Kate taught Ashtanga Yoga, a practice that’s accompanied by a breathing pattern known as ujjayi. Basically, ujjayi consists in constricting your throat as you breathe, making each inhale and exhale mildly audible. I repeat, mildly audible.
Just a couple of lessons in, I noticed Cesar’s breathing getting louder. His was the only ujjayi anyone could hear anywhere in the vast room. I’d give him looks and signal unequivocally that he was being too loud. He totally ignored me of course, seeing as Kate would intermittently call out approvingly, “Good breathing Cesar!” And the compliments kept coming, every single time Cesar went to yoga. Me, I got not one compliment. Ever.
While I found it all highly embarrassing, Cesar was beyond arrogant. He thought himself the foremost expert in ujjayi, judging by how he seized the slightest opportunity to show off his superior technique.
For instance, we had taken up running with a group of friends, and he’d do his ujjayi during our group runs, explaining, authoritatively, “You constrict your throat and make the sound of the ocean. It really puts you in the zone…” Blah, blah, blah.
When I gave him a dirty look during yoga class, he’d respond with a mocking stare and bring it up a notch. Say we were in the car together or in a quiet movie theater, he would start doing his ujjayi, smirk when I looked over and say, “Good breathing Cesar!” as if I were jealous of Kate’s praise. P-lease.
Then there were Kate’s constant physical adjustments to Cesar’s poses. No other yogi’s body was touched more frequently than my husband’s. It’s just a fact. At least once every single class, Kate would place her hands on the small of Cesar’s back and push his hips back when he was in a downward dog. She would, without fail, press his shoulders back and down on the mat for Shavasana. Me, I would go unnoticed even if I purposely did it all wrong.
I get how it may sound as if I was plain jealous. Had you been there, though, you’d clearly see that wasn’t it at all! The compliments were clearly sarcastic, Kate’s passive-aggressive mockery. And the adjustments were sorely needed given how awful Cesar’s poses were, simple as that.
I was most definitely not jealous. Cesar, by contrast, was so clueless he took the compliments literally, and the adjustments as an ego boost.
It has been seventeen years since Kate moved away and stopped teaching at the Y and we still adamantly disagree about this. Seventeen years and Cesar continues to enjoy annoying me with his ujjayi when the moment is right and to make fun of my “jealousy”. I still roll my eyes at him and shake my head at his foolishness.
The only person who can settle whether it was jealousy or cluelessness is, of course, Kate. I would never ask her though. I know Cesar knows I wasn’t jealous. He surely knows too that his ujjayi was over the top and his body as stiff as if he’d just come out of a full-body cast.
Plus this silly unresolved dispute makes for one of many little inside jokes that keep a 30-year marriage playful and interesting.